Countrywide Financial Corp. released numbers today showing a refinancing boom helped push February mortgage loan fundings up 16.9 percent from the month before, to $25.6 billion, but purchase-loan activity fell to a new low.

Countrywide said refinancings grew 29.2 percent in February, to $19.5 billion, helping the company post the best numbers for total mortgage fundings since August.

But purchase-loan volume fell 10.2 percent, to $6.1 billion — a new low for Countrywide since the housing slowdown began. Before the disruption of secondary mortgage markets last summer, Countrywide’s monthly purchase loan volume hit $20.7 billion in June, a peak for the year.

The Calabasas, Calif.-based lender saw total loan fundings plummet from a 2007 peak of $45.3 billion in June to $21.2 billion in September after worries about delinquencies and foreclosures disrupted the secondary market for loans not guaranteed by Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac.

Average daily mortgage loan applications for February fell 27.1 percent, to 1,924, compared to the month before, and mortgage loans in the pipeline also slipped by 6.8 percent, to 47,559.

Credit quality in Countrywide’s $1.48 trillion servicing portfolio was mixed, with delinquencies essentially unchanged but foreclosures pending continuing to rise.

The delinquency rate on Countrywide’s servicing portfolio, which stood at 4.48 percent a year ago, was growing by an average of 40 basis points a month in the second half of 2007, including a 68-basis-point jump from November to December.

But in February, for the first time in nearly a year, delinquencies as a percentage of unpaid principal balance did not show a month-to-month increase. Measured as a percentage of unpaid principal balance, the 7.44 percent delinquency rate was essentially unchanged from 7.47 percent in January.

Measured as a percentage of the 9 million loans serviced by Countrywide, the delinquency rate actually fell 18 basis points from January to February, hitting 6.91 percent. That’s even lower than the 6.96 percent rate posted in December, but still represents about 622,000 loans.

Foreclosures pending continued a relentless rise, however, growing 16 basis points in February to 1.64 percent when expressed as a percentage of unpaid principal balance — more than double the 0.8 percent rate a year ago.

Foreclosures pending as a percentage of loans serviced increased 8 basis points, to 1.13 percent — or roughly 102,000 loans.

All told, 9.1 percent of Countrywide’s $1.48 trillion servicing portfolio — 724,000 loans totaling $134.5 billion — is either delinquent or in foreclosure.

Countrywide added workers in loan originations for the first time since July, boosting the workforce headcount in loan originations by 182 positions, to 22,115. While that’s a 35.6 percent reduction from a July peak of 34,326 employees in loan originations, Countrywide hasn’t added workers in originations since secondary market disruptions forced it and other lenders to cut back loan production.

Countrywide also appears to have slowed the pace at which it hires new workers in loan servicing to conduct workouts with troubled borrowers. After adding 185 employees in loan servicing in January — bringing staffing in the department up 26.5 percent from a year ago — the headcount in servicing grew by just 48 positions in February, to 9,087.

Companywide, Countrywide’s headcount grew by 55 positions in February, to 50,169 — the first time the company has grown since July, but still off 18.5 percent from peak employment of 61,586 in July.


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