Fourteen savings and loan associations, including Perpetual American and Baltimore Federal, yesterday announced formation of a syndicate to make long-term loans to businesses. The group, led by Western Savings and Loan of Phoenix, has commitments to make loans in excess of $1.5 billion.

The two-phase financing combines a 15-year, floating-rate loan with a cap on debt costs for five years, plus an equity participation that allows the savings and loan to share in the business' profits. The dual advantage of this type of financing is that it gives businesses cash-flow protection and the borrowers interest-rate protection, according to Gary Driggs, president of Western Savings.

This is believed to be the first such syndicate of savings and loans engaged in business lending. The participants were chosen for geographic distribution, their asset size (over $1 billion) and a willingness to innovate. S&Ls traditionally have been home-mortgage lenders. However, their traumatic experiences over the past two years with volatile interest rates have led them to seek less-rate-sensitive investments. Home buyers have been reluctant to accept variable-rate mortgages, but businesses are used to variable-rate loans, Driggs said.

Although S&Ls are permitted to put only 10 percent of their assets in unsecured business loans, they may put up to 40 percent of their assets in real-estate-related loans. This provision would allow the S&Ls to make loans to a paint manufacturer, for example, by using the factory as collateral. The minimum loan is $10 million.

Driggs said the loans would be financed primarily from the enormous lode of money market accounts that the S&Ls have acquired. He claims that the syndicate will have a competitive advantage over banks--which tend to favor shorter loans, anyway--because they will provide protection against the vagaries of the prime rate.

The interest rate for the loan can change every quarter. It will be the lower of 1) the last six-month Treasury bill rate of the quarter plus a percentage-point premium established when the loan is granted, or 2) a cap that can be renegotiated every five years. For example, if the Treasury-bill rate were 8 percent, the premium 4 percentage points, and the cap 13 percent, the borrower would pay 12 percent for the quarter. But if the T-bill rate were 10 percent, the borrower would pay 13 percent instead of 14 percent (the 10 percent rate plus the four-percentage-point premium).

In exchange for the cap, the S&L receives five-year warrants from the borrower allowing the lender to buy the company's stock at a 25 percent premium over initial market price. Thus, if the stock is issued at $10 a share, the lender can buy it at $12.50 when the price reaches, say, $15. Because most S&Ls cannot own stock, they would make their profit by selling the warrants to a third party.