In an anomalous and ironic consequence of the scorching economy, the $14 billion manufactured-housing business has all but collapsed in the last 14 months, leaving the companies that remain in the sector desperate to jettison their prefab-home interests or struggling just to survive.

Buoyant expectations for the business in early 1999 led to increased production and aggressive lending, but the summer of '99 was sobering: Sales to dealers and consumers fell more than 30%, according to a report by Mark Zandi, chief economist at Economy.com, a West Chester, Pa., consulting firm that recently changed its name from RFA Dismal Sciences.

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