Eager to hold on to adjustable loans, thrifts sold far fewer mortgages into the secondary market last year, according to a survey by America's Community Bankers.

Thrifts sold 23% of originated mortgages to a government-sponsored or independent secondary buyer in the 12 months ended September 1994, compared with 45% in the preceding year, according to the survey.

Until recently, America's Community Bankers was known as the Savings and Community Bankers Association.

"The growth of adjustable-rate lending, and a renewed emphasis on holding loans in portfolio, led to reductions in reported sales to all secondary-market agencies," said Robert R. Davis, the organization's director of economics and research.

As interest rates rose in 1994, consumers turned increasingly to adjustable-rate loans. Since those loans are good matches for portfolio lenders' liabilities, a strong adjustable market usually drives down secondary market activity.

Participating lenders sold 7% of originations to Fannie Mae in 1994, down from 17% the preceding year. Sales to Freddie Mac fell to 9.5% from 18.5% over the same period.

In something of a surprise, sales to conduits fell only slightly, to 6.5% from 7%.

"This strength primarily reflects strong originations of purchase money jumbo loans and a more active B and C paper market," said Mr. Davis. B and C loans are those made to borrowers with tarnished credit histories.

Michael Perry, president of Independent National Mortgage Corp., a conduit, offered an alternative thesis.

Mr. Perry observed that many smaller thrifts were eager in early 1994 to book loans, especially nonconforming ones. "Usually that means lending to the local bigwigs, and (the thrifts) want those kinds of relationships and sale opportunities." But, with a solid year to build up loans in portfolio, he believes many lenders now want to scale down their exposure to jumbo credits, sometimes by selling seasoned loans out of portfolio.

In terms of total mortgage market share, thrifts maintained their share in 1994 and are expected to increase it this year, despite rising rates, Mr. Davis said.

Savings institutions originated 22% of mortgages in 1994, about the same proportion as in 1993.

"Market share rebounded from 18% in the first quarter of 1994, to an estimated 24% at yearend," said Mr. Davis.

Fixed-rate mortgages with a 30-year term remained the most widely originated product, according to the survey, accounting for 27% of originations, up from 22% in the year earlier.

One-year adjustable-rate loans staged the biggest advances in popularity, doubling their share of the market to 20%.

Adjustable-rate mortgages as a whole increased share sharply, to 32.8% from 15.7%, according to the survey.

However, a flattening yield curve may reverse some of those advances.

"In 1995, we expect the share of adjustable-rate lending to decline modestly as the spread between fixed-rate and adjustable-rate mortgages diminishes. We also expect originations sold through traditional secondary channels to pick up as a result," Mr. Davis said.

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