Cargill Inc., the Minneapolis-based grain and fertilizer giant, is seeking to increase its residential lending by 30% this year, to more than $1 billion.

Its Cargill Financial Services Corp. has established a new lending division, Access Financial Holdings Corp. The move combines Access Financial Corp., an Atlanta-based unit that finances purchases of manufactured housing, and Equicon Corp. of Minnetonka, Minn., a subprime mortgage lending unit.

Cargill Financial Services Corp. is establishing the division's headquarters in Minneapolis.

"The consolidation will enhance our ability to provide exemplary customer service," said Ken Duncan, chairman and chief executive of Access Financial Holdings. He previously was a senior vice president at Cargill Financial.

Leslie Zejdlik Forster, former president of Equicon, has been named president of the new unit. Don Little and Aron Thielen have been named managing directors of the manufactured housing and the mortgage lending operations, respectively.

Also, David Crouch, a former executive at Chemical Financial Services Corp., has been named managing director of servicing and collections for both units.

Despite Access Financial Holdings' deep-pocketed parent, industry observers are cautious about the firm's ability to reach its goal of 30% originations growth, to about $1 billion, in 1996.

"They have the money behind them," said Christine Clifford of Wholesale Access, a Columbia, Md.-based consultancy. "But, it's going to be really tough to see a 30% increase in originations."

The home equity loans and subprime credit that Access Financial Holdings is focusing on are particularly competitive markets, she noted. "There are so many new players. Even though the market is growing by 10%, the number of players is growing faster."

Many lenders have been entering the home equity market in quest of higher margins because competition in the market for first mortgages has been so intense.

Manufactured housing is also a tough market, she noted, because it is dominated by firms like Green Tree Financial Corp. And other big lenders, among them CWM Mortgage Holdings, are planning such lending.

Cargill Financial's mortgage lending division has securitized more than $590 million in residential mortgages since 1994, while the manufactured housing division completed its first $180 million securitization in November 1995.

The company plans to continue its strategy of buying loans from correspondents, Mr. Duncan said. "We're not in an acquisition mode right now," he noted.

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