<p>ALEXANDRIA, Va – Credit unions continued making a growing number of first mortgages in 2001, writing 16.7% more of the real estate loans than in 2000, up from $76.3 to $89.1 billion, according to NCUA. The 16.7% growth rate for the loans doubled last year's 7.8% growth rate as well. The mortgage figures were only one indicator among many of strong credit union growth in 2001. The number of credit union members climbed from 77.6 million to 79.3 million in 2001 while their membership helped lift credit union assets 14.4%, up from $438.2 to $501.4 billion. Credit unions also continued their strong growth in used auto financing. Used auto loans rose 10.4%, up from $60.1 to $66.3 billion, while new auto loans dropped a slight 0.7%, down from $60.6 to $60.2 billion, according to the agency. "The slowdown in new automobile lending may reflect the trend by automakers to offer new car buyers 0% financing," the agency speculated. But as with anything else a lot of a good thing can be hard to manage. Increased savings across the board have also decreased credit unions' net worth and loan to share ratios, the agency said. According to NCUA, credit union savings came in with an increase of 15.2%, up from $379.2 in 2000 to $437 billion in 2001. This is significantly higher than the previous estimate of $397 billion for 2001 which NCUA Chief Financial Officer Dennis Winans presented at the NCUSIF briefing in January. Then Winans estimated the increase of credit union insured savings for 2001 at 12%. He also forecast the Fund's equity ratio would rise to 1.32 by December 2002, based largely on an anticipated 6.5% share growth. He defended that forecast by citing historical trends indicating that years of strong share growth are followed by years of low growth. But other credit union economists have estimated that if NCUA's forecast for 2001′s share growth was low, the actual 2002 share growth rate may also be higher than the agency expects. The result may be a lower than anticipated NCUSIF equity ratio and a premium for insured credit unions. Unless the law is changed as part of the ongoing FDIC reform, NCUA would have to assess a premium for federally insured credit unions if the equity ratio falls to below 1.2%. However, Bill Hampel, chief economist for CUNA, doubted whether share growth would be sufficient to require a premium. Hampel pointed out that in April credit unions would have to adjust their 1% deposits with the fund to reflect their increased deposits and that adjustment will likely move the equity ratio away from needing additional premium. Winans recently downplayed the significance of the higher numbers, pointing out that stronger economic growth in 2002 could still be expected to cut into the growth in insured shares. Savings grew across the board, according to the agency. "Zeroing in on longer-term instruments, share certificates grew 12.5%, up from $105 to $118 billion, and IRA/KEOGH accounts gained 9%, up from $36.3 to $39.6 billion," the agency said. Money market shares grew 37.4%, up from $50.5 to $69. 5 billion and regular shares increased 13.8%, up from $131.2 to $149.3 billion.</p>

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