Ill., Calif. Investigating Countrywide
By ALEX VEIGA 12.14.07, 7:40 AM ET LOS ANGELES -
Attorneys general in California and Illinois are investigating the lending practices of Countrywide Financial Corp., the nation's largest mortgage lender..
The Illinois attorney general launched a probe into the lender's business practices and may expand the investigation to examine how homeowners were approved for mortgages with payments they were unable to afford.
"We're looking at why people who appear to us to not be able to afford the loans they're in are in these loans and how Countrywide contributed to that," said Deborah Hagan, chief of the attorney general's consumer protection division, on Thursday.
A California probe is also under way, a state official familiar with the attorney general's investigation into mortgage lending practices said late Thursday on condition of anonymity, citing the confidential nature of the investigation.
In a statement, the Calabasas-based company said it was cooperating with Illinois' investigation and declined further comment. A spokesman didn't immediately return an after-hours call inquiring about the California probe.
The company told the Los Angeles Times it had received subpoenas from both states' attorneys general and that it was cooperating with the investigations.
Countrywide, like many in the mortgage industry, has suffered under the weight of the subprime fallout as thousands of customers default on home loans.
Defaults and subsequent foreclosures have been most pronounced on adjustable-rate mortgages made to borrowers with past credit problems.
The subprime loans typically require a lower monthly payment in the first two or three years before resetting to far higher amounts.
Meanwhile, Countrywide on Thursday disclosed details of how its mortgage lending business fared in November.
The lender said its home loan production increased last month by 5 percent from October but dropped 40 percent from the same month last year.
The increase from the previous month came despite ongoing turmoil in the mortgage industry caused by falling home prices, rising loan defaults and a chill in demand by Wall Street for mortgage-backed securities.
The company generated $23 billion in mortgage loans last month.
It continued to scale back subprime mortgages to people with shaky credit histories. It funded just $17 million in such loans last month, down from $3.06 billion in November 2006.
It also originated fewer adjustable-rate mortgages last month. Funding for those loans totaled $3.3 billion, down from $14.3 billion in the year-ago period.
In all, the lender originated 125,431 mortgage loans in November, compared with 199,929 in the same month last year.
Countrywide said some 6.34 percent of the loans in its servicing portfolio were delinquent last month, up from 4.57 percent in the year-ago period.
Shares of Countrywide fell 45 cents, or 4.3 percent, to $10.08 Thursday.
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