A surge in refinancings in the second half has put the mortgage industry on track to exceed its 1996 origination volume.

At midyear, it looked as though 1997 would not be as strong as the preceding year. Fourteen of the top twenty-five mortgage originators had lower volume in the first half of 1997 than in the first half of 1996.

But the second half of this year has seen the most significant wave of refinancing activity since the storied refi boom of 1993, as indicated by results at several large lenders.

At Countrywide Credit Industries, the nation's second-largest mortgage lender, 44% of originations in November were refinancings.

As interest rates continue to fall, refinancing activity is expected to remain strong, but observers said it wouldn't match 1993, when volume for some lenders was almost exclusively refinancing.

Eric P. Sieracki, a managing director at Countrywide, said about 25% of its production normally is refinancings. But during the refinancing boom of 1993, Mr. Sieracki said, about 75% of originations came from this category. Once the boom ended, Countrywide's overall volume slipped.

Because the economy is much stronger now, lenders are hoping to rely less on refinancings for increased volume. "Our principal goal is to focus on the stable purchase market," Mr. Sieracki said.

But refinancings have boosted most large lenders' volume.

Countrywide originated about $4.4 billion in November, about the same as in October. Countrywide has already originated $38.3 billion this year, matching last year's total.

The nation's largest lender, Norwest Mortgage, originated $22.9 billion in the first half of the year, a 14% decrease from last year. But in the third quarter, it originated an astonishing $15.75 billion of mortgages.

In October Norwest originated another $5.5 billion, bringing its total for the 10 months to $44.15 billion. It seems likely that Norwest will eclipse last year's total of $51.5 billion. The company had $7.1 billion in applications in October,1 and its pipeline of closed loans was $12 billion.

Resource Bancshares Mortgage Group, the ninth-largest lender, originated $4.85 billion in the first six months of this year, a 14% decline from the year before. But by Oct. 31, it had originated $8.83 billion, 3% more than in the same period last year.

"It is a good time to be a mortgage banker," said Thomas Garvey, executive vice president of Chase Manhattan Mortgage Corp., the third- largest lender.

Chase originated $16.5 billion through June 30, 2% less than in the first half of 1996.

But Mr. Garvey said it is now on track to originate about $36 billion this year-15% more than last year.

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