...and Cracks $800B Mark

In October, Countrywide Home Loans here passed the $800 billion mark in servicing rights aided, in part, by its purchase of an $8 billion portfolio from Guaranty Residential Lending, Austin, Texas.

Investment bankers familiar with the Guaranty portfolio said Countrywide negotiated directly with GRL, a firm that will now only service residential loans on the books of its bank affiliate.

The purchase price was in the range of 95 to 100 basis points, observers said. "Countrywide already had a relationship with Guaranty and talks went smoothly," said one servicing broker.

At the end of October, Countrywide owned $806 billion in residential receivables, a 30% gain from the same period a year ago. (It is now the nation's largest servicer - as well as lender.)

Its purchase of the Guaranty portfolio closed in October and was alluded to in a recent analyst note put out by Sandler O'Neill. The analyst note, penned by Sandler O'Neill's Mike McMahon, mentioned that Countrywide bought $8.2 billion in housing receivables in October compared to $3.4 billion in September.

Traditionally, Countrywide has avoided purchasing bulk servicing packages, opting instead to build its portfolio through its own retail/wholesale fundings and receivables tied to its correspondent loan acquisitions. (Countrywide is the nation's largest correspondent buyer of closed loans. Most of the mortgages it purchases are sold "servicing released.")

A Countrywide spokesman said he could not identify any firms that sold servicing packages to Countrywide. It is unclear whether all of the servicing that Countrywide bought in October belonged to Guaranty.

The spokesman said his company "probably" will make more "opportunistic" servicing purchases in the months ahead but cautioned that "this is really not a change in strategy." The market for "bulk" servicing rights has been slow the past two years because of the refinancing boom and faster-than-normal prepayment speeds.

But all of that could be changing thanks to higher mortgage rates.

One servicing broker, requesting anonymity, said his firm isn't currently working on any deals but hopes to soon. "I think pretty soon we will see buyers getting back into the game," he said.

One package currently being marketed is a $400 million ARM portfolio being shopped by Phoenix Capital of Denver.

The sale of $8 billion in servicing by Guaranty has been anticipated for several months. Temple-Inland Inc., which owns Guaranty, took a $13 million after-tax hit on its mortgage business in the third quarter.

Guaranty is in the process of shedding its 100-branch, non-bank mortgage network. (Part of the network was recently sold to New York Mortgage Trust which acquired 15 full-service and 26 satellite retail branches in the Northeast and Mid-Atlantic.)

Despite the servicing and branch sales, Guaranty will remain in the mortgage business, concentrating its focus on where its bank affiliate has retail depository outlets. It also will keep its wholesale division.

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