Although Washington Federal Savings and Loan is not yet out of the red, its executives said yesterday that they want to take over financially troubled Guardian Federal Savings and Loan, a move that would cut the rapidly dwindling number of District S&Ls to eight.
Guardian is a Maryland-chartered corporation despite its headquarters at Dupont Circle, a situation that could result in regulatory prohibitions to the interstate merger. A similar merger attempt by Washington Federal last month ended unsuccessfully partly for this reason.
Yesterday, the Federal Home Loan Bank Board issued a statement: "It is bank board policy not to approve interstate mergers unless such a transaction would solve supervisory problems at a significantly less costly alternative to intrastate mergers. Bank board officials will be glad to examine the application and evaluate the document within the context of this policy."
Asked about possible interstate difficulties yesterday at a press conference, Washington Federal Chairman James L. Harris quipped, "We'll take the Washington office, and maybe they'll throw in Maryland," a reference to Guardian's five offices in the suburbs.
Should the merger be approved, the survivor, Washington Federal, would have assets of $650 million and reserves of approximately $16 million. Even with this increase, Washington Federal would continue to be the fifth-largest S&L in the District because of other mergers.
Guardian, with operating losses of about $4 million last year and under $2 million in reserves, had been seeking a partner for a year. In mid-December, National Permanent Federal was set to announce its takeover of Guardian, but the deal was called off at the last minute.
According to National Permanent's president, Edgar Peterson, the S&L had received the impression from the bank board that a merger would not be feasible; however, he said Guardian was the party that withdrew from the negotiations.
Guardian's chairman, Richard D. Bernstein, acknowledged Guardian's withdrawal, saying, "We felt we could not work out guarantees for all our 98 employes. National Permanent was 10 times our size. We feel more compatible with Washington Federal; it's more of a partnership."
As announced, Harris will continue as chairman and Bernstein will become vice chairman of the combined S&Ls. If the agreement is ratified, the new Washington Federal will have 16 offices, plus another to be opened in the District in May.
Ending Guardian's financial woes would mean Washington Federal, which also lost money last year, would need more time to get back into the black. Harris, who acknowledged monthly operating losses in 1981 of $300,000 to $400,000, said he expected earnings would turn positive by the end of June at current interest rates.
For Washington Federal, the proposed takeover would mean a toehold in Maryland where many of its customers live. Perpetual American similarly has sought permission to branch into Virginia by acquiring Washington-Lee Savings and Loan. Another pending merger would allow Interstate Federal to acquire Home Federal, both in the District.
In October 1980 there were 17 S&Ls in the District. If all the proposed mergers are approved, the number of District S&Ls will soon be halved. The associations were victims of the interest rate squeeze that left them paying higher rates on deposits than they were receiving on mortgage loans.