The pace of consolidation in the mortgage industry quickened in the past month - and the momentum may well carry into the spring.
While several deals were announced or closed in recent weeks, a spate of servicing portfolios went on the market.
The trend, experts say, is toward an acquisitions market dominated by servicing sales. While originations were fetching handsome multiples last year, a prolonged slump has made that part of the business hard to value - and harder to sell.
NationsBanc Mortgage was a one-bank gang in February, signing off on two deals with a combined value of almost $550 million. The unit of NationsBank Corp. purchased a $10 billion portfolio of servicing rights from Source One Mortgage Service for a reported $195 million. The next day, NationsBanc Mortgage announced a deal for Keycorp Mortgage's $25 billion in rights. That package fetched $350 million.
"Servicing is clearly the best thing we can do" for accounting-adjusted income, said Andrew D. Woodward Jr., president of NationsBanc Mortgage.
While not strictly a mortgage deal, one major acquisition will have a resounding effect. Fleet Financial Group's $3.6 billion purchase of Shawmut National Corp., besides creating a banking giant, will make Fleet a behemoth in New England mortgage lending.
After the two organizations are combined, Fleet will service close to $100 million of home loans and will have an originations network capable of producing some $15 billion of mortgages a year.
The impact of the merger on the New England originations market is sure to be impressive. In states such as Connecticut and Massachusetts, Fleet will have more than double the market share of the No. 2 lender, according to TRW REDI Property Data, a Riverside, Calif.-based information company.
A major undercurrent in recent weeks has been the continued move among moderate-sized servicers, mostly banks, to exit the business.
Three major banks - Bank of New York, Wachovia Corp., and AmSouth Corp. - are currently marketing servicing portfolios in the $10 billion range.
While all three are maintaining a commitment to originating loans in their main markets, they each opted against taking their servicing businesses to the next level.
In addition, sellers of servicing have clearly been attracted by the prices servicing can now command. However, observers say, the existence on three similarly sized portfolios on the market at the same time could drive down prices.
"I think that one of the three, I don't know which, may find itself disappointed with the results," said an executive at a major mortgage lender.
Other sizable deals completed in the past month include M&T Mortgage's purchase of Albany-based Statewide Funding Corp.
Statewide brings with it about $1 billion in servicing and several offices, mostly in upstate New York. M&T Mortgage, a subsidiary of First Empire State Corp., is based in Buffalo, N.Y.
Accubanc Mortgage completed purchase of Medallion Mortgage Corp., a Santa Rosa, Calif.-based mortgage bank with about $2 billion in servicing.
Purchase prices were not announced for either Statewide of Medallion.