Countrywide’s UK plans still up in air

The head of US lending giant Countrywide has again thrown into doubt whether it will set up shop in the UK.

Two weeks ago it bought out the remaining 30% stake in UK processing house Global Home Loans. This was a joint venture with Barclays Bank, with Countrywide owning 70%.

The buying up of Barclays’ shares was seen by many as a sign that Countrywide was looking to set up a mortgage business in this country.

This was also the impression given in a press release from GHL’s chief executive officer Simon Hinshelwood who said that “following Countrywide’s acquisition of the remaining stake in the joint venture, GHL will be able to better leverage Countrywide’s deep mortgage lending expertise as we focus on building our mortgage business in the UK”.

But Countrywide’s chairman and chief executive officer Angelo Mozilo told attendees at a Merrill Lynch investor conference last week that the company was still deciding what it would like to do in the UK, “if anything” as it slowly exits the Barclays JV over the next three years, allowing the British lender to take over the personnel and processes involved in the back office operation.

Mozilo says the move will not have any material effect on Countrywide’s earnings and that the joint venture, which it originally started with The Woolwich – a company Barclays later acquired – has been a success.

He said that Barclays, when it acquired The Woolwich, had initially been impressed by the quality of the technology Countrywide offered and continued the partnership.

But Mozilo indicated that since then discussions with new Barclays executives had led to a mutual decision to part ways.