"Everything is for sale," exulted one investment banker. "Every single mortgage banker in America has to be thinking about selling into this market."

This may be an overstatement, but only a slight one. It certainly has seemed in recent weeks that just about every mortgage company not already owned by a bank is looking for a new parent.

Last week alone, American Residential Mortgage and Knutson Mortgage announced that they are on the block, and rumors were rife about North American Mortgage and Source One Mortgage.

Besides the debilitated originations market and frustration with the way mortgage companies are valued by the stock market, mortgage banks are trying to sell because they believe that banks are willing to step up and fork over hefty premiums.

Prices Seem Strong

A look at the deals consummated so far this year shows clearly that banks have been enthusiastic buyers. And, according to insiders, the prices paid have been fat.

"With the prices that are out there, we have to take a look at selling," said one top official at a mortgage company.

But with so many mortgage assets being offered, all sides are beginning to wonder if all the supply will dampen prices.

"Basically, I divide the deals into strategic ones and opportunistic ones," said an investment banker. "If a major bank makes a decision that it wants into a particular part of the country or really wants a company, the price paid could be very strong."

But, says a banker, once the banks that strongly want deals have paired up with mortgage banks, bids could take a tumble.

Nonprice Incentives

Even if prices do drop somewhat, mortgage bankers may still have incentives to sell.

The rise in interest rates this year has strangled refinancings and may even be slowing demand for homes. Mortgage banks have reacted by competing on price and laying off staff, but nonetheless may be feeling pretty bleak by December if business does not pick up.

One big question mark has been Countrywide Credit Industries. A favorite of the rumor mill, the mortgage giant has had its name linked with several major banks, but nothing solid has surfaced that there might be a deal.

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