As residential real estate finance companies continue sliding, Anworth Mortgage Asset Corp. would seem to be in a good position. After all, its fortunes tend to be contrary to its industry.

"Whatever direction the national housing market goes, Anworth pretty much goes the opposite way," said Bose George, an analyst with Keefe, Bruyette & Woods. "So this will probably be a good time for them."

Well, maybe. Investors in the Santa Monica company got a nice surprise last week but are still waiting for a meaningful surge.

Anworth invests heavily in residential mortgages backed by Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae. Since the government insures those loans if borrowers default, Anworth is a safe, conservative investment, so it moves almost like a safe bond.

For example, when the housing market suffered after the September 11th terrorist attacks, shares in Anworth shot up about 140 percent from November 2001 to July 2003. That's because credit was difficult and investors made safe bets. But the housing market turned around big. Between the summer of 2003 and autumn of 2006, the heart of what many see as a national real estate boom, shares in Anworth dropped 53 percent.

"Those other companies promising bigger returns than we could were far more attractive to investors than boring old us," Anworth's Chief Executive Lloyd McAdams opined.

So the credit crunch might have been good news for Anworth, right, but it hasn't turned out that way.

Anworth holds about two thirds of its portfolio in Freddie- and Fannie-backed loans, about one-third are in prime, non-government loans, such as jumbo loans. Those were held by its wholly owned subsidiary, Belvedere Trust Secured Assets Corp.

At the beginning of August, Anworth announced that Belvedere received default notices from three major banks forcing the company to sell most of its assets for cents on the dollar in order to pay the debt. Shares plummeted 59 percent in two weeks.

Last week Anworth announced it was planning to take a $143 million loss on Belvedere.

Shares in Anworth shot up 25 percent within hours of the announcement. While the announcement was made the same day the Federal Reserve cut a key interest rate by a half point and shares generally surged, Anworth's announcement was a welcomed sign. Still, the stock's $5.72 closing price on Sept. 20 was well below the $8 to $10 range the stock enjoyed for the year until August.

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