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WaMu Closing Wholesale Unit, Retail Centers

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Mortgage Daily

                                                 April 7, 2008

Washington Mutual Inc. is shutting down its wholesale lending unit as well as its home loan centers. The move could potentially impact more than 10,000 employees.

The Seattle thrift is exiting the wholesale lending business, spokeswoman Sara Gaugl confirmed to MortgageDaily.com. In addition, the remaining stand-alone home loan centers will be closed.

“We have taken steps that accelerate efforts to shift our home loans business to more closely align with the company’s retail-focused business model, with an enhanced focus on delivering home lending products to customers exclusively through our retail banking stores and other direct-to-consumer channels, including telephone and online sales,” she explained.

Gaugl noted that the latest move was just an extension of a strategy undertaken last year.

In its fourth quarter earnings announcement, WaMu reported that it employed 49,403 people company wide as of Dec. 31. Of those, 11,323 employees worked in its home loans group.

Gaugl said she didn’t know how many of the 11,323 jobs would be impacted by the move.

The thrift, which started reducing headcount well ahead of many of its peers, laid off around 4,500 mortgage employees last year and more than 5,000 in 2006, based on data tracked by MortgageDaily.com. In 2004, about 7,400 mortgage jobs were cut, while approximately 4,000 were eliminated in 2003.

WaMu reported $138.3 billion in 2007 production, tumbling from $190.5 billion during 2006. Retail originators were responsible for around 63 percent of fourth-quarter business, while mortgage brokers accounted for 35 percent. Its servicing portfolio was $713.5 billion as of Dec. 31.

TPG, one the biggest U.S. private equity firms, is among a group of investors that may invest $5 billion in the thrift, the Wall Street Journal reported today. The investment by TPG, formerly known as Texas Pacific Group, would be structured as both a common- and preferred-stock offering.

The company had been on an acquisition binge earlier in the decade, transforming itself from a small thrift to a national player. Among its acquisitions were Providian Financial in 2005 and Dime Bancorp Inc. in 2002. In 2001, WaMu acquired Homeside Lending Inc., Fleet Mortgage Corp. and PNC’s residential lending business.

Those acquisitions left the company with an integration nightmare and prompted several class-action lawsuits on behalf of borrowers.

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