Countrywide Financial Corp.'s stock price was still shaky this morning after it lost 28.4 percent of its value yesterday. And as if mortgage meltdown weren't enough of a headache, Countrywide found itself fending off rumors that it was about to file for bankruptcy protection, and defending itself against a report that one of its technicians had fabricated documents sent to a struggling homeowner.
The nation's biggest mortgage lender has had better days than Tuesday, when the company felt compelled to issue a statement that there was "no substance" to rumors that it was about to file for protection under Chapter 11 of the U.S. Bankruptcy Code. "We are not aware of any basis for the rumor that any of the major rating agencies are contemplating negative action relative to the company," Countrywide added. This morning, the company's stock looked as if it had stabilized, but as of 10:30 a.m., it was down another 7 percent to $5.08 per share.
The lender was also the subject of an article in the New York Times yesterday reporting that Countrywide had "recreated" three letters it claims to have sent on three separate dates to a Pittsburgh-based homeowner, her attorney, and a Chapter 13 trustee, claiming the owner owed the lender $4,700 and was in default on her loan. The attorney and the trustee testified that they hadn't received the letters. And Leslie Puida, Countrywide's local legal counsel, confirmed in testimony that the letters had, in fact, been "recreated" to reflect escrow discrepancies and how they arose. Countrywide has denied wrongdoing and asserts the documents were created "to convey the dates of an escrow analysis and the resulting calculations."
Amidst this turmoil, Countrywide released data about its financial performance during the last month of 2007. The bad news was that foreclosures and late payments in December had increased to their highest levels in more than five years. And the company's average daily mortgage applications fell to $1.5 billion in December from $1.9 billion in November. The good news was that December fundings were up slightly in December to $24 billion, as were retail deposits to $33 billion. Countrywide's banking operations ended the year with $113 billion in total deposits, and its net earned premiums in December -- $164 billion -- were up 55 percent from the same month a year ago.