Federal thrift regulators yesterday took control of Columbia Savings and Loan of Beverly Hills, Calif., the thrift industry's biggest player in the risky junk bond market.
Regulators took the action after rejecting final bids for Columbia's junk bond portfolio, which has been plummeting in value. The cost to taxpayers is expected to total more than $1 billion, making it one of the dozen or so most costly failures to date in the nation's savings and loan crisis.
Columbia's former chief executive, Thomas Spiegel, one of the thrift industry's most lavish spenders, had close ties to Michael Milken, Drexel Burnham Lambert Inc.'s now-convicted junk bond king. Capital that Milken raised from Columbia and other California thrifts was put to use financing some of the hostile corporate takeover attempts of the '80s.
Columbia will be managed by the Resolution Trust Corp. and remain open for business until a buyer for it is found or the institution is dissolved. Deposits remain federally insured up to $100,000 per account.
Yesterday's takeover makes the RTC the nation's largest owner of junk bonds, with holdings of more than $5 billion. Columbia has said it has lost more than $1.5 billion on its nearly $4 billion in junk bond investments, and its portfolio is now valued at $2.1 billion.
Federal regulators were criticized for blocking the sale of Columbia's junk bond portfolio last fall, when they would have commanded a higher price than they will now.
Columbia had agreed to sell its junk bonds to a foreign investment group for the unexpectedly high price of $3 billion. Regulators feared that in the event the institution was taken over, it would pose too great a risk to taxpayers. Columbia was planning to finance 90 percent of the purchase and offer the junk bonds on what is termed a non-recourse basis, so the investors could have walked away from the portfolio if the junk bond market declined more than 10 percent.
Federal Office of Thrift Supervision (OTS) officials said that the bids Columbia received this month were lower in price but largely the same in form. They said that among other problems, the bids offered down payment that were judged too small.
Regulators believe the RTC can get a better price for the bonds by disposing of them over time instead of in a single large sale.
Spiegel, who was forced to resign in late 1989, took tens of millions of dollars in salary during the late '80s and demanded expensive and often eccentric perks for his service. Columbia's millions paid for jets owned jointly with Drexel, fancy cars, lodging on the Riviera and vacation condos used by Milken.
Spiegel and his family own a controlling interest in Columbia.
The OTS is demanding repayment of $25 million in Columbia funds from Spiegel, and last week regulators filed a $6 billion suit against Spiegel, Milken, former Lincoln Savings and Loan chairman Charles Keating and David Paul, former head of Miami's CenTrust bank. The government is accusing them of using junk bond trading schemes to defraud thrifts.
When seized, Columbia had $6 billion in deposit liabilities and $6.6 billion in loans and other assets.