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September 05, 2002|Bloomberg News

New Century Financial Corp., an Irvine mortgage lender that is benefiting from low consumer borrowing rates, said Tuesday that it expects third-quarter earnings to exceed analysts' estimates.

New Century will earn $1.95 a share in the three months ending Sept. 30, said spokeswoman Carrie Marrelli. Wall Street was expecting earnings of $1.77 a share, according to a survey of four analysts by Thomson First Call.

The company made $1.31 billion in loans in August to set a monthly record, surpassing the $1.29 billion in loans in July.

Mortgage rates, which are near all-time lows, have spurred consumers to buy homes and refinance existing loans.

New Century shares fell 34 cents to $28.98 on Nasdaq. The stock has more than doubled this year.

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Autobytel Inc., the Internet-based car-buying referral service, has stepped up screening of potential buyers to boost sales and reduce expenses for automobile dealers who use its Web sites.

Autobytel is seeking to increase the number of cars and trucks sold through its referrals by eliminating requests from people who use bogus names and invalid phone numbers on its Web sites, Chief Executive Jeffrey Schwartz said in an interview. The company said it will call people to verify orders.

"We've always done some degree of filtering, but we've taken our level of filtering to a new level," Schwartz said.

Serious buyers, or people who plan to buy a vehicle within 30 to 60 days, will be referred to the 9,500 dealers who use Autobytel's services, he said.

Increased scrutiny has led to "appreciable" improvements in so-called closing rates, or the percentage of referrals resulting in sales, Schwartz said.

He declined to give a specific number. Dealers in Autobytel's network typically had a closing rate of 15% to 20%, he said.

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