Federal Home Loan Bank Board Chairman Richard T. Pratt told a National Press Club audience yesterday that he and the Reagan administration are "close to substantial agreement on the direction and the thrust of legislation" to restructure the savings and loan industry.
Sen. Jake Garn (R-Utah) had said earlier this week that he expects a bill to come before the Senate Banking Committee as early as next week.
The legislation would give S&Ls broader powers in the kinds of loans they can make and greater flexibility to federal regulators who deal with troubled financial institutions.
The new powers proposed by Pratt include allowing S&Ls to offer checking accounts to corporations, invest in nonresidential real estate, make commercial loans, expand consumer lending and convert from a mutual to a stock association, or vice versa, as they wish.
According to sources on Capitol Hill, Pratt and the Treasury reached an agreement this week whereby S&Ls would have no more powers than commercial banks, as Pratt originally had proposed. Also, the bill contains no request for additional funds for the Federal Savings and Loan Insurance Corp., which insures savings and loans, an idea the Treasury vetoed when it was first suggested.
The bill also would permit the FSLIC to effect mergers when necessary between thrifts and savings and loan holding companies "and institutions of different types" (presumably banks) across state lines. The first such merger occurred this past Tuesday when National Steel Corp., through its subsidiary Citizens Savings and Loan of San Francisco, acquired West Side Federal Savings and Loan of New York and Washing ton Savings and Loan of Miami.
Pratt yesterday called the merger a "great statement of confidence in the ultimate future of this business." Asked if there would be more such mergers, Pratt demurred and said it would depend on Congress. There is still considerable opposition on the part of S&L executives against interstate and interindustry mergers, and these views are echoed on the Hill.
Another piece of legislation scheduled to go to the Hill imminently would revise completely the charter of the Federal Home Loan Mortgage Corp., a quasi-governmental organization that buys and sells mortgages in the secondary market. The corporation, more familiarly known as Freddie Mac, seeks to move more toward the private sector. In so doing, it hopes to expand its current $3 billion annual volume of business to a potential $20 billion annually. To do this, Freddie Mac seeks the power to issue stock to users and/or to the public. It also will expand its board to include directors other than members of the Federal Home Loan Bank Board.
Earlier this week the board gave final approval to a plan to inject capital into ailing thrifts as a cheaper alternative to liquidating them or merging them with healthy S&Ls. In exchange for the aid, the FSLIC would receive an equity interest in the S&Ls.
Pratt declined yesterday to answer a question about how many S&Ls are currently on the problem list, calling it "irrelevant." Later he said he didn't know how many are on the list due to the number of mergers that have occurred.