Although most large credit unions are content to hold their investments to maturity, 25 more adventurous institutions put some of their securities in trading accounts to maximize yields.

The 25 institutions, each of which has more than $50 million in assets, together designate $172.8 million of their investments as available for trade, according to third-quarter 1995 data from Sheshunoff Information Services.

The majority of other credit unions, more than 1,000 of them, keep most of their investment dollars in "held to maturity." And a relatively small $19.4 billion is kept in the "available for sale" category.

Under National Credit Union Administration guidelines, trading securities are meant to be sold in the near term, and under Federal Accounting Standards Board rules their market-value fluctuations are immediately recognized on the bottom line.

Held-to-maturity securities are kept for the life of the investment, barring unforeseen events. Available-for-sale securities basically fall in between those categories: fluctuations in their value are reflected in equity.

Most credit unions avoid trading because of inherent conservatism, frowning examiners, and the costs of hiring qualified personnel.

"I'm sure the examiners discourage trading," said Keith Peterson, an economist for the Credit Union National Association. "I think it's just an activity most credit unions don't see worthwhile in acquiring the expertise to do."

But Bank Fund Staff Federal Credit Union, Washington, has seen it as a worthwhile activity for 10 years, said Richard Osius, chief executive of the $705.5 million-asset institution.

The credit union has $83.7 million of its $263.6 million investment portfolio available for trade, according to Sheshunoff.

"Our goal is to maximize return to members," Mr. Osius said.

Two investment advisers handle the money within parameters created by the credit union, Mr. Osius said. For example, Bank Fund Staff sets duration guidelines and restricts the allowable investments to Treasuries.

Mr. Osius declined to name the advisers.

The credit union - which has directors who are officials with the World Bank - has never had a problem with examiners about the trading, he said.

Until three years ago, $51.5 million-asset Union Camp Savannah Federal Credit Union plunked all its investment dollars in the state's liquidity center, Georgia Central Credit Union. But now it pays Smith Barney Inc. to trade some of its investments.

"The basic purpose here was to increase our return without increasing our risk," said Ray Wages, chief executive of the Savannah, Ga., institution.

Mr. Wages said the credit union trades only in Treasuries and agencies in the interest of prudence.

"Being from the South and being an old country boy, I believe in the saying a bird in the hand is worth two in the bush," he said.

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