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Fourth-quarter earnings slipped at

Washington Mutual


as the company's previous forecast for a slowdown in mortgage lending was borne out.

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The Seattle-based thrift earned $842 million, or 93 cents a share, in the latest quarter compared with $941 million, or $1 a share, last year. The 2003 quarter included income of 2 cents a share from discontinued operations. Washington Mutual also increased its quarterly dividend to 42 cents from 41 cents.

Analysts surveyed by Thomson First Call had been forecasting earnings of 89 cents a share in the latest quarter.

Net interest income was $1.74 billion in the most recent quarter, down from $1.91 billion a year ago, reflecting a 17-basis-point decline in the net interest margin to 2.90% and fewer loans held for sale. Fourth-quarter lending volume fell 36% to $69.9 billion from $108.5 billion a year ago.

Nonperforming assets were 0.70% of total assets at Dec. 31, 2003, compared with 0.93% a year earlier. Total nonperforming assets were $1.94 billion at the end of the fourth quarter compared with $2.48 billion a year earlier.