New Century 'somber' as fired employees head home

IRVINE, California (Reuters) - Early on Monday, the receptionist at mortgage company New Century Financial asked a reporter investigating troubles at the firm to leave the premises.

Hours later, she was asked to leave herself.

Sitting on the curb outside New Century’s glitzy headquarters, clutching a manila envelope, the woman declined to identify herself but admitted to being one of the 3,200 employees laid off as the company known for risky loans filed for bankruptcy on Monday morning.

New Century Financial Corp. had been the largest independent U.S. provider of “subprime” mortgages, or home loans to people with poor credit histories, and its demise came less than two months after it first disclosed problems with delinquent loans.

During the morning, a trickle of people left the company’s new office building, which is nestled among palm trees, fountains and birds of paradise plants.

One man carrying a box of belongings was asked whether he worked for New Century. “Not any more,” he said.

Orange County, where New Century is based, is a center of the sector of the mortgage industry focused on such risky loans, and the company is the biggest mortgage lender to collapse in the slumping U.S. market. Some analysts expect the problems in the industry to keep spreading.

New Century filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection in Delaware and fired 54 percent of its workforce. It plans to sell most of its assets within 45 days.

Outside company headquarters, a few people exchanged hugs and said goodbye to one another.

None wanted to give their names, but one departing employee described the mood on the top floors of the building in a single word: “somber.”