More private mortgage companies may follow the path of Headlands Mortgage Co., a California wholesale originator that filed to sell eight million shares last week.
With rates relatively low, analysts are saying it may make sense for other companies with strong origination franchises to tap the public markets.
"The environment is good right now. It would be a lot easier to do it now than if rates backed up," said Kenneth A. Posner, an analyst at Morgan Stanley, Dean Witter, Discover & Co.
Gareth Plank, an analyst at UBS Securities, said that if rates continue to fall a situation similar to that of 1993 could occur.
Several mortgage lenders went public that year in the midst of a refinancing boom. At the peak of the boom, there were more than a dozen publicly traded mortgage companies.
But only a year later, commercial banks, hungry for volume, bought many of these lenders. Now Countrywide Credit Industries, HomeSide Inc., and Resource Bancshares Mortgage Group are the three surviving major publicly traded traditional mortgage lenders.
Subprime mortgage lenders, on the other hand, are ubiquitous, as investors continue to flock to the more profitable subprime sector.
Gregory J. Bennett, president of Hamilton Carter Smith & Co., a Beverly Hills, Calif., mortgage investment banking firm, said he doubts Headlands' offering is an isolated incident.
But analysts said there are fewer big companies poised to tap the public markets than in 1993.
Accubanc Mortgage, Dallas, which originated $2.7 billion of mortgages in the first half of this year and serviced a portfolio of $10.5 billion at June 30, is one company rumored to be considering a public offering.
Other large private mortgage companies are Alliance Mortgage, Jacksonville, which services a portfolio of $6.8 billion, and Columbia National Inc., which originated $668 million in the first half of the year and services a $5.6 billion portfolio.
One analyst for an investment fund, who asked not to be named, said that larger mortgage lenders, especially banks, are scouring the market for companies that are strong originators. Going public may be a way for originators to attract acquisition bids.
That scenario unfolded earlier this year, when KeyCorp acquired subprime lender Champion Mortgage before Champion went through with its previously announced IPO.
The buy-side analyst said this might not be the case with Headlands because lenders are paying higher multiples for retail originators. Only about 3% of Headlands' production volume came from retail originations, according to the company's prospectus.
Still, one analyst said he was surprised that Headlands was going public because its servicing portfolio, less than $4 billion, is not very large.
Even though volume is up for many companies in the second half of the year, the origination business is not very profitable. Many compensate for losses in their production business by servicing multi-billion-dollar portfolios.
Mr. Plank said more mortgage real estate investment trusts will go public than will actual lenders. Many mortgage REITs invest in mortgage- backed securities. Some of them service loan portfolios, but few actually originate mortgages.