New Century Gets Default Claims, Says It Lacks Cash (Update8)
By Bradley Keoun and Yalman Onaran
March 12 (Bloomberg) -- New Century Financial Corp., the nation's second-biggest subprime mortgage lender, said it doesn't have the cash to pay creditors who are demanding their money, increasing speculation that the company will go bankrupt.
The New York Stock Exchange, citing the credit crisis, halted trading of New Century this morning until it decides whether to keep listing the company's securities. Shares of the Irvine, California-based company, already down 90 percent in 2007, lost half their remaining value in pre-market trading, and rivals fell as much as 25 percent today.
``They're one step closer to bankruptcy,'' said Bose George, an analyst at Keefe Bruyette & Woods in New York who rates the shares ``market perform.'' ``The only possibility for survival now is for someone, potentially an investment bank, to step in.''
New Century may be insolvent because too many of its own customers -- most of whom have poor credit histories or heavy debt burdens -- aren't repaying their loans. Bad U.S. subprime mortgages are at a seven-year high, forcing more than two dozen lenders to close or sell operations. Their woes may contribute to more than 1.5 million Americans losing their homes and 100,000 people losing their jobs, according to real estate executives, economists, analysts and a Federal Reserve governor.
New Century said in a federal filing it doesn't have funds to repay lenders including Morgan Stanley, Citigroup Inc. and Goldman Sachs Group Inc. The creditors want New Century to repurchase all outstanding mortgage loans they financed.
The company's shares traded for as little as $1.36 in pre- market trading, compared with $3.21 on Friday, a day when the stock hit an eight-year low. The company said March 2 that U.S. prosecutors in Los Angeles are investigating trading in New Century's securities before a Feb. 7 announcement that it planned to restate earnings. Investigators also are examining New Century's failure to properly account for the cost of bad loans.
``It's kind of the perfect storm,'' said Vince Arscott, an analyst in the financial institutions group at Fitch Ratings. ``You throw in accounting issues and delayed filings, you throw in a criminal inquiry, and then the whole secondary market is really sour on subprime.''
Rival lenders including Fremont General Corp., Accredited Home Lenders Holding Co., and NovaStar Financial Inc. have shed more than half their value this year, and Countrywide Financial Corp., the nation's biggest mortgage company, has tumbled 17 percent.
Accredited, which fell 28 percent today, was ``considered a better player in the space,'' said Matt Howlett, an analyst at Fox-Pitt Kelton in New York. ``But they're not immune to the deplorable conditions in the subprime space. You can't create any value in this market, and the likelihood of a sale, which we thought was really the only exit, just seems more unlikely every day.''
Fremont, which shut its subprime lending operations last week under pressure from U.S. regulators, lost 16 percent today. NovaStar shed 19 percent and Countrywide declined 2.7 percent.
Analysts including Merrill Lynch & Co.'s Kenneth Bruce predicted last week New Century will go bankrupt. New Century has used up cash as rising default rates forced it to buy back loans it sold to investors when borrowers didn't make their payments. The company said last week it's in talks with lenders and potential partners about refinancing or ``other alternatives.''
New Century's financing agreements have so-called cross- default provisions that trigger accelerated payments. Should all of its creditors force it to repurchase their loans, the total obligation would be about $8.4 billion, New Century said today.
``Medium, small-size players who were addicted to Wall Street financing are at most risk,'' said David Hendler, an analyst at CreditSights Inc. in New York.
Talks with lenders are continuing, and New Century can give ``no assurance'' that efforts to refinance the debt will succeed, the company said.
Standard & Poor's cut New Century's counterparty credit rating today to D, for companies that are in payment default, from CC.
New Century has received about $975 million of financing from Morgan Stanley. Part of the money from the New York-based securities firm was used to pay Citigroup Inc. about $717 million on March 8, after Citigroup demanded repurchase of its loans, New Century said in today's filing.
Subprime loans, a term applied to some of the riskiest home mortgages, are made to borrowers unable to qualify under traditional, more stringent criteria. The loans often carry interest rates 2 to 3 percentage points higher than regular mortgages and sometimes have low initial ``teaser'' rates that adjust higher in later years. Some lenders also lowered their standards last year to bolster revenue because slumping home sales had hurt demand.
The combination made the loans more prone to default, with delinquencies at more than 12 percent in the third quarter, according to the Mortgage Bankers Association. The Washington- based trade group is scheduled to release updated numbers for the fourth quarter tomorrow. Investors are increasingly shunning bonds backed by subprime loans.
``It's like a hot potato with these loans, no one wants them,'' Fitch's Arscott said.
OceanFirst Financial Corp., the holding company for OceanFirst Bank, said today it will revise 2006 earnings because buyers of some of its subprime loans are forcing the company to take them back. Borrowers of the loans -- which the bank offered starting last year through the Columbia Home Loans unit -- are already defaulting, the Toms River, New Jersey-based lender said. The loans offered to cover 100 percent of a home's value.
Countrywide said late payments on home loans that it manages for others held steady last month. Loans at least 30 days past due remained at 4.71 percent of total loans serviced, the same as in January, the Calabasas, California-based company disclosed in monthly data released on its Web site. A year earlier, 4.29 percent of those loans were late.
Jim Shanahan, a senior analyst at Wachovia Capital Markets, cut his rating today on Countrywide to ``underperform'' from ``market perform.''
``While the origination and sale of subprime mortgages represents only a small part of the Countrywide story, we are more concerned that the weakness has spread to other sectors of the residential mortgage market,'' Shanahan wrote.
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