CALABASAS, Calif. - Employment at Countrywide Credit Industries rose in January for the second month in a row, but the origination business continued to slide.Though Countrywide said its work force grew nearly 1% - to 10,610, from 10,521 - it reported Thursday that its total production for January was down 21% from December. The nation's largest nonbank-owned mortgage company increased its work force by nearly 400 in December, ending months of declines that had reduced head count by about 20% from peak levels in 1998.

A spokesman for Countrywide said the spike in December occurred because of the purchase of Balboa Life and Casualty Insurance and credited January's increase to a prospering servicing business. "When rates tick up, servicing becomes our hedge against fluctuations in revenue," he said.

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