Officials of some of Maryland's largest savings and loan associations said today it might be many months before their institutions can qualify for federal insurance and resume normal operations unless they can count $160 million in insurance funds now controlled by the state toward meeting a key requirement for federal protection.
Though a $1,000 per month withdrawal limit for each account that was imposed last month by Gov. Harry Hughes has been lifted at 56 of 102 state-chartered thrifts, and 24 associations have received either conditional or final approval from the Federal Savings & Loan Insurance Corp. (FSLIC), many of the state's largest thrifts remain hamstrung by the withdrawal limits as they seek federal protection.
A major stumbling block to winning federal insurance is the FSLIC's so-called net worth requirement that associations have 5 percent more in accessible funds than they have in liabilities. Thrifts that do not meet that threshold can merge with another association, or they can raise additional capital by selling stock or through a mechanism approved by the legislature last month under which they exchange nonvoting stock for state "net worth certificates" that would give the state substantial control over the association.
The state's largest S&L, Chevy Chase, qualified for FSLIC by raising money from outside sources, largely through investments by other firms owned by Chevy Chase president B. Francis Saul II, and by recovering $38 million it had contributed to a liquidity fund. But several other major Washington area thrifts, including John Hanson of Beltsville, Community of Bethesda, Friendship of Chevy Chase and First Maryland of Crofton -- all among the 10 largest in Maryland -- have so far failed to win federal protection.
Industry representatives say investors are wary of buying their stocks as long as associations are under the control of the governor's executive order limiting withdrawals. They also argue that eventually redeeming the state net worth certificates would be equally difficult because potential investors would be leery of an association controlled by the state.
Without access to the insurance funds, said Arthur Silber, president of Chesapeake Savings and Loan, "60 percent of the savings and loan deposits in the state are going to be tied up for months because institutions are not able to meet the net worth requirement. The governor conveyed the impression the people are going to be able to get their money in a matter of weeks, but that just isn't the case."
"If we don't meet the net worth requirement . . . we will be unable to move into the federal system," said Ira C. Cooke, a lobbyist who represents 18 associations. "Delay in moving into the federal system keeps the Maryland system at risk, keeps the savings and loans from growing, and most importantly, restricts withdrawals by depositors."
The crisis in the thrift industry was triggered a month ago after reports of serious management problems at the Old Court Savings and Loan Association of Baltimore. The Hughes administration and the General Assembly responded by imposing strict withdrawal limits on the 102 state-chartered thrifts and by enacting laws forcing the larger associations to get FSLIC insurance.
Representatives of about 20 of the state's largest savings and loans, with combined assets of more than $3.5 billion, met today with Ejner J. Johnson, Hughes' chief of staff, to urge the governor to approve a mechanism under which the associations could apply their insurance funds toward FSLIC approval in return for giving the state preferred, nonvoting stock. Under that proposal, if the state eventually needs the insurance money to cover losses incurred by the failure of Old Court or other troubled thrifts, the associations would buy back the stock.
Industry representatives said the administration's unwillingness to allow the use of the insurance funds, combined with continuing questions about the Federal Home Loan Bank Board's acceptance of the net worth certificate approach, is jeopardizing a large segment of the industry.
But aides to the governor said the $160 million in insurance funds now controlled by the state agency that replaced the now-defunct Maryland Savings-Share Insurance Corporation (MSSIC) must be reserved to protect state taxpayers from any financial losses stemming from the state's conservatorship of Old Court and a second troubled Baltimore association, Merritt Commercial.
"Our policy is to preserve intact the insurance fund to deal with failures," said Johnson. "We have a fiduciary responsibility to the taxpayers."
Senate President Melvin A. Steinberg (D-Baltimore County) and House Speaker Benjamin L. Cardin (D-Baltimore) wrote to Hughes on Friday urging him to endorse procedures under which state-chartered thrifts could apply their previous contributions to meet the FSLIC's 5 percent net worth requirement. They said the issuance of net worth certificates backed by $100 million in state bonds -- the mechanism approved by the legislature -- "should be the alternative of last resort."
"It is now apparent," wrote the two legislators, "that some of the well-run, efficient savings and loans are having great difficulty reaching the net worth requirements for FSLIC coverage . . . . (W)e recommend a procedure whereby the insurance fund deposits presently being held by the state would be utilized as a basis to reach the FSLIC net worth requirements . . . . "
A continued failure to get many of the large thrifts into FSLIC, added Cardin, would seriously crimp their operations. "Obviously the associations that are not open for full business are not getting their normal business growth," he said. "They need deposits, they need to open the doors, and the sooner the better."
But Johnson firmly rejected the approach. "The insurance fund is there to deal with failures and we are facing the prospect of failures," he said. "The insurance fund is inviolate."
Johnson said the administration will continue to insist that thrifts "make every effort to come up with whatever they can to contribute to their net worth . . . . The state is going to take a very hard-nosed attitude about this."