Mortgage production at Countrywide Credit Industries increased to $4.86 billion in December, a 9.5% increase from November, according to data released this week.

The company, parent of Countrywide Home Loans Inc., said it had loans totaling $7.63 billion in its pipeline at month's end.

Low interest rates have spurred business at Countrywide and other mortgage banks as homeowners refinance existing mortgages in large numbers. Home sales have also exceeded expectations.

A year earlier, Countrywide's loan production was $3.7 billion.

Most of Countrywide's loans in December-about $1.8 billion-came from correspondent lenders, who are often smaller mortgage banks that originate loans for sale to bigger companies.

Wholesale purchases of mortgages from brokers accounted for another $1.7 billion of December's loans. Loans through Countrywide's own offices totaled $1.4 billion. In recent years, Countrywide has expanded its retail network, reasoning that loans it makes itself are cheaper and less likely to refinance than those it buys from brokers.

The company added 268 employees in December-an increase of about 4%-for a total of 7,408 employees.

Countrywide's servicing portfolio grew to $177.5 billion-1% over the November level.

Delinquencies climbed to 4.41% of all loans, from 4.29% in November. Another 0.62% of loans are pending foreclosure, unchanged from November.

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