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Bank of America Completes Countrywide Purchase

The most-discussed mortgage transaction in industry history is complete, with Bank of America Corp. (BAC) saying Tuesday morning that it had completed its purchase of mortgage industry giant Countrywide Financial Corp. Cue the memoirs, and the forward-looking analyses of what lie ahead for the North Carolina-based bank, which now becomes the nation's largest lender and servicer. The Wall Street Journal began what will likely be the first of many looks at the bank's newest mortgage chief Barbara Desoer, noting that her performance will likely determine whether BofA CEO Kenneth Lewis stays or goes. Lewis, for his part, noted that BofA is hoping to find synergy in consumer credit with its new-found mortgage market dominance. "Mortgages are one of the three main cornerstone consumer financial products along with deposits and credit cards," he said in a press statement. "This purchase significantly increases Bank of America's market share in consumer real estate, and as our companies combine, we believe Bank of America will benefit from excellent systems and a broad distribution network that will offer more ways to meet our customers' credit needs." The new owners are immediately making some changes, including eliminating option ARMs and most reduced-documentation lending programs -- BofA said any non-conforming lending it does will be done on "terms expected to produce no greater risk of default than conforming loans." "Now we begin to combine the two companies and prepare to introduce our new name and way of operating," said Desoer. Sources suggested that Countrywide was one of only a few remaining lenders still funding second liens on a so-called "piggyback" basis; one source, a large REO manager, told HW Monday evening that nearly every REO sold recently included a second funded by Countrywide. Sales of REO inventory have been largely cited as the driving factor behind a recent small bump in resale activity. "[Countrywide has] been funding our REO volume 24 months out from now," the source said, who asked not to be named in this story. Bank of America did not comment on whether it would continue offering second liens to enable zero down purchases by investors. Also under speculation was the future of Countrywide's substantial broker network for wholesale origination; the lender has been one of the few to retain its wholesale channel while other competitors have run for the exits. HW's sources have suggested that BofA is likely to shutter wholesale originations at some point in the future, citing the bank's own exit from wholesale mortgage originations in 2007, but bank executives have thus far kept their plans in this area a closely-guarded secret. Disclosure: The author was long BAC by virtue of shares held in CFC when this story was published. HW reporters and writers follow a strict disclosure policy, the first in the mortgage trade.

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