Regional and national lenders in the Southeast are finishing the year on a wave of originations, but business is expected to ebb a bit in the first quarter.
The Southeast-especially hot spots such as Atlanta, Jacksonville, Fla., and Charlotte, N.C.-has experienced "extremely strong lending, particularly in the refinancing area," said K. Wesley M. Jones, managing director for conduit programs at First Union National Bank.
However, turmoil in Asian economies has "elevated concern among many lenders concerning credit quality," said Steven F. Herbert, chief financial officer for Resource Bancshares Mortgage Group Inc. of Columbia, S.C.
The fourth quarter "still will be a very, very strong quarter, one of the best probably in the history of the industry," Mr. Herbert said. "We're still ripping down the highway, and we've got plenty of business."
The Mortgage Bankers Association's hot mortgage market index ranks four Southeastern states in the top 20-Georgia (No. 5), South Carolina (No. 6), Florida (No. 12), and North Carolina (No. 14).
"The Southeast is one of the better regions in terms of their mortgage market opportunities," said Brian Carey, regional economist for the MBA.
Lenders that are based in the Southeast and operate nationally or regionally are celebrating a banner year. And this quarter's momentum may carry into the first quarter, said Mr. Jones of First Union, because "there is a finite amount of capacity (and) infrastructure to handle the volume."
Boyd R. Boudreaux, vice president and chief lending officer of Fidelity Homestead Association, also expects the brisk pace to continue into the new year because of the high volume of refinancings spurred by continued low rates.
Refinancings were about 60% of production at the New Orleans savings and loan; purchases and new construction made up the remainder. The S&L says it expects to close $115 million in loans this year, up from $57 million last year.
Fidelity Homestead has had "a tremendous fourth quarter, stronger than we certainly anticipated," Mr. Boudreaux said. "October was our highest loan production month of the year, which traditionally happens in the spring."
Though purchases are strong, Mr. Boudreaux said, concern in New Orleans over the oil industry is having an impact. "Low prices and consolidation of the industry have created some layoffs in this region," he said.
HomeBanc Mortgage Corp. in Atlanta has also registered very strong volume in the fourth quarter, with a big portion from refinancings, said D.C. Aiken, vice president. "The fourth quarter in the Southeast has been stable," he said. But he expects the economy to slow down, which will lead to "a slower first quarter than we've seen in the past two years."
Atlanta has been in a boom for 36 months, and "the natural thing is for it to slow down a little bit," he said.
HomeBanc's fourth-quarter origination volume for its South Florida operations is projected at $112 million, up about 45% from a year earlier, said James Flood, senior vice president for South Florida. "The market has a good pulse going," Mr. Flood said. "It's very strong. As long as rates remain in the sixes, it's going to be."