On its Web site Eastern Mortgage Services promises potential borrowers stability.
"We're a subsidiary of Dauphin Deposit Bank and Trust Co. with over $5 billion in assets. So we're not going anywhere."
As far as customer relationships are concerned, that may be true. But in fact, sources say, Eastern Mortgage's new parent company, Allied Irish Banks, is considering a sale of Eastern and its other American mortgage banking unit, First National Mortgage.
Allied Irish, Dublin, bought Dauphin Deposit Corp. in July. Dauphin was folded into First Maryland Bancorp, which Allied Irish bought in 1989. First Maryland also owns First National Mortgage.
A few months ago, First Maryland, Baltimore, hired two mortgage advisers to explore possibilities for the units. Cohane Rafferty Securities Inc. was retained to look at whether merging the two mortgage companies was viable. And UBS Securities was hired to see whether there were interested buyers for one or both units.
A spokeswoman for First Maryland had no comment about plans for the mortgage companies.
But speculation about a sale has heated up recently. The two mortgage companies are primarily retail originators. With rates on the 30-year Treasury bond hovering around 6% and refinance activity picking up, investment bankers say there is substantial interest in companies that have strong production networks.
Last year the two units originated $2.3 billion of mortgages. And in the first half of this year, Trevose, Pa.-based Eastern Mortgage alone originated $1.1 billion.
In addition, observers pointed to last week's announcement by Allied Irish that it will sell First Maryland's credit card division, First Omni Bank N.A., to BankAmerica Corp., as a sign that Allied Irish is willing to unload other businesses.
Eastern Mortgage has already sold a small part of itself. Last month, it sold its wholesale division to Tucker Federal Bank, a thrift in Tucker, Ga.
The wholesale division was not a large part of Eastern Mortgage's business, but observers said this sale could mean that Eastern Mortgage has been given the green light by First Maryland to sell other parts of its business as well.
There are rumors that Eastern Financial Services, the company's subprime unit, is next to be sold.
Some sources said Herbert L. Carrel is interested in purchasing the unit along with Texas billionaires Sid and Lee Bass. Mr. Carrel and the Bass brothers owned BancPlus Mortgage and sold it to Barnett Banks in 1995.
But Mr. Carrel, who now runs Steelstone Mortgage, a subprime lender in San Antonio, said he hasn't even heard of the company.
An official at Bass Co., the investment firm of Sid and Lee Bass, would not comment about the rumors.