The chairman of the Federal Home Loan Bank Board said yesterday he strongly opposes regulators trying to tell savings and loan associations how and where to make loans while the industry is under substantial financial pressure.
But Richard T. Pratt denied reports that his stance means he opposes increased lending in minority areas as potentially detrimental to the "safety and soundness" of S&LS.
Pratt issued a statement about lending requirements after the FHLBB voted Tuesday on a proposed merger of two state-chartered California savings and loans that are insured by the Federal Savings and Loan Insurance Corp., a government agency. Although the merger was approved, Pratt made it clear that he objected to the terms under which the state's savings and loan commissioner ordered the combined S&Ls to buy $100 million in loans from minority thrifts and to make $1.25 billion in loans in poverty areas.
Tha bank board does not have the power to veto mergers of state-chartered S&Ls, but it does have the power to withhold FSLIC insurance from the new association. The result is the same.
Pratt declared, "I would want to look closely at any further applications coming before us that impose operating and business decisions. In my opinion, such requirements may compromise the safety and soundness of operations and jeopardize assocations' ability to provide effective home finance." Espousing the cause of less government intereference in the marketplace, Pratt warned against regulators trying to allocate credit in general.
He denied that his opposition was directed to minority lending in particular or that his statement was in any way related to the philosophy enunciated this week by President Reagan. Reagan told the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People that blacks should not henceforth look to the government for special legislation but rather should expect to benefit from improvement in the economy as a whole.
During the 1970s inner city groups organized protests against the practice of red-lining, or the disinclination of banks and thrift institutions to make residential mortgages and insurance companies to offer coverage in certain sections of town, circled in red on a map, regardless of the property's condition or the buyer's financial situation. This led to passage of the Community Reinvestment Act which gave regulators the power to deny branch and merger applications if lenders ignored requirements of the law to serve the community. Very fee applications have been refused for CRA reasons.
During the first half of this year savings and loan associations have lost close to $2 billion, triggering calls both in and out of government for aid to the industry.
Ironically the merger the board approved will never go through in its present form because the two S&Ls involved, Great Western of Beverly Hills and Financial Federation, Inc. of Los Angeles, did not like the state commissioner's terms. The quotas were imposed at the request of 34 community groups which accused the S&Ls of redlining and feared they would invest the funds abroad. In dollar terms, the requested commitment matched the S&Ls' previous activity. So it may not have been onerous financially, but it was unacceptable philosophically, said Great Western spokesman Ralph Rivet.
Last May 12 the S&Ls decided there would be no further merger discussions, although they did not pull the application to the bank board. Hence the board's action and Pratt's statement. Instead, Great Western, the second largest S&L in the country, has appliced for a federal charter to evade California's requirements. A merger would bring its assets to over $12 billion.
Such a state-federal confrontation would be all but impossible here, according to informed sources. Since all savings and loan associations in the District are federally chartered, the question is moot.
There are only 13 state chartered S&Ls in Maryland that are federally insured; most state chartered thrifts are insured by the Maryland Savings Share Insurance Corp., a private insurer. Though mergers have taken place among them, there has been no pressure by state officials to impose lending conditions on them, said Charles H. Kresslein Jr., president of the Maryland Savings and Loan League. Indeed, there has recently been a concerted effort by S&Ls to make loans in depressed Baltimore neighborhoods because they have found it is good business.
In Virginia, however, 56 to 85 members of the Virginia Savings and Loan League, are state chartered institutions with federal insurance.But Mark Saurs, executive director of the Virginia savings group, said the state commission has never made low income loans, as outlined under the federal Community Reinvestment Act, requirement for approving a merger. Nor have there been organized citizen protests clamoring for this, he added.