Federally insured credit unions earned $2.6 billion in the first six months of the year, down 15% from the year-earlier period, the National Credit Union Administration reported this week.

Keith Peterson, an economist for the Credit Union National Association, attributed the decline to a narrowing spread between interest income and interest paid on deposits.

"It's driven by the turnover in assets," he said. "New loans are going on the books at lower rates than ones four years ago.

"I think net income will continue to drop because the spread's going to continue to narrow," he added. "However, the drop won't be drastic because loan growth will be holding up."

Assets of the 12,135 institutions grew 4.6% to $289 billion in the period, according to NCUA. During the first six months of 1993 assets grew 4.2%.

Loans increased 6.1% from January to June to $161 billion.

That's up from the 3.5% growth in the corresponding period in 1993 and 4.6% loan growth for all of 1992.

New-car loans, which edged first mortgages as the largest loan category, grew 10.8% to $35.6 billion, NCUA said.

Deposits grew 4.5% to $257 billion at June 30, pushing the industry's loan-to-deposit ratio to 62.6% from 61.7% at the end of 1993.

The credit unions' loan delinquency rate fell to 0.9% from 1% at the end of 1993. The dollar value of delinquent loans fell 6.2% to $1.5 billion, NCUA said.

Due to increased lending, the dollar amount of delinquent loans should stop falling by the end of the year and possibly rise, Mr. Peterson said.

Credit unions built capital to $28.5 billion, for a capital-to-assets ratio of 9.8%, up from 9.7% at the end of 1993.

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