WHAT'S A MORTGAGE servicing portfolio worth these days?

Recent major transactions haven't shed much light on the topic, except to make it clear that the long-standing rule of thumb of 125 basis points is obsolete.

GE Capital Corp.'s purchase of the Shearson Lehman Hutton Mortgage Corp. portfolio, for example, appeared to be priced at about 40 basis points, a big bargain. But observers pointed out that the deal included liabilities as well as assets, so the effective price could not be determined without a look at the acquired company's balance sheet.

The 125-point rule of thumb apparently developed during periods of stable interest rates and delinquencies and moderate prepayments. This stability made the value of servicing easy to predict.

But life isn't so simple anymore. The long decline in interest rates has caused a fire storm of refinancings that continues to devastate servicing portfolios.

Now experts say the industry has quite properly given the thumb to the old rule of thumb. Instead, every underlying mortgage should be evaluated, they say. That's between 8,000 and 9,000 loans for each $1 billion of servicing.

Countrywide Credit Industries getting to be a bit of a bore.

Every month brings from the company another remarkable success story. The latest is that its mortgage pipeline applications being processed - has swollen to $9.1 billion.

Just a month ago, the figure was $8.1 billion, something previously unheard of in the industry. That means it will soon be reporting originations of more than $5 billion a month, something also previously unknown.

Back in May, Countrywide shares plunged 2 points, to $28 a share, when a prominent analyst removed his "buy rating. But the company has since gotten votes of confidence from others, the latest being Standard & Poor's Corp., and the stock has rebounded to about $32.25.

The rules put in place by the Department of Housing and Urban Development to implement the Real Estate Settlement Procedures Act have stimulated a lot of talk about one-stop shopping for real estate and mortgage services - known more ponderously as vertical integration.

In their present form, the regs appear to facilitate such integration. But in the real world, developments have for various reasons been a mixed bag.

Network Financial Services of San Jose, Calif., has been making acquisitions to build a one-stop shopping capability. And in Minneapolis, Rottlund Cos., a home builder, has announced it is forming a mortgage company.

On the other hand, the mortgage and realty brokerage units of Sears, Roebuck and Co. are no longer under the same roof. And San Francisco-based Grubb & Ellis Co. which has home-loan brokerage business, has sold its residential realty brokerage offices in Northern California as it continues to shed such brokerage businesses.

So one-stop shopping is idea whose time has yet to come.

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