Wall Street is buzzing this summer about a rash of job hopping by top- level mortgage executives.

Industry observers say the moves signal renewed demand for top-flight talent now that the market for mortgage securities is robust. Increased demand for securities also benefits mortgage banks by allowing them to price loans more competitively, one investment banker said.

The market's increased activity is evident in the amount of mortgage securities being issued. In the first half of this year, mortgage banks supplied Wall Street with $247 billion of loans, according to Inside Mortgage Securities, an industry newsletter. That's twice as much as in first half 1995.

Among the senior executives who have jumped ship is Kevin Finnerty, the mortgage chief at Bear, Stearns & Co. in New York. The firm would not discuss his departure, but an executive at another investment bank said it was most likely over compensation.

"Markets are good right now," the investment banker said. "People are able to move around."

Bear Stearns, one of the leading issuers of mortgage securities, named Jeffrey Mayer, its top trader, to replace Mr. Finnerty.

In another high-profile departure, Charles Huang, a top researcher of mortgage and home equity loans, left Prudential Securities, New York, for a senior post at Deutsche Morgan Grenfell, also based in New York. And Warren Xia, a colleague of Mr. Huang, left Prudential for a research spot at CS First Boston, New York.

Mortgage banks are also beefing up their mortgage trading and investment activities. Countrywide Securities, a unit of Countrywide Credit Industries in Pasadena, Calif., added two regional directors as part of a drive to build institutional business. Countrywide hired Kevin N. Callan from CS First Boston, New York, to head fixed-income sales. The company also hired Fred Mercuro Jr., who had been at Meridian Capital Markets in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., to beef up sales to banks and money managers.

First Union Corp. in Charlotte, N.C., has also been staffing up. The company's capital markets group just hired two traders - Curtis Y. Arledge and Webster Hughes - to focus on mortgage securities.

Mr. Arledge was a partner at Mariner Investment Group in New York, where he was the senior trader for a hedge fund that specialized in fixed-income arbitrage.

Mr. Hughes was the managing founder of Analytical Strategy Group, a New Canaan, Conn., company that developed fixed-income trading software.

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