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Merger Madness

Recent mortgage-related merger activity

February 25, 2009

By staff

A billionaire with a growing servicing business will add a bank to his mortgage-related holdings, while two other bank mergers involve recipients of the Troubled Asset Relief Program. Two of last year's big acquisitions advanced through the integration cycle.

Countrywide has moved a wholesale lending executive into retail, a spokesman told in a statement Monday. As a result, the third-party channel now operates under the same executive who oversees correspondent and warehouse lending.

Bank of America Corp. acquired Countrywide Financial Corp. in July 2008, subsequently consolidated mortgage operations in Calabasas, Calif., and plans to re-brand the unit as Bank of America Home Loans on April 27.

Wachovia Corp.-subsidiary Vertice was integrated into Wells Fargo's wholesale lending business, a broker announcement earlier this month said. Wachovia, which was acquired by Wells Fargo & Co. on Dec. 31, 2008, exited wholesale lending in July 2008 but kept the Vertice unit which operated out of its corporate investment bank.

"We'll integrate our two companies under one leadership," a Wells spokesman told in a statement. "Our goal is providing our team members with the vision and tools they need."

He indicated that Wells is still committed to its third-party channel.

MP Thrift Investments L.P. will acquire $100 million in equity capital from Flagstar Bancorp Inc., a Feb. 13 announcement said. The investment is in addition to $250 million acquired by MP on Jan. 30. The latest injection includes $50 million in convertible participating voting preferred stock purchases and the acquisition of $50 million in trust preferred securities.

Flagstar agreed to both investments without shareholder approval to avoid jeopardizing its ongoing financial viability. The additional investment raises MP's stake in Flagstar to more than 70 percent. As of Feb. 17, $25 million of the $100 million had been funded.

The Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation approved a merger between Yadkin Valley Financial Corp. and American Community Bancshares, Yadkin reported this month. The North Carolina Commissioner of Banks and the Federal Reserve already blessed the merger, though shareholders still must approve the transaction at a special meeting tomorrow. Yadkin scored $36 million in TARP investments during January.

Provident Funding recently sent a notice to its third-party customers indicating new forms were needed as a result of it being acquired by Colorado Federal Savings Bank.

Shareholders of Independent Bank Corp. approved a second amended merger agreement for the Rockland, Mass.-based bank to acquire Benjamin Franklin Bancorp Inc., a Feb. 13 press release said. The closing is still subject to the receipt of all required regulatory approvals and satisfaction of other standard closing conditions.

Independent operates subsidiary Rockland Trust Co., which the FDIC issued a removal-and-prohibition order against last year. Rockland -- which operates five mortgage origination offices -- was approved in December, however, to receive $78 million under the capital purchase program.

Early last month, Billionaire Wilbur Ross -- who owns American Home Mortgage Servicing Inc. -- told CNNMoney that he planned to buy a bank. Less than two weeks later, Ross announced that he had reached an agreement to acquire control of a 50-year-old Florida bank.

Ross will acquire a 68 percent stake in First Bank and Trust of Indiantown from Linda M. Post, the widow of the bank's late chairman, a Jan. 16 press release said. Post will retain a 23 percent interest in the $83 million institution as part of the agreement, which is still subject to regulatory approval.

"This is one of the few banks in Florida that has avoided the credit crisis very effectively," Ross said in the statement. "Because it is well positioned to grow, I am prepared to provide the institution with additional capital."

Ross will be well positioned to add mortgage originations to his holdings with a servicing platform that was handling a

American Home's mortgage servicing portfolio was $91 billion as of June 30, 2008. The combination of an existing servicing platform and the availability of deposit funds will position Ross well to add residential originations to the operations.

LendingTree parent Inc. reported earlier this month that it acquired the assets of from Loudwater Labs Inc. Terms of the deal weren't disclosed.

Former Oppenheimer & Co. Inc. star analyst Meredith Whitney -- who correctly forecasted massive losses at U.S. banks before the sector began hemoraging -- has formed Meredith Whitney Advisory Group LLC. The firm will provide thematic based industry analysis.

"Our new firm combines a unique approach of macro outlook, strategy and company specific research," Whitney said in an announcement to prospective clients.

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