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Wheel and Deal

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December 6, 2004


The wave of mortgage-related consolidations has now spread to Canada and South America.

Independence Community Bank Corp. of Brooklyn, N.Y., is looking for a buyer, the Financial Times quoted sources familiar with the possible sale as saying.

Independence, reportedly worth about $3.6 billion in market capitalization, is working with investment bankers at Lehman Brothers and Merrill to search for purchasers. While there are no "obvious" buyers, banking industry sources said interested parties may include North Fork, Citigroup, JPMorgan Chase, Wachovia and Household International's London-based parent HSBC Holdings, FT reported.

A spokesman for the bank declined to comment.

Independence reportedly invests deposits in residential mortgage loans. The company says it's a leader for multifamily mortgage lending in the New York metropolitan region.

Massachusetts-based Northeast Mortgage Bank is on the block, according to investment banking services provider W.J. Bradley Co.

The residential mortgage banker, operated by 124 employees, originated $1.56 billion in loans during 2003.

In continued plans to expand its international operations, Scotiabank Group of Canada recently announced it signed a memorandum of understanding to acquire 80% of Hipotecaria Credito y Casa, Mexico's third-largest mortgage lender. The transaction is scheduled to close early in 2005.

"The financial service penetration is low in Mexico and demand is growing much faster than in mature markets such as Canada and the United States," Scotiabank chief executive Rick Waugh said in a press release.

The bank, which says it is Canada's most international bank and a premier North American financial institution, operates in nine Latin American countries, including El Salvador, where it just completed the purchase of Banco de Comercio, according to the announcement.

Hipotecaria has a 15 percent mortgage market share of the Mexican Sofol, which reportedly are mortgage companies with government support to finance housing for lower-income Mexicans. The Mexico City-based lender has serviced about 72,000 loans, has 800 employees and 113 offices in 31 Mexican states, Scotiabank said.

In North Carolina, Weststar Financial Services Corp. formed the Bank of Asheville Mortgage Co. The new company started operating Thursday in two of its three locations.

The third location in Hendersonville, which is where it will be headquartered, will open mid-December.

President of the mortgage company is Rod Caldwell, formerly a vice President with Carolina First Bank.

The executive said the mortgage lender's success will be based on the convenient locations and sales associates dedicated to professionalism in lending and meeting customer expectations.

"The loan officer is crucial to the successful process for the borrower," Caldwell said, and the company "will employ only licensed loan officers with years of experience."

Seacoast Banking Corporation of Florida has agreed to buy Century National Bank in a cash-and-stock deal reportedly valued at $46.2 million, which is expected to close in the second quarter 2005.

The acquisition will make Seacoast No. 14 in the Orlando Fed-banking market, it said in a press release.

Seacoast, parent of mortgage banker First National Bank and Trust Co., reported that at the third quarter's end, year-to-date residential mortgage originations totaled $182 million.

Century is a subsidiary of Ohio-based Park National Corp. The parent company reported it originated and sold approximately $174 million of fixed rate mortgage loans during the first nine months of 2004.

Olympus Mortgage Co., a wholesale lender based in Orange, Calif., announced its operations have merged with those of Argent Mortgage Co.

No further information was disclosed.

The two companies did not return calls for comment before press time.

Coco Salazar is an assistant editor and staff writer for MortgageDaily.com.

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