Bank officials stressed there was no danger to depositors' money, but that didn't stop thousands of nervous Rhode Islanders from lining up outside branches of the Commercial Credit Bank around the state last week to reclaim their savings.
With dire news about thrift crises in Ohio and Maryland just months behind, Rhode Island depositors were worried about new reports that the bank's parent company -- Commercial Credit Corp. of Baltimore -- was going out of the customer deposit business in 12 of the 16 states in which it operates such accounts, including their own.
But the company says the move has nothing to do with the recent thrift crisis, though that certainly took its toll.
In Ohio, Commercial Credit's savings and loan association lost $21 million it contributed to the state's private insurance fund for thrifts. But even before that fund collapsed in the spring, the company says, it already had decided to reduce its reliance on thrifts in favor of more funding of its operations through the sale of commercial paper and medium-term borrowing.
"It is not a sign of any trouble," said Paul Ianuly, an executive with the firm. He said the move represented a strategic decision that was made "some time ago" to avail the company of more cost-effective sources of funding. The measure, moreover, looks like one of the opening shots in a restructuring Commercial Credit hopes will bring about greater long-run profits for its parent, the Minneapolis computer maker, Control Data.
The restructuring has been delayed for more than a year and a half, as Control Data tried unsuccessfully to find a buyer for its big financial services subsidiary. Originally acquired by Control Data in 1968 to help its computer customers finance leases of company hardware and stabilize erratic earnings caused by ups and down in the computer business, Commercial Credit has become less important to the parent as purchasing of computers has become more prevalent. And as the computer and financial services industries have become more cutthroat, analysts say the troubled company has to focus its efforts on its computer side to stay competitive.
The problem was that Control Data was unable to find a buyer at the right price, which at its last stockholders meeting was down to $844 million from $1 billion. So the company decided to pull Commercial Credit off the block and, officials said, start implementing changes to cut costs.
Commercial Credit's chairman and chief executive officer, Joseph D. Minutilli, was unavailable for comment last week, and other executives refused to say what these possible changes might be. But as analysts tell it, the company can be expected to streamline itself to reverse its long-term record of low profitability and, possibly, to get itself and its various operations in the position to be on the market again.
With assets of $7.4 billion at the end of 1984 and earnings of $50 million on revenue of $1.3 billion, Commercial Credit is an unusually diversified financial services company, offering a variety of financing, leasing and insurance services to businesses and consumers around the world. Though Commercial Credit is expected to account for all of Control Data's profits this year, given the parent firm's sagging computer sales, it generally has proved less profitable than similar financial services concerns, according to analysts.
Michael Hamilton, an analyst with Piper, Jaffray and Hopwood in Minneapolis, said Commercial Credit's former president, Lawrence Perlman, himself recognized the problems, telling an analysts' meeting in 1984 that the firm's performance had been unsatisfactory: with return on assets falling; expenses as a percentage of revenue rising, and a compound growth rate between 1980 and 1984 of under 7 percent, worse than its competitors. Perlman, sent to Baltimore to try to turn around Commercial Credit's fortunes, has since returned to Control Data to head its peripherals unit.
During Perlman's brief tenure, Commercial Credit already had begun its streamlining process, according to analysts. Over the past 18 months, it has reduced its work force from 9,000 to about 6,500 and has returned to Control Data all its nonfinancial services and products, including its real estate brokerage and centers that offered computer services and management consulting to small businesses.
Despite these moves, the company still needs to cut down its overhead, according to George J. Podrasky, an analyst with Duff and Phelps in Chicago. One move Podrasky said the company might be expected to make is to get rid of its property casualty insurance business, which lost money between 1982 and 1984. He added that the company's relatively low debt rating of BBB (Moody's) made the cost of raising capital high, another problem Commercial Credit must deal with in the next few years.
Though the company still faces these and other problems, analysts generally are optimistic that Commercial Credit will improve its profitability, given the better economic environment and lower interest rates. But they predicted that the parent firm would still try to sell it, or parts of it, sometime in the near future.