Moving to strengthen its fixed-rate mortgage business, Great Western Financial Corp. announced Tuesday that it had hired Lawrence A. Spera, currently of Knutson Mortgage Corp., to run a new secondary-market conduit.

In a prepared statement, the Chatsworth, Calif.-based thrift said the new conduit would focus on jumbo fixed-rate loans originated by the thrift and other lenders.

Mr. Spera's is the first high-level hiring by Ray W. Sims, executive vice president of real estate services at Great Western. Mr. Sims was himself hired from Bloomington, Minn.-based Knutson Mortgage last month with the goal of propelling Great Western into the ranks of the top five mortgage lenders in the nation.

Great Western, which holds assets of $42.9 billion, is aiming to boost its mortgage volume this year by 25% from the 1996 total, to $7.7 billion.

In an interview last week, Mr. Sims said the key to achieving that goal is stepping up Great Western's involvement in the fixed-rate market.

In recent years, "80% of the marketplace has been begging for a competitive fixed-rate, and 80% of our production has been adjustables," Mr. Sims said.

"If this is a swimming pool, we are in the shallow end," he said. "It's time for us to go off the high dive and say we're going to play in all markets, (including) conforming fixed (and) jumbo fixed."

The new conduit will enable Great Western to offer more competitive rates to consumers by getting higher prices for its mortgage-backed securities from investors.

To build volume at the new conduit, which will compete with the likes of Norwest, Countrywide, NationsBank, GE Capital, and Fleet, Great Western will leverage its portfolio capacity, Mr. Sims said.

Mr. Sims said lenders who want to do adjustable business with Great Western would also have to commit themselves to delivering a certain volume of fixed-rate loans. Adjustable-rate loans are in great demand when rates are rising, and mortgage bankers are keen to make adjustables and sell them to large thrifts like Great Western.

Great Western is telling major lenders, according to Mr. Sims: "If you want $100 million of portfolio Cofi (cost-of-funds-index) ARMs, you also need to deliver $20 million of jumbo fixed product."

Mr. Spera, who will be senior vice president of capital markets at Great Western, has been senior vice president of secondary marketing at Knutson since 1995. Before that, he worked at GE Capital Mortgage Corp., with Mr. Sims, as vice president of secondary marketing, beginning in 1990.

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