The number of rating upgrades in the first quarter for U.S. structured finance transactions was nearly triple that of a year earlier, with commercial mortgage-backed securities leading the way, according to Fitch Ratings.Upgrades totaled 1,203 in the first quarter, compared with 421 in the first quarter of 2005, Fitch says in its latest global update report. The ratio of upgrades to downgrades also improved dramatically, rising from 1.1 to 1 in the first quarter of 2005 to 4.1 to 1. "By far the best-performing U.S. structured finance sector was CMBS, as evidenced by its 28.4:1 upgrade-to-downgrade ratio," the rating agency reported. "A sharp rise in defeasance was largely responsible for 483 upgrades, compared to just 17 downgrades." Residential MBS also turned in a strong rating performance, recording a 3.4 to 1 upgrade-to-downgrade ratio in the first quarter, far ahead of its 0.9 to 1 ratio a year earlier. "Longer term, however, the rate of RMBS upgrades will likely dwindle due to slowing prepayment speeds and subsequently slow build-up of credit enhancement," Fitch predicted. The rating agency can be found online at http://www.fitchratings.com.

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