For the first time since 1974 and for only the third time in the past 20 years, the Metropolitan Washington Savings and Loan League won't be spending three days in May at The Homestead, the posh mountain resort in southwestern Virginia.
Instead, league officials have decided to make this year's annual meeting a two-hour affair at a Washington hotel, two weeks from today.
The decision to hold the meeting here is what league President William Sinclair calls "a sign of the times" for the nation's troubled savings and loan industry.
With the industry struggling through its worst financial period in nearly four decades and experiencing a major shakeout as a result, "It just doesn't seem appropriate to take the time for a three-day meeting," Sinclair said.
At its peak, the league--primarily a trade group for associations in the District--had close to 30 members and associate members. And, typically, the annual three-day affairs at The Homestead attracted 300 to 350 S&L officials, their spouses and guests.
But with the industry in a financial tailspin and contracting rapidly, membership has shrunk to nine S&Ls in the District and two associate members in suburban Maryland. With two more District S&Ls expected to merge by August and one of the Maryland associations almost certain to be merged soon, the league's membership could be down to seven associations by the end of the year, Sinclair predicted.
"Let's face it," Sinclair said, "the business is not what it used to be. I don't think a three-day meeting is necessary. Things are too costly today."
In rosier times, S&Ls belonging to the league took several of their officers and directors to The Homestead. With the resort's daily rates ranging from $93 to $115 a day per person, S&Ls "spent a lot of money down there," Sinclair noted.
Although cancellation of the meeting at the Homestead will cut costs, it is symbolic of league members' perspective of the industry's problems and the future.
"With the way the industry is today, everybody is trying to put together plans and strategy" to compete in a different type of marketplace, Sinclair said.
"I don't think anybody is taking the attitude that this thing is going to blow over in six months," he added. "With the high interest rates we're facing, I don't see interest rates coming down until something is done about the deficit. And I don't see our industry being profitable as long as interest rates are high."
High interest rates and low-yield mortgage loan portfolios held by S&Ls have combined to squeeze their earnings, producing a record $5-billion loss last year. With no indication of improvement in this year's first quarter, the hemorrhaging apparently won't stop soon.
Most District S&Ls have been in business for several years and, as a result, their reserve positions "are among the strongest in the country," Sinclair said. Although the industry continues to lose money, there is "a lot of staying power" among District S&Ls, he added, especially now that many have strengthened their positions through mergers.
Nonetheless, Sinclair said, because S&Ls continue to operate with a "ball and chain on our ankle," it will be necessary "get in a different kind of business."
For one thing, S&Ls will have to market their products and services differently, Sinclair said. Competition has all but forced them to accept that challenge.
Indeed, competition from commercial banks and an increasing number of nonbanking institutions will force S&Ls to change the way they do business. "I see us operating as one-stop supermarket financial centers," Sinclair said.
Despite continuing losses, Sinclair believes 1982 offers S&Ls "an opportunity to improve and build on the foundations we've established."
"It's a rebuilding period," he said.
And what about the metropolitan league? Will it continue to function as a trade association after this year?
Sinclair has appointed a committee to explore the possibility of forming a true metropolitan league that would include all S&Ls in the District, Northern Virginia and the Maryland suburbs. "It makes a lot of sense for us to start looking in that direction," he said.
Although Maryland and Virginia S&Ls are members of trade groups within their own states, those in the Washington suburbs have more in common with their competitors in the District than they do with associations in Baltimore, or Richmond, for example, Sinclair said.
"I think it's in the cards," Sinclair said of the proposal for a new league. But, if his plan is rejected, he said, the current league will remain intact.