UPDATE 1-U.S. Feb. foreclosures up 60 pct on yr -RealtyTrac

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NEW YORK, March 13 (Reuters) - U.S. home foreclosure filings in February edged down from January but were a whopping 60 percent higher than a year earlier, real estate data firm RealtyTrac said on Thursday.

The surge in foreclosures from a year earlier indicated that the cycle has yet to hit its peak, the firm said.

Home foreclosure filings in February totaled 223,651, down 4 percent from January, RealtyTrac, an online market of foreclosure properties, said in its February U.S. Foreclosure Market Report. The figure is a total of default notices, auction sale notices and bank repossessions,

In January, home foreclosure filings had risen 8 percent from December.

RealtyTrac, based in Irvine, California, said the national foreclosure rate was one foreclosure filing for every 557 U.S. households in February.

“The 4 percent monthly decrease this February was similar to the 6 percent monthly decrease we saw in February 2007,” James Saccacio, chief executive officer of RealtyTrac, said in a statement.

“However, the year-over-year increase of 60 percent this February was significantly higher than the 19 percent year-over-year increase in February 2007, indicating we have still not reached the peak of foreclosure activity in this cycle,” he said.

Nevada had the highest foreclosure rate in the country, with one foreclosure filing for every 165 households, followed by California and Florida.

All three states had been among the hottest U.S. housing markets during the boom years from 2000 to 2005.

Default rates and foreclosures have jumped over the past year as the housing market deteriorated. As interest rates on adjustable rate mortgages reset higher, many homeowners who have been unable to sell their homes or refinance existing home loans amid a drop in home prices have been forced into foreclosure.

Nevada had 6,167 foreclosure filings in February, up 1 percent from January and up 68 percent from February 2007.

Although California’s foreclosure activity fell 6 percent from the previous month, it still ranked second highest in the nation with one filing for every 242 households.

California, the most populous U.S. states, reported 53,629 foreclosure filings, the most of any state and up 131 percent from February 2007.

Florida had one foreclosure filing for every 254 households ranks in February, with 32,447 filings, up more than 7 percent from January and more than 69 percent than a year earlier, RealtyTrac said. (Reporting by Julie Haviv; editing by Leslie Adler)