Shares generally rose last week in what remains of the rapidly vanishing world of publicly traded mortgage stocks.
Once again, takeover speculation was the order of the day as eager investors pushed shares of North American Mortgage, this week's takeover candidate, up by $3.50, to $31.125.
Capstead Mortgage Corp. said in a filing with the Securities and Exchange Commission that it had sold 200,000 shares of North American on Thursday and Friday for $30.75 to $31 a share. It now holds 3.91% of North American's shares.
Two weeks ago North American, Santa Rosa, Calif., acknowledged that it had retained investment bank Morgan Stanley to help it field offers. This, coming as it did only days after American Residential Mortgage Corp., La Jolla, Calif., agreed to be bought by Chase Manhattan, sent the stock in an upward spiral that has yet to end.
While the identities of the institutions interested in North American could not be learned, industry experts are in agreement that the likely bidders will doubtless be banks.
Banks have been the buyers or principal bidders in all the big takeovers of mortgage banking companies recently.
Capital-rich banks have been looking for fee-based businesses and have been attracted to mortgage companies because of seemingly moderate prices brought on by the end of the refinancing wave.
Also advancing last week was Imperial Credit Industries, the California wholesaler, which gained 75 cents, closing at $11.50 a share.
Even Plaza Home Mortgage, a much-beleaguered California wholesaler, nosed up 25 cents, ending the week at $7.25.
An interesting case in recent weeks has been Fleet Mortgage Corp., Columbia, S.C.
In early July, Fleet's shares were mired in the $14 range. In general, the stock has not traded as well as some of its peers because of the belief that Fleet is takeover proof.
Fleet is unusual among mortgage banks in that it is publicly traded but majority-owned by a bank, namely Fleet Financial. Thus, the tendency has been for the company to trade more on industry fundamentals than on the takeover fury that was fueling much of the rest of the sector.
Nonetheless, Fleet has enjoyed a nice runup in recent weeks and ended last week at $16.375. One analyst, Tom O'Donnell of Smith Barney Shearson, said investors might be speculating that the strong takeover market might induce Fleet to buy back the publicly owned shares of its mortgage company.
Jonathan E. Gray, an analyst with S.C. Bernstein & Co., New York, has written that Fleet may benefit from having a large servicing portfolio relative to its production capacity and that earnings from servicing could more than make up for the slowdown in production.
Another major mortgage bank which hasn't benefited directly from takeover speculation is industry behemoth Countrywide Credit Industries, Pasadena, Calif.
Countrywide has a market cap of well over a billion dollars and its private value could approach $2 billion. Thus, it is generally considered less likely to be bought by a bank. Shares of the Pasadena, Calif.-based mortgage bank ended last week with a loss of 37.5 cents at $14.375. and Freddie Mac gained $1, to reach $60.25.