The difficulties of privately insured savings and loan institutions in Ohio are not expected to spread to the much larger number of federally insured institutions, experts said yesterday.
"I think this is sort of a self-limited, isolated situation," said Jonathan Gray, an analyst with Sanford C. Bernstein & Co. "I think depositors understand that federal insurance limits the risk on deposits of $100,000 or less."
He noted that the problems in Ohio were limited entirely to savings and loans that did not have federal insurance, and that both federally chartered and state-chartered institutions with federal insurance remained open for business in the state.
Only 451 of the nation's 3,368 savings and loans do not have federal insurance, and those institutions hold only 2 percent of the assets of all S&Ls. Any qualifying S&L, even if it has no public or private insurance, can get loans from the discount window of the Federal Reserve System to satisfy a short-term crunch.
"I don't know how many of those people standing in line realized there was that liquidity backup from the Fed," said Mark Clark, senior vice president of the U.S. League of Savings Institutions.
Executives of area thrifts reported no calls from customers worried about the Ohio situation. All seven D.C. thrift institutions operate under a federal charter and are federally insured, and all Virginia thrifts are federally insured.
Maryland is one of six states, including Ohio, that offer private insurance for state-chartered thrifts through non-federal plans. The states generally do not stand behind those plans the way the federal government does, but some plans are quite healthy. The Maryland Savings Share Insurance Corp. has a reserve-to-deposit ratio higher than does its federal counterpart.
Congressional banking overseers have expressed concern about state-authorized private insurance funds. Earlier this week, House Banking Committee Chairman Fernand St Germain (D-R.I.) asked Federal Home Loan Bank Board Chairman Edwin Gray, among other regulators, to provide "a full and complete analysis of private insurance funds, speaking primarily to the question of whether they are adequate to meet their obligations when and if they come due."
The Federal Savings and Loan Insurance Corp. has never failed to pay off qualified depositors in the case of an S&L collapse (which the agency tries to avoid by arranging mergers or financing aid). It shelled out more than $300 million, for example, when Empire Savings and Loan of Mesquite, Tex., went under last year.
It was the largest payout in the FSLIC's history, illustrating how continuing problems in the industry have depleted the insurance fund. Gray, who also heads the FSLIC, told a congressional subcommittee last month that even tripling the fund's resources would not be enough to cover expected failures.
The insurance fund's balance has sunk to less than $6 billion from $6.4 billion in the last 14 months, the first time it has ever declined. And its reserve-to-deposit ratio has sunk as well.
But the FSLIC has the right to borrow from the U.S. Treasury in an emergency.