In early August, when Norwest Mortgage had surpassed its entire origination volume for 1997 at $56 billion, Mark Oman said he would be surprised if the company's volume for the year reached $100 billion.


On Wednesday, Norwest determined that Tuesday's $410.3 million of loans had pushed its volume for the year to just over $100 billion, with three weeks to go in the year.

During the summer the chief executive of what is now Wells Fargo & Co.'s mortgage unit said he expected a seasonal slowdown in the market for purchase loans. The refinancing market, white-hot at the beginning of the year, had slowed down as rates had come up. "Unless we had a pretty good rate rally, I didn't think we'd hit it," Mr. Oman said.

Lo and behold, the Russian crisis of late August shook world financial markets. Institutional investors dumped their holdings of corporate, junk, and mortgage-backed bonds and moved into U.S. Treasury securities, driving down interest rates.

And that fueled another burst of loan originations.

Once again, Mr. Oman stressed the importance of purchase volume in driving Norwest's record production levels.

"Every time rates drop down, it really helps the affordability for first-time homebuyers jumping into the market," he said. He added that there is a lot of "trade-up" activity by homeowners moving into bigger, costlier houses.

"Where we are, in the low to mid-6% range, you can afford a bigger house than you could have a couple years ago" in the 8% range, Mr. Oman said.

This has been a record year for mortgage originators. "It's been a confluence of a record purchase market and a record refinance market kind of stacked on top of each other," he said.

Despite the mind-boggling numbers, Mr. Oman said, Norwest customers' satisfaction level has stayed the same as last year-a feat in itself given the much heavier work load.

Internal surveys indicate that Norwest's customers are happy with the service it has provided, "probably because they're surprised at how fast they can get served in this environment. A lot of the memory of consumers has been that any time there's been a refinance market you have to wait in line for months to be served," Mr. Oman said.

The time required from application through closing has "hung in there" this year, he said.

Norwest Mortgage enjoys a 7.5% to 8% share of the origination market.

For now, it is intent on exploiting the improved name recognition and increased outlets resulting from the merger of its former parent company, Norwest Corp. of Minneapolis, with Wells Fargo, San Francisco.

"That's huge," Mr. Oman said.

However, in this year's extraordinary environment, "we're rationing our capacity. ... We're trying not to incent extra volume, which we normally would be" interested in getting.

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