"Somebody is going to have to absorb the massive losses in right-positioning Countrywide," said Sean Egan, managing director of credit-rating firm Egan-Jones Ratings Co. "It can
be done, but the cost is going to be exorbitant. From Countrywide's perspective, it is their best chance for salvation."
A merger would come only three months after Charlotte, North Carolina-based Bank of America paid $21 billion to buy LaSalle Bank Corp from Dutch bank ABN Amro Holding.
Kenneth Lewis, the bank's chief executive, has not been shy about mergers, spending well over $100 billion in the last four years on acquisitions.
In Countrywide, the bank would be buying damaged goods.
Countrywide overhauled its lending practices this summer, essentially ending subprime and other riskier home loans, after being forced to draw down an $11.5 billion credit line because
investors would not buy its mortgages or offer credit.
The problems led to a $1.2 billion third-quarter loss. Countrywide now primarily makes smaller home loans considered less likely to default and has eliminated about 11,000 jobs since the end of July, ending the year with 50,600 employees.
Chief Executive Angelo Mozilo has called the nation's housing slump the worst since the Great Depression.
Critics have faulted Mozilo for encouraging loose lending practices at Countrywide that they say contributed to the current housing crisis.
He has also been criticized for realizing hundreds of millions of dollars in compensation and from exercising stock options over the last five years, even as the housing problems
grew more evident.