Cendant ( CD), the consumer-services conglomerate, on Wednesday raised its earnings projections for the first quarter and all of 2004. The company now expects to earn 41 cents a share in the first quarter and between $1.68 and $1.74 for the full year. Prior to the announcement, the Thomson First Call consensus estimate had Cendant earning 38 cents in the quarter and $1.71 for the year. The travel, lodging and real estate company said it was boosting its earnings projections because of renewed strength in its major businesses. Cendant also announced it would begin reporting earnings for its mortgage business separate from its real estate services division. "As we have previously indicated, the year over year comparisons for the new Mortgage and Settlement Services segment are the most challenging in the first quarter of 2004,'' said Cendant Chief Financial Officer Ronald Nelson. The move to separate the mortgage business in the company's report also may be a further indication of Cendant's desire to sell the $1 billion business. Last week TheStreet.com reported Cendant, which has hired Goldman Sachs to find a buyer for the mortgage division,
has had trouble finding a buyer . People familiar with the situation say Countrywide Financial ( CFC) is seen as the most likely buyer of Cendant's mortgage arm, but the California-based mortgage bank does not appear to be in any hurry to close a deal. Cendant is looking to sell its mortgage business because it doesn't consider it a core business. The volatility in interest rates often leads to boom-and-bust cycles in the mortgage business and that's something it is trying to avoid. Last year, as homeowners flocked to refinance mortgages, Cendant's revenue soared to $1 billion. But the year before, when interest rates held steady and the economy was still reeling, its mortgage business generated just $480 million in revenue.