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THE number of households suffering from negative equity fell by 100,000 to 1.2 million in the first quarter, according to Rob Thomas, an analyst at UBS. The problem is only two thirds as common as at its peak in the first quarter of 1993. The average amount of negative equity fell from £5,000 to £4,700 and the overall total of negative equity has more than halved from a peak of £12bn to £5.5bn. Almost 60 per cent of negative equity sufferers are in London and the South-east, where a slight recovery in house prices is helping alleviate the problem.

NATWEST is offering a free 40-page booklet on investing in shares in its series Making your life easier. It looks at different kinds of shares, explains why shares go up, and down, defines frequently used ratios such as price/earnings ratio, and dividend yields, and explains dealing costs. Call 0800 200 400.

COMPANY pension funds are rebuilding surpluses back to peak levels according to Binder Hamlyn, the accountants. After bad years in 1992 and 1993, 1994 was a good year thanks to a combination of rising share income, low salary increases and falling long-term interest rates, which more than compensated for a fall in share prices. This improvement has accelerated in the first quarter of 1995. Binder Hamlyn's index, based on 100 in December 1986, reached a peak of 124.87 in 1991, fell back to 112.59 in 1993 and rallied to 122.30 last December.

TSB has launched a two-year fixed-rate mortgage up to 95 per cent of valuation at 6.4 per cent. TSB insurance is required, but an arrangement fee of £250 is offset by a free valuation up to £300. An early redemption fee equal to one month's interest for every year or part year outstanding for the next five years and a minimum of three months is payable.

A LEADING telephone-based mortgage provider, First Mortgage Securities, has produced a free guide on the advantages of repayment mortgages, available by calling 0171 836 3863.

ZURICH INSURANCE, Britain's ninth largest insurer, has launched Solutions, a package of motor insurance policies for all motoring problems from serious accidents to flat batteries. Extra cover options include a Homecall service for £16 a year and a breakdown recovery service for £32 a year.