With Guardian Federal Savings and Loan Association continuing to experience heavy losses, federal regulators are scrambling to end a four-month delay in finding a merger partner for the Silver Spring S&L.
After a hurried series of negotiations and maneuvers over the past few days, a decision is expected this week.
Guardian announced plans in January to merge with Washington Federal Savings and Loan Association in the District, but federal regulators have actively shopped the faltering Guardian around to associations locally and outside the Washington area.
"At this point we don't have any comment but we expect to have a written statement next week," Guardian's chairman, Richard Bernstein, said last week in the wake of reports that federal officials were negotiating a merger with Perpetual American Federal Savings and Loan Association, the area's biggest S&L.
Perpetual American is awaiting approval of an application to merge with Washington-Lee Savings and Loan Association in Northern Virginia. A merger of those two associations would create the first S&L with branches in all three jurisdictions because Perpetual American already has offices in the District and Maryland.
But industry sources say federal officials are insisting that Perpetual American take over Guardian as a condition for approving its merger with Washington-Lee.
Perpetual American's chairman, Thomas J. Owen, declined comment on a possible three-way merger that would include Guardian.
"Anything is possible," said Owen. "We have looked at a whole lot of savings and loans, Guardian being one of them."
In fact, said Owen, when reached at his office Friday, "I have just been looking at the numbers of a whole lot of S&Ls ," referring to the latest financial results.
Federally insured savings and loan associations in the Washington-Baltimore area lost more than $100 million in 1981 and, with losses continuing to pile up, the net worth of some S&Ls has plummeted to dangerously low levels.
In fact, only three of about 50 federally insured S&Ls in the Washington-Baltimore area that were analyzed by the Federal Home Loan Bank Board reported a profit in the second half of 1981.
Guardian, for example, lost $5.6 million in 1981 and finished the year with net worth of only $677,000. Its reserve ratio, a barometer closely watched by federal regulators, fell below 1 percent. Regulatory authorities have established 3 percent as an acceptable level.
Guardian's problems over the past six months and efforts to resolve them point up the complex dealings that take place behind the scenes as officials try to cope with the worst financial crisis faced by the S&L industry in nearly four decades.
Guardian came close to agreeing to a merger with the District's National Permanent Federal Savings and Loan Association last December. But less than a month after signing a letter of intent to merge with National Permanent, Guardian called off the deal and announced a pact had been reached with Washington Federal.
Regulators had, in fact, told Guardian to find a merger partner by Jan. 4 or undergo a supervisory merger. But once an agreement had been reached with Washington Federal, officials of the two S&Ls anticipated that the Federal Home Loan Bank Board would approve a merger application within six weeks.
And although the application reportedly was approved several weeks ago by the Atlanta Federal Home Loan Bank, officials in Washington have held up the process.
In the interim, Washington Federal requested at least $4 million in federal assistance to take over Guardian. But the Federal Savings and Loan Insurance Corp. apparently had hoped that a merger could proceed without financial aid.
In similar situations, the FSLIC has attempted to arrange the takeover of financially troubled S&Ls with as little drain as possible on its fund.
Although Washington Federal ended 1981 with $470 million in assets, it lost $5.3 million for the year and watched its net worth drop $4 million to $13.5 million.
On the other hand, Perpetual American, though losing $3 million last year, has assets of close to $1.5 billion and net worth of more than $115 million, by far the biggest reserves of any S&L in the region.
If Perpetual American doesn't join in the extraordinary three-way merger deal being discussed in local industry circles, it could still wind up acquiring other S&Ls in the area.
Owen said he is looking throughout the states of Maryland and Virginia for possible acquisitions, but not in the District because it doesn't provide much opportunity to increase market share.
Asked if he would consider buying the assets of some S&Ls that need to raise capital, Owen replied: "Yes. I think I would be interested in that."
That concept is the latest in a series of creative deals that have been made to keep afloat S&Ls that are suffering heavy losses because of high interest rates.
Last week, for the first time ever, regulators agreed to let a bank buy four branches of a savings and loan association, including all their customers' savings accounts.
If that transaction receives the additional approval required, accounts of depositors in four offices of Northern Virginia Savings and Loan will be transferred to new branches of Bank of Virginia.
Northern Virginia agreed to the $7.75 million deal because it faced a profit squeeze.
In a similar, but unrelated transaction, Family Savings and Loan Association of Springfield reached an agreement in principle to turn over more than half its liabilities and assets, including four of its offices, to Investors Savings and Loan Association of Richmond, in exchange for $600,000.
The transaction came about as the result of "a little creative thinking" over the past 18 months, said Family President Jim Grashaw.
But Grashaw cautioned that his solution might not work for all S&Ls. "There are a lot of associations that probably couldn't qualify to do what was done," he said.