The boom in lending to people with less-than-perfect credit has spawned a new cottage industry.

Three years ago meetings and symposiums on the subject were rare, minimally advertised, sparsely attended, and low-budget. But in 1997, the meetings are everywhere. Call it the conference circuit for the credit- impaired.

This fall alone, more than five conferences are planned on subprime lending-to be held in Las Vegas, Atlanta, London, Philadelphia, and Las Vegas again.

"Obviously, it's a sign of a huge industry," said Jeffrey Zeltzer, executive director of the National Home Equity Mortgage Association.

And for conference organizers, it's a lucrative market. AIC Conferences, New York, is holding its first "Subprime Everything" conference next week. Attendance is expected to be around 250, which at a conference fee of $1,400 will gross AIC $350,000. Although marketing costs are significant, AIC is "making money off of this," said Mike Michalakis, general manager.

But with the rash of new choices, what's a busy chief executive officer to do? "It's difficult picking and choosing," said Hugh Miller, chief executive of Delta Financial Corp., Woodbury, N.Y. "You could spend all your time just going to conferences."

Delta executives are going to fewer and fewer conferences, Mr. Miller said, because often they are attended by "a lot of brand-new people looking to get into the market" rather than by established players.

In fact, newcomers to the subprime conference bazaar have been petitioning hard to get well-known executives to attend. Frank J. Fabozzi Associates' November subprime asset-backed securities conference in Las Vegas has managed to pull in several top-shelf speakers-in part because the organizers offered complimentary airline tickets, hotel rooms, and guest passes, attendees say.

One subprime mortgage conference that no chief executive would miss is the annual meeting of the National Home Equity Mortgage Association. It is traditionally an opulent and relaxed affair-more a chance for top-tier executives and industry veterans to schmooze and cook up new deals than a way for newcomers to learn the business.

Last year's conference, in Maui, Hawaii, was attended by more than 1,100.

The National Home Equity conferences are much more than purely educational, said the association's Mr. Zeltzer. "Business development is a key structure," he said; "doing deals and getting to know people" are most important.

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