While eyebrows were raised last week at the timing of Wachovia Corp.'s purchase of savings bank and mortgage lender Golden West Financial Corp., Golden West Chief Executive Herb Sandler vehemently denies it had anything to do with his outlook for the U.S. real estate market. Ninety-nine percent of Golden West's portfolio consists of widely criticized option adjustable rate mortgages, and more than half of those loans were originated to Californian borrowers.

"That's a bunch of garbage. I've never heard anything so irrelevant in my life. It's nothing to do with anything," Sandler snapped last week during a conference call about the merger, in response to the suggestion that the company sold out at the height of the real estate market. "It has nothing to do with management succession, it has nothing to do with option arms, it has nothing to do with the real estate environment," he said. Sandler runs the company with his wife Marion, both in their 70s - and the pair's decision not to accept positions at Wachovia have led some to question whether there will be adequate leadership in place.

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