The mortgage business has an abundance of slippery slopes these days: slim profit margins, class actions, declining credit quality, among others.

The more than 100 top mortgage executives who attended the Midwinter Housing Conference here over the weekend discussed and debated these problems morning and evening. In between, they took to the slippery slopes of this ski center for some relief.

Angelo R. Mozilo, president and chief executive of Countrywide Home Loans, Pasadena, Calif., was one of the stars of the conference, setting the tone at the opening session with some downbeat comments on the state of the industry.

"You hear a lot about consolidation," he said. "But the other side of it is deconsolidation. A lot of people are getting out of the business." He added that retail lending was a tough business because of "prohibitive" costs. "Slowly but surely, that business is contracting," Mr. Mozilo said.

He was also lukewarm about one new frontier of lending, the Internet. "We get 65,000 hits per month on our Web page," he said. "Unfortunately, 50,000 of them are by people under 13 years old."

Mr. Mozilo and another speaker on the opening panel were skeptical about one of the supposed benefits of consolidation: economies of scale.

Leonard S. Simon, chairman, president, and chief executive of Rochester Community Savings Bank, said, "There are no economies of scale beyond a certain minimum point. Most of the economies in a merger come when one of the partners is an inefficient producer that gets efficient."

Mr. Mozilo said the idea of scale was overblown, though it still exists to some extent, especially on the servicing side.

The Countrywide executive's starring weekend was capped by the airing on Sunday of a half-hour TV program on CNBC about his success in building his company into the biggest independent mortgage lender. The show is part of a series about people who went to California to seek a fortune and succeeded.

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What happens if the bank and thrift charters become one? One consequence, according to Douglas B. Hansen, president of Redwood Trust Inc., is that $300 billion in mortgages will need a new home as the thrifts reduce their holdings to a more banklike 28% of their investment portfolios.

And on top of that, "some portion of the $1 trillion" of mortgages held by banks will come onto the market as banks reduce their overcapitalization, Mr. Hansen told the Utah meeting.

A likely outcome, Mr. Hansen said, was a big increase in the number of real estate investment trusts that hold mortgages. He characterized REITs as especially efficient, low-cost investors that can produce superior equity returns.

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Kevin J. Lagerwey, a senior vice president at HFS Inc., shed some light on his company's mortgage plans. He said it expected to double its present mortgage volume, about $10 billion a year, "at a running rate" within the next 24 months.

He said, however, that the company was uncertain whether each realty office would have a loan officer on the premises or whether there would be roving lenders who cover a number of offices.

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