Prudential Home Mortgage Co., the largest mortgage company ever to be put on the auction block, is attracting interest from at least three potential bidders, each with different motives.
The most intent may be GE Capital Services. Market sources say the company's mortgage unit, which has surged into the top ranks of mortgage servicers over the past few years, has hired Bear, Stearns & Co. to investigate Prudential Home, which services more than $75 billion.
Meanwhile, the sources say, AT&T Corp. is eyeing the company as a way to enter the mortgage business in a big way. The communications giant entered the credit card business in 1990 and quickly became a leader.
Finally, at least one major venture capital concern is said to be looking at Prudential Home. Venture capital firms usually buy companies with the aim of reselling them, either in public stock offerings or private deals.
Prudential, a unit of Prudential Insurance Company of America headed by Marvin Moskowitz, was put up for sale in March as part of an effort by the parent company to bolster its capital position. Investment bankers and others have said the unit may fetch more than $1 billion.
While bids are not due for another two weeks, people familiar with the offering say that some potential bidders have been intimidated by the size and diversity of the company. As a result, these parties are mostly looking at parts of the company, rather than the entire organization.
One concern of those familiar with the offering is that a large percentage of the servicing portfolio is jumbo loans, which are typically harder to hedge because it is difficult to judge how quickly the loans will prepay.
If GE buys the Prudential unit, it would be the latest in a series of its major acquisitions in the mortgage field. The company's servicing portfolio has grown from $12 billion to more than $100 billion since 1990.
GE's move into home mortgage servicing began in 1990, when it acquired Travelers Mortgage and its $12 billion servicing portfolio. It continued in 1993 with the purchase of Shearson Lehman Hutton Mortgage Corp. According to market sources, GE's goal is to service more than $200 billion. A spokesman for GE Capital said the company had no comment on its interest in Prudential.
Edward Furash, president of Furash & Co., a consulting firm in Washington, said it is an opportune time for AT&T to enter the business. Once the industry consolidates to a few large players, it would be difficult for a new entrant to break in, he said.
"The business is changing rapidly and is becoming increasingly technology-driven," Mr. Furash said.
AT&T would be a natural fit for the industry, he said, as loan processing and servicing becomes paperless and technology-driven. Because AT&T's credit card growth has leveled off since it was introduced, a mortgage company would open up cross-selling opportunities.
This reasoning also holds true for AT&T Capital Corp., which has separately expressed interest in Prudential. AT&T Capital is the unit of AT&T that specializes in leasing telecommunication and data processing equipment, including bank transaction processing equipment and automatic teller machines.
One venture capitalist said the mortgage business appears to be at or near its bottom, and now is a better time to buy than sell.
Brenda White, managing director at UBS Securities, said all industry eyes were on the Prudential deal to see who buys, because it represents the first time an outsider may be able to gain meaningful entry to the mortgage business.
"The underlying trend is clear." Mr. Furash said, "people will always buy houses."