UPDATE 1-MGIC posts smaller loss as fewer homeowners default
* Breaks even on per share basis in fourth quarter
* Analysts expected a loss of $0.03/share
* Delinquent loans 8.92 pct as of Dec. 31
* Shares rise 2.4 pct before the bell
Jan 23 (Reuters) - Mortgage insurer MGIC Investment Corp posted a smaller-than-expected quarterly loss as fewer U.S. homeowners defaulted in a recovering housing market.
MGIC shares rose 2.4 percent to $9.30 in premarket trading.
Rising house prices mean fewer homeowners have loans that exceed the value of their property, reducing delinquencies.
The percentage of MGIC's loans that were delinquent, excluding bulk loans, fell to 8.92 percent as of Dec. 31 from 11.87 percent a year earlier.
"I remain encouraged by the trends in home prices and employment that we have benefited from over the last several quarters," Chief Executive Curt Culver said in a statement.
MGIC reported a fourth-quarter net loss of $1.4 million, or break even on a per share basis, compared with a loss of $386.7 million, or $1.91 per share, a year earlier.
The year-ago quarter included a one-time charge of $267.5 million to reflect settlement of a dispute with Freddie Mac and an increase in loss reserve estimates.
Analysts on average had expected a loss of 3 cents per share, according to Thomson Reuters I/B/E/S.
Mortgage insurers such as MGIC, Radian Group Inc and life insurer Genworth Financial Inc's mortgage unit protect lenders in cases where homebuyers make down payments below a certain threshold.
The preliminary risk-to-capital ratio at MGIC's combined insurance operations was 18.4-to-1 as of Dec 31. Mortgage insurance regulators commonly allow for a maximum risk-to-capital ratio of 25-to-1.
MGIC shares closed at $9.08 on the New York Stock Exchange on Wednesday. They have tripled in value over the last year.
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