Two investment banks that said last year they were in no rush to buy mortgage originators announced deals to buy such companies Friday.
Barclays PLC said it had agreed to buy EquiFirst Corp., the subprime unit of Regions Financial Corp., for about $225 million, and would make it part of the U.K. company's securities unit. And Credit Suisse Group said it had signed an "option agreement" giving it exclusive rights to buy part or all of ResMae Financial Corp., a Brea, Calif., lender partly owned by the private equity firm TH Lee Putnam Ventures. The Swiss company did not say how much it would pay.
"There is lots of supply out there, and pricing is attractive" for mortgage lenders, said Brenda White, a managing director at Deloitte & Touche Corporate Finance LLC, the auditing firm's investment banking unit. "It's a good time to buy."
Michael Wade, a managing director at Barclays, said lower prices influenced its buy decision but were secondary to beating the competition.
"We could have waited six to nine months, and if the mortgage market was still turbulent, perhaps we could have paid less for a different originator," he said. But Barclays "didn't want to find that competitors bought all the high-quality originators and that we were left to dig through what was left."
The British company "has no plans to get into retail with EquiFirst," Mr. Wade said. Rather, the origination unit would complement HomeEq Servicing Corp., which Barclays bought from Wachovia Corp. last year for $469 million.
When that deal was announced in June, Mr. Wade told American Banker that Barclays would not consider buying an originator until it could "button down" risk management. On Friday, however, he said, "To complete vertical integration, we have a strong capital markets effort, and now we have servicing. It makes sense to buy an originator." The deal for EquiFirst is expected to close in the first half.
In October Michael Marriott, a Credit Suisse managing director, said it was shopping for a lending platform but that prices were too high. Ms. White said: "It sounds like what happened is that Credit Suisse is getting the option agreement so they can do the due diligence work" on ResMae "and see if they can get the deal done." (The option expires Feb. 9.)
Last month another Credit Suisse managing director, Michael Fallacara, said integrating a lender into an investment bank was "very difficult," particularly because of the high head count and infrastructure costs of a mortgage bank.
The choice of ResMae "does fit with the idea that & they would do deals of a size that would be more manageable to integrate," Ms. White said.