Despite government rescues of hundreds of savings and loan associations, the thrift industry as a whole continued to lose money in the first quarter of this year and barely half the nation's S&Ls appear healthy enough to be confident of surviving, according to government statistics released yesterday.
The quarterly report from the Office of Thrift Supervision did not include the 350 thrifts that are already being run by the government, but it painted a bleak picture of the 2,505 associations still in private hands:
Another 310 thrifts have been targeted for takeover by the government, an additional 311 are officially described as "troubled" and 620 more were not in first-class financial health as of March 31.
Nearly one S&L in every four -- 22.8 percent of the industry -- lost money in the first quarter.
The 571 unprofitable thrifts were losing so much money that their losses more than offset all the earnings of all the 1,934 profitable associations, leaving the industry as a whole with a loss of $271 million for the first quarter of 1989.
The industry's quarterly loss would have been even worse except for $1.9 billion in federal subsidies paid to 202 associations that were bailed out by the government before 1989.
The government's top thrift regulator, Timothy Ryan, said the industry lost much less money during January, February and March than during the last three months of 1989. But that was because the government took over the worst losers, not because the industry as a whole turned around.
"I'm not going to draw any broad conclusions," said Ryan, director of the OTS. "I'm not going to be Mr. Rosy Scenario. This is a very, very tough situation in my view."
Ryan said OTS is closely monitoring the health of the industry and he is getting monthly reports on the finances of struggling institutions with more than $500 million in assets.
The government is making some progress toward improving the thrift industry's health by taking over the worst S&Ls and seeking buyers for some of the struggling ones, he added, but the future of the industry depends on "big factors over which we have no control. The big impacts on these institutions are going to be macroeconomic factors," Ryan said, mentioning interest rates, real estate prices and whether the economy slips into a recession.
The quarterly report issued by OTS was criticized by many reporters and industry officials attending a news conference because it omitted several key indicators of the industry's health that have been made public in the past. The OTS did not disclose how many loans have been foreclosed because of nonpayment or how many loans are past due, nor did it reveal the financial results of the 350 thrifts that are now operating under the control of the Resolution Trust Corp.
Ryan said it would be "misleading" to include the government-run thrifts because making money is not the goal of the RTC, which is scheduled to issue a report next week on the thrifts it is managing.
Alexandria thrift analyst Bert Ely said the quarterly figures show "an enormous segment of the industry isn't working out on a long-term basis."
The OTS report splits the industry into four classes: 1,264 Group I thrifts that are "well capitalized and profitable," 620 Group II associations that meet minimum capital standards, 311 Group III S&Ls that are "troubled with poor earnings and low capital" and 310 in Group IV that are targeted for government takeover.
Ely said Treasury Secretary Nicholas Brady's recent estimates of how many thrifts will need government assistance indicate the government is counting on all the associations in the last two groups to fail. The ultimate cost of what is now projected to be the $300 billion rescue of the thrift industry depends on what happens to the 620 S&Ls in Group II, Ely said.
They "may be regulatory survivors," he said, but "they are not marketplace survivors in the long run."