August 21, 2007 in Business

Lender gives reassurances

Associated Press The Spokesman-Review
 
Associated Press photo

A Countrywide bank customer enters a Los Angeles branch on Monday. Associated Press
(Full-size photo)

Countrywide Financial Corp., the nation’s largest mortgage lender, sought to reassure customers Monday that the liquidity problems dogging its mortgage operations were not affecting its banking unit.

The assurance came amid a report that Countrywide has started laying off an undisclosed number of employees as it tries to ride out the credit crunch that has rocked the home loan industry.

The job cuts occurred in Countrywide’s Full Spectrum Lending unit, which handles mortgages given to customers with minor credit problems or who can’t provide full income documentation required for traditional prime loans, The Wall Street Journal reported, citing an internal e-mail sent Friday to employees of that division.

Countrywide Financial spokesman Daniel Weidman did not immediately respond to a phone message from The Associated Press seeking comment.

The Calabasas-based company ran full-page ads on Monday in U.S. newspapers, including the Los Angeles Times and Detroit Free Press, in which it asserted “the future is bright” at Countrywide Bank FSB.

The ads noted the bank has more than $100 billion in assets, investment-grade ratings from three major credit agencies, and that the credit woes rocking its mortgage lending business don’t affect federally insured deposits at its 105 financial centers around the nation.

It’s a message Countrywide has tried to get across since last week, when a Wall Street analyst suggested the company could end up in bankruptcy if the liquidity crunch sparked by rising mortgage defaults worsens.

The company ran a small advertisement in the Monday edition of The Spokesman-Review, telling readers “Countrywide – still going strong in your neighborhood.” It has five regional branches.

Countrywide said last Thursday it had borrowed $11.5 billion so it could keep making home loans.

The developments left many Countrywide Bank customers frazzled over the security of their deposits. Many have converged on bank branches in search of answers.

Countrywide employs a total of about 61,000 people.

Its shares fell $1.62, or more than 7 percent, to $19.81 Monday after rising 13 percent on Friday.

The shares have traded in a 52-week range of $15 to $45.26.

Countrywide is the largest mortgage lender by volume, accounting for more than 13 percent of the loan servicing market as of June 30, according to the mortgage industry publication Inside Mortgage Finance.

The mortgage lending industry has been grappling with a spike in mortgage defaults and foreclosures as the housing market has cooled.

Many homebuyers have been forced into default or foreclosure because they haven’t been able to sell their homes or end up owing more than their home is worth.

Like other lenders, Countrywide has also tightened its credit guidelines and stopped selling some types of adjustable rate loans.


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