Long Beach Mortgage Co. is one of the few big names in subprime lending that remains privately held. But it won't stay that way long.

The Orange, Calif., lender plans an initial public offering of 25 million shares of common stock at $10 to $12 a share, according to a filing Tuesday with the Securities and Exchange Commission.

During the last year and a half, such offerings have raised capital for many companies that lend to homeowners with damaged credit. But observers said that Long Beach's move may be ill-timed.

"It's probably the worst time ever" for a subprime mortgage company to go public, said Thomas Facciola, an analyst at Lehman Brothers Inc., New York, who specializes in the sector.

While many such companies watched their stock prices skyrocket within months of hitting the street, such opportunities may no longer be available, he said.

Stock prices for most subprime lenders have fallen significantly in the past month, and analysts fear that the sector is losing momentum. The highly publicized blowup of two subprime auto lenders in January has tainted the business of lending to the credit-impaired, while the Fed's recent interest rate hike sent finance company stocks tumbling.

"It would be an extremely difficult time to go to the market due to the mass exodus of the investment community," said John Hess, an investor relations executive at United Companies Financial, a Baton Rouge, La., lender.

And for subprime mortgage companies vying for investors' attention, competition is stiff, Mr. Facciola said. "Look how many great firms are already public," he said, "and their stock is down 40%."

Friedman, Billings, Ramsey, the underwriter for the Long Beach IPO, is reportedly having a difficult time drumming up investor support, said sources close to the deal. The underwriter would not comment.

Long Beach is something of a curiosity among subprime lenders. It was converted from a thrift in 1994, originates mainly through mortgage brokers, and sells its loans rather than securitizing them.

Profit margins in the wholesale broker origination business have been thin, Mr. Hess said. "It's certainly not as profitable as our retail outlets," he said. Last year, Long Beach originated $1.06 billion of A- minus, B, and C loans, almost double its 1995 volume.

Long Beach was in the news last year when it paid $4 million to settle a bias suit brought by the Department of Justice. The suit was the first in which the department held a lender responsible for the actions of its mortgage brokers.

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