On the boardwalk in Atlantic City, life will be peaches and cream, an old song says. And for executives gathered there this week at the Northeast regional conference of Mortgage Bankers associations, a few days of respite in a luxury resort may be as good as it gets.

They have been battered for more than a year not only by declining origination volume but also by price competition so fierce as to be fatal for many participants. Indeed, who's missing from the conference this year may be more telling than who's there. And it seems the industry has seldom had so many hot subjects to discuss.

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