Countrywide Financial Corp. had net earnings of $343 million for the fourth quarter of 2004, down from net earnings of $564 million in the same quarter of 2003, the company said today.

Earnings per diluted share were 56 cents, down from last year’s fourth-quarter earnings per share of 94 cents. A group of analysts polled by Thomson First Call had predicted earnings of 81 cents.

Total loan production volume was $95 billion for the quarter, up 25 percent from the comparable quarter last year. Purchase fundings were $47 billion for the quarter, advancing 36 percent over the year-ago period. The company said this demonstrates the success of its strategic initiative to increase volume in the less interest-rate sensitive purchase market.

The company’s servicing portfolio increased $193 billion over last year to a record $838 billion, Countrywide said.

The company also reported year-end results, with consolidated net earnings of $2.3 billion, declining 2 percent from last year’s net earnings of $2.4 billion. Earnings per diluted share were $3.83, compared to $4.18 for 2003.

Total loan production volume was $363 billion for the 12 months, a 17 percent reduction from 2003. The company attributed the year-over-year total production volume decline to a 39 percent decrease in refinance volume over the same period. Despite this decline, 2004 still marked the second-best year in the company’s history in terms of loan production volume, the company said.

“Countrywide’s 2004 operational and financial results were strong,” said Angelo Mozilo, chairman and chief executive officer, in a statement. “During the year, Countrywide reclaimed the top spot in mortgage originations and servicing, while achieving substantial growth in our diversified businesses.” The CEO noted that the 2004 financial results were the second best in the company’s 35-year history.

The company’s stocks traded at $35.98, down $2.05 or 5.39 percent, mid-morning Wednesday.

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