BofA will pay $4.1 billion for Countrywide Financial
CHARLOTTE, N.C. – Bank of America said Friday it will buy Countrywide Financial for $4.1 billion in stock, a deal that rescues the country’s biggest mortgage lender and expands the financial services empire of the nation’s largest consumer bank.
The acquisition will make Charlotte-based Bank of America Corp. the nation’s biggest mortgage lender and loan servicer.
Bank of America said it initially plans to operate Countrywide separately under the Countrywide brand, with integration occurring no sooner than 2009.
The transaction represents a 7.5 percent discount to where Countrywide shares ended Thursday after they soared on news that a rescue plan was in the works. It also effectively leaves Bank of America with a big loss on its $2 billion August investment in Countrywide Financial Corp. during the height of the summer’s global credit crisis.
An aggressive dealmaker who has already snapped up behemoths FleetBoston Financial and MBNA, Bank of America chief executive Ken Lewis this time isn’t buying a financial winner. Delinquencies and loans in pending foreclosure are rising in Countrywide’s portfolio, and Lewis said Friday “there are near-term challenges” in the nation’s housing market.
But Countrywide’s troubles have allowed Lewis to sweep in and add a major business line to his supermarket of financial products on the cheap.
“Countrywide presents a rare opportunity for Bank of America to add what we believe is the best domestic mortgage platform at an attractive price and to affirm our position as the nation’s premier lender to consumers,” Lewis said in a statement.
It also places Lewis in the position of a market savior. By buying Countrywide, he’s keeping the industry and regulators from the messy task of figuring out who would take on the responsibility of collecting payments for the 9 million U.S. home loans serviced by the Calabasas, Calif.-based lender.
Lewis said Friday there was no government support for Countrywide’s loan portfolio.
“There’s still plenty of risk involved,” said Bart Narter, senior analyst at Celent, a Boston-based financial research and consulting firm.
“He’s brave to do it. But I think that it’s very likely down the road to be profitable, maybe not immediately, but long term.”