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First American Sees Acquisitions as an Avenue for Growth

The First American Corp. wants the world to know it is not just a title company, though it may indeed be one of the largest firms in that industry.

Chairman and CEO Parker Kennedy, who visited with editors of MSN and its sister publications recently, noted that while investors have been bracing for the impact of lower mortgage origination volume, First American's earnings "really haven't declined nearly as much as they could have."

And several recent acquisitions will help First American bolster its diversification, adding more power to its default-related services, company executives said.

Mr. Kennedy believes the company is prepared to continue prospering in a rising rate environment. That does not mean that First American will de-emphasize its role in the title business, however. "The earnings of the title company are what drive our ability to diversify," he said. Cash acquisitions have allowed First American to add on to its business without diluting the ownership of current shareholders.

Mr. Kennedy said First American's customers, which include some of the nation's largest mortgage lenders, want a bundle of services from the real estate information giant. "More and more you go to a mortgage lender and they want you to do everything," Mr. Kennedy said.

First American recently acquired automated property valuation provider Basis100, a move that Mr. Kennedy believes will strengthen First American's offerings of automated valuation models. Having several AVM models on hand strengthens First American's property valuation lineup, he said. He believes that having multiple AVM models will pave the way for combined AVM results, similar to a "merged credit report" which tallies results from all three major credit repositories.

"Basis100 has a lot of customers. And they have a good product, so they were a good buy for us," Mr. Kennedy said.First American completed the acquisition of Basis100 in September. The company said the deal makes First American the nation's largest provider of AVMs. First American also offers field services work to the mortgage industry through its subsidiaries as well as other default management services.

"We have all of the products that you need in order to process a foreclosure," Mr. Kennedy said.Recently, First American acq-uired Matrix Asset Management to round out its services on the default side of the business. "That was the last piece in the puzzle. We never had asset management," Mr. Kennedy said.

At the moment, Mr. Kennedy said that the default business remains lean in many areas, largely because rising home prices have kept the number of foreclosures down.

But while he doesn't believe there is a national "bubble" in home prices, some areas, particularly along the coasts, may have unsustainably high housing costs, Mr. Kennedy said.In 2001, First American acquired LFC Nationwide and merged its resources into First American Field Services, now based in Sterling, Va. First American said this created the largest provider of property preservation, asset and collateral inspections and field services in the mortgage industry. First American Field Services maintains relationships with approximately 3,000 independent contractors who perform property inspection and preservation services nationwide.

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