A House subcommittee begins a series of hearings today on the failure of Beverly Hills Savings and Loan Association, or how a once-stodgy institution lost its shirt in high-risk real estate ventures and wound up a ward of the government, kept alive only through an infusion of $140 million.
The House Energy and Commerce oversight subcommittee, whose chairman is Rep. John Dingell (D-Mich.), hopes to use the hearing to expose examples of conflict of interest and regulatory violations.
There will be testimony from several of the S&L's auditing firms and finger-pointing by two sets of management as to how the country's 37th-largest thrift managed to lose $86 million in 1984 and end up with a negative net worth of $30 million, a staff aide said.
The final hearing in the series, featuring Federal Home Loan Bank Board Chairman Edwin J. Gray, is expected to touch on the policy implications of the BHS failure for the practices of other S&Ls in the nation.
Beverly Hills Savings, which is based in Mission Viejo, was chartered as a state stock association in 1929. It was declared insolvent on April 24 and taken over by the bank board, under whose aegis it is now operating. According to records obtained by the subcommittee, government examiners gave the thrift unsatisfactory ratings as far back as April 30, 1982.
In February 1983, the board noted that the S&L was experiencing rapid asset growth, coupled with a poor operating performance.
"The problems appeared to stem from a large volume of nonearning assets resulting from very poor loan underwriting standards," according to a subcommittee staff memorandum summarizing the board's report.
The memorandum states that BHS will be required to adjust its previously reported 1984 net deficit of $12.5 million to at least $86 million. Consequently, its regulatory net worth of $56.2 million will drop to a negative net worth of $30 million as of the end of 1984. Net worth is a measure of how well protected against losses an S&L is. Moreover, the report states that the examiners indicate that additional write-downs of $34 million may be required.
Brokered deposits -- so-called hot money -- accounted for 41.8 percent of BHS's insured funds, a "flagrant violation" of bank board rules, which allow a maximum of 5 percent of such deposits for associations with low net worth. Furthermore, the board's examination revealed sloppy record-keeping, including "poor appraisals, construction disbursement without inspection, poor or nonexistent market studies, little or no credit checks," according to the memo.
BHS was engaged in equity participation and in financing commercial and residential projects across the country. According to a subcommittee staff member, BHS had 100 percent ownership of some projects while the developers had no financial stake in them.
BHS's difficulties apparently began in the early 1980s after the S&L converted from a federally chartered mutual to a state-chartered stock association to capitalize on more lenient California laws. The situation came to a head in 1984 when real estate developer Paul Amir staged a hostile takeover, ousting the former chief executive, Dennis Fitzpatrick. But Amir, who owned 17 percent of the stock, was unable to stem the losses.