Overcoming rising interest rates and a sharp drop in refinancings, Chase Manhattan Mortgage was one of the few mortgage companies to chalk up double-digit growth in originations last year. This performance lifted it past two competitors and into the top spot.

In a year that saw overall volume dip, market consolidation through acquisitions proved to be the ticket to growth.

The Edison, N.J., unit of Chase Manhattan Corp. originated $93 billion in 1999, up 11%, according to rankings compiled by National Mortgage News, a sister publication of American Banker. (For the top 100 originators in 1999, see tables on pages 14 and 15.)

Chase's market share grew more than two percentage points, to 7.75%, as it leapfrogged Norwest Mortgage, the home-loan unit of Wells Fargo & Co., and Countrywide Credit Industries, the largest independent mortgage company. The New Jersey-based lender got a boost from its Sept. 30 purchase of Mellon Bank Corp.'s mortgage unit.

In past interviews, Chase officials have credited its ability to originate adjustable-rate mortgages and its focus on loans to buy homes rather than on refinancings.

But the link between deals and growth was evident well beyond Chase. Citigroup Inc., whose volume rose 22%, to $20 billion, bought Source One Mortgage. And Greenpoint Financial's production shot up 283%, due in large part to its purchase of Headlands Mortgage.

Gains were the exception, not the rule. Most lenders reported sharp drops in production.

Norwest, which changed its name to Wells Fargo Home Mortgage Monday, said originations dropped 25%, to $82 billion. The Des Moines giant's market share dipped slightly, to 6.83%. Countrywide's volume fell 15%, to $75 billion, and its market share inched up to 6.28%.

The leaner market led to further consolidation. The top 100 originators controlled 83.87% of the market last year, up 10.45%.

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