Cendant Corp. said it earned $422.3 million in the fourth quarter, an increase of 55% over the same period last year, largely on the strength of its mortgage business.

The company said late Wednesday that the unit more than tripled its earnings to $60 million, due to a high level of mortgage originations.

Cendant's earnings per share rose to 22 cents for the fourth quarter, up 69% from the same period in 1997. Cendant Corp. offers consumers and businesses services in four areas: travel, real estate, alliance marketing, and other consumer and business services. The company is a franchiser of Howard Johnson hotels among others, rental car agencies such as Avis, and residential real estate brokerages including Century 21, ERA, and Coldwell Banker.

Cendant Mortgage, based in Mount Laurel, N.J., originates loans chiefly using a 1-800 telephone number. The mortgage unit has cross-selling relationship with Cendant's real estate brokerage franchises.

Cendant Mortgage made $7.7 billion of originations in the fourth quarter, an increase of 96%, the company said. For the year, the mortgage unit had $187.6 million in earnings, an increase of 151% over 1997.

Cendant's real estate division, its real estate broker franchises, earned $84 million in the quarter, an increase of 24% over the fourth quarter 1997. The division had earnings of $348.6 million for 1998, an increase of 54% over 1997.

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