Countrywide Financial Corp led shares of U.S. mortgage companies lower on Friday as investors received fresh reminders that a shortage of liquidity might crimp profits.
Shares of Countrywide closed down 2.8 percent, rebounding from an earlier 13.7 percent slide, after the largest U.S. mortgage lender said in a regulatory filing that it was facing unprecedented disruptions in the market to buy and sell home loans, and that the ultimate impact was unknown.
Washington Mutual Inc, the largest U.S. savings and loan, said in a separate filing that market liquidity had diminished significantly, and that it would be adversely affected while this persisted. Its shares fell 2.2 percent.
Friday's decliners also included MGIC Investment Corp, which fell 13.4 percent after a JPMorgan Chase analyst downgraded the mortgage insurer to underweight from overweight.
Two mortgage investors also slid. Anworth Mortgage Asset Corp closed down 19.6 percent after a unit received a default notice. Thornburg Mortgage Inc, which also makes loans, fell 14.9 percent after two credit agencies downgraded its ratings deeper into junk status.
After U.S. markets closed, two California lenders, Accredited Home Lenders Holding Co and Impac Mortgage Holdings Inc, reported large second-quarter losses.
Accredited, which makes subprime loans, projected a $40 million to $60 million loss as delinquencies on loans it serviced tripled. Impac, which this week suspended funding Alt-A home loans, posted a $152.5 million operating loss.
Countrywide's decline followed recent comments by several company executives, including Chief Executive Angelo Mozilo, acknowledging the tough market but assuring investors that the lender had sufficient liquidity to ride it out and thrive.
As defaults spread beyond riskier subprime borrowers to people once considered good credit risks, investors have refused to buy many loans rated below prime. This is forcing Countrywide and rivals to keep more loans themselves rather than sell them and incur potentially large losses.
There wasn't much new that the market didn't already know in Countrywide's filing, said Ryan Lentell, an equity analyst at Morningstar Inc in Chicago. It's scary for a lot of people to see it in writing for the first time.
Concerns about the mortgage industry grew Thursday and Friday as central banks worldwide injected more than $300 billion into the financial system to help stave off potential liquidity shortfalls.
Mortgage lenders, meanwhile, have tightened standards, ending some of the riskier or exotic mortgages that contributed to rising defaults. At Countrywide and Washington Mutual, for example, the adjustable-rate mortgage whose rate jumps up after two years is no longer available to subprime borrowers.
Calabasas, California-based Countrywide declined to elaborate on market conditions.
Libby Hutchinson, a spokeswoman for Seattle-based Washington Mutual, said in an e-mail that the thrift does not rely on mortgage banking to supply its funding needs. That's the advantage of being a bank, not a monoline lender, she wrote.
Shares of Countrywide closed down 80 cents at $27.86, after earlier falling to $24.73. Washington Mutual dropped 81 cents to $35.95, after earlier falling to $34.70. MGIC closed down $5.58 at $36.21; Anworth fell $1.10 to $4.51; and Thornburg fell $3.17 to $18.06. The KBW Mortgage Finance Index fell 2 percent.
BROAD-BASED, NOT UNIVERSAL
Lenders have not been universally punished in the mortgage market downturn.
Purer-play lenders with real or perceived liquidity shortages, such as NovaStar Financial Inc and the now bankrupt American Home Mortgage Investment Corp, have been among the hardest hit.
HomeBanc Corp, an Atlanta lender that sold assets to Countrywide this week, filed for bankruptcy protection late Thursday.
Next come better-diversified companies such as Countrywide and Washington Mutual that have other businesses to offset temporary weakness in mortgages -- though even Countrywide generates more than half of its revenue from mortgages.
And then there is Wells Fargo & Co, the second-largest mortgage lender, which never made many of the riskier loans and offers some 80 other products. Shares of the fifth-largest U.S. bank have moved little in recent weeks, and closed Friday up 0.7 percent.
Countrywide trades around book value, while Wells is trading at around twice book value, which shows the risk the market puts on being a purer mortgage market participant, Lentell said.
Several analysts say Countrywide will weather the turmoil.
Countrywide is likely to emerge from the current housing downturn with enhanced market share (and) improved economics, wrote Howard Shapiro, a Fox-Pitt, Kelton Inc analyst who began coverage of Countrywide with an outperform rating. It will be a tough slog until then.