With a recent push, Credit Suisse First Boston has narrowed the gap in the year-to-date asset-backed underwriter league tables to within $892 million of Salomon Smith Barney, the tightest the race has been all year, according to Thomson Financial. While this does not signal a changing of the guard, if CSFB continues to press on, and Salomon continues to coast, it would be the first time any firm has wrestled away the top spot from Salomon in nearly two years.

Through last Thursday, market leader Salomon has placed $30.991 billion of ABS in the hands of investors, or 14.4% of the market. Credit Suisse has placed $29.699 billion, or 13.6% of the market. Together the two account for roughly 28%.

In recent weeks, Credit Suisse has led deals for Conseco Inc., Household International, Onyx Acceptance, Providian Financial, Vanderbilt Mortgage and two deals off its own shelf for approximately $5 billion. Over an equal span, Salomon has led only one new issue, a $1 billion deal for MBNA.

But with four months remaining in the year, sources note that Salomon is not going to concede the top spot and, as the lead manager for the top credit card issuer, Citibank, has the artillery for a strong finish. Conversely, Credit Suisse does not have anything in its roster comparable to Citibank.

Overall, competition atop the ABS league tables is stiff, with the top two issuers accounting for nearly one-third of the market. JP Morgan, currently in third place with $25.6 billion (11.9%) and Lehman Brothers, in fourth with $24.5 billion (11.4%) are close behind.

The last time Salomon was not atop the ABS league tables at the end of a quarter was the third quarter of 1999, when CSFB topped the list. Starting the next quarter, Salomon has topped the list the last six quarters.

For the record neither company will comment on the issue, choosing to point out how much time is remaining in the year. Greg Richter, co-head of U.S. Asset Finance Group for CSFB's said, "We are appreciative of the business we have had so far, but it is a long year and while we aim for the top three (in the league tables), it is not our primary objective to be on top."

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