WASHINGTON — The share of performing mortgages increased slightly during the first quarter of 2010 for the first time since March 2009, although loan performance was still down from a year ago, federal bank regulators reported Wednesday.

The share of current and performing mortgages climbed to 87.3% at the end of March, up from 86.4% at the end of last year. Meanwhile, the share of seriously delinquent loans dropped to 6.5% in March from 7.1% in December, with delinquencies improving across all risk categories.

However, first-quarter loan performance was still worse than a year ago, when 89.8% of mortgages were performing and 4.8% of loans were seriously delinquent. The share of foreclosures in process also jumped to 3.5% in March from 2.5% a year ago.

The results were due to a combination of factors, Office of the Comptroller of the Currency Deputy Comptroller for Large Banks Joe Evers said in a press call with reporters. Mortgage loan performance usually enjoys an uptick during the late winter and early spring, he said, but these numbers were not adjusted for seasonality.

Meanwhile, the decline in delinquencies reflects improving efforts by mortgage servicers to help borrowers stay in their homes. When a loan is modified, it is reset from "delinquent" to "current."

Bruce Krueger, a mortgage expert at the OCC, said the data isn't adjusted for seasonality because there are already too many factors affecting the numbers. He argued the improving loan performance was due to other factors than just the seasonal impact.

"Something is happening here that is over and above seasonality," Krueger said.

Wednesday's report is compiled by the OCC and the Office of Thrift Supervision. It covers roughly 34 million U.S. home mortgage loans totaling nearly $6 trillion in unpaid principal balances.

Loan modifications and other efforts by mortgage servicers to help borrowers, including trial period plans under the Obama administration's Home Affordable Modification Program, or HAMP, jumped in the first quarter. However, modified loans continued to re-default at high rates.

Loan modifications, trial period plans and payment plans climbed by more than 5% in the first quarter from the previous quarter and by more than 61% from a year earlier. Mortgage servicers implemented 629,678 such actions, including nearly 100,000 loan modifications and almost 190,000 trial period plans under HAMP.

Actions by servicers to keep people in their homes continued to outpace foreclosures during the quarter, with the number of modifications and payment plans totaling 1.7 times the number of foreclosures.

Still, foreclosures started by servicers during the quarter jumped to 370,536, up 18.6% from December. Modified loans continued to perform poorly. A year later, more than half of modified loans were 60 or more days past due.

However, mortgage servicers seem to be getting better at modifying loans. Of the 587,097 modifications completed in 2009, more than half were current at the end of March. That's compared with just 27% of loans that were modified in 2008.

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