The dizzying rate at which Countrywide Financial Corp.'s prospects are changing from bad to worse can make one forget that two weeks ago Washington Mutual's own struggles were sharing headlines. What a difference several days, hours and minutes make in the dramatic downturn of America's biggest mortgage lender.

Countrywide's prospects have become so muddled that its own survival has been questioned, a once seemingly unthinkable subject to broach. On Aug. 16, the company was forced to draw on an $11.5 billion line of credit to bolster its liquidity.

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