Chase Manhattan Bank appears to have the inside track to win the bidding for the $9 billion Wachovia Corp. servicing portfolio.

A final agreement, though not yet in hand, could come soon, according to sources following the deal.

The price for the asset could be substantial - as much as $145 million, according to one observer.

Officials from Chase Manhattan and Wachovia declined to comment.

A deal would extend the trend of banks making multiple acquisitions of mortgage assets. Chase purchased publicly traded American Residential Mortgage last summer for $348 million.

Currently, the bank is in discussions with Goldman, Sachs & Co. about the purchase of a $3.5 billion package of servicing rights, sources said.

NationsBank has been much discussed lately for its $545 million twin portfolio purchases from Keycorp Mortgage and Source One Mortgage Services.

The serial-buyer trend is fueled by the underlying economics of the loan servicing business. Banks are buying large portfolios in hopes of achieving ever-greater efficiencies of scale.

Once a bank like Chase Manhattan, with its $64 billion portfolio, reaches a certain size, it is able to wring more out of the asset than a servicer with, say, $8 billion of loans. As one observer put it, "At this point, who else is going to buy these things?"

Some banks also have said they hope to sell additional fee-based products to the servicing customers they acquire.

The Chase-Wachovia deal, while thought by many to be highly likely, is by no means a sure thing. Other players are said to be interested in the package, notably NationsBank and GE Capital Mortgage Corp.

It is not known whether Chase is interested in Wachovia's Winston-Salem servicing factory as well as the rights, but any buyer is sure to keep the plant open for at least several months during a transition period, one source said.

Since the American Residential Mortgage acquisition, Chase has been working on integrating its various mortgage banking units into Chase Manhattan Mortgage, based in Jacksonville, Fla.

In addition to the former American Residential properties, Chase also has the Louisiana headquarters of the old Troy & Nichols Corp., purchased by Chase in 1992.

Wachovia's decision to sell is part of a trend that is the flip side of the heavy buying by Chase, NationsBank, and others.

The North Carolina bank is one of several lenders with multibillion- dollar servicing portfolios that have chosen to exit the business in recent months, including AmSouth Bancorp. and Keycorp.

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