U.S. News

Countrywide, New Century Shares Lead Lenders Lower


Countrywide Financial and New Century Financialled shares of U.S. mortgage lenders down for a third trading day as a new report suggested that even U.S. homeowners with good credit may be defaulting more often.

The report by Moody's Investors Service about "prime" loans came amid mounting concern about "subprime" borrowers, who have weaker credit histories. Investors worry that as home price appreciation slows, people will have more difficulty refinancing adjustable-rate loans as rates reset higher.

Mortgage Lenders

Also declining was Accredited Home Lenders Holding, a subprime lender. Analysts polled by Reuters Estimates, on average, expect it to report a fourth-quarter loss of 45 cents a share on Wednesday, compared with a profit of $1.96 a share a year earlier.

Moody's said delinquencies of 60 days or more on securitized prime "jumbo" mortgage loans rose to 0.323% in November, the highest in 2006.

Such loans are made to borrowers with good credit, but are larger than limits set by Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac so they usually carry higher interest rates.

November's delinquency rate was 8.7% higher than the 0.297% in November 2005, when it reached a "temporary apex" following Hurricane Katrina three months earlier, Moody's said.

Investors began fleeing lenders on Thursday after Britain's HSBC Holdings said it will set aside more for bad debts amid problems in its U.S. subprime unit, and Irvine, Calif.'s New Century said it expects to lose money in the fourth quarter and will reduce three quarters of earnings.

On Friday, Calabasas, Calif.-based Countrywide said foreclosures rose to their highest level since at least 2002, while delinquencies held near a five-year high.

Most of the focus has been on subprime loans, and analysts said the risks of holding subprime-related debt are rising.

Early this month, Friedman Billings Ramsey & Co. said the default rate on subprime loans that were packaged into bonds reached their highest level this decade.

Last Wednesday, in a report titled "Inferno," Credit Suisse analysts said the 60-day delinquency rate for second-quarter loans that were six months old had doubled from a year earlier to 5.7%.