Three Maryland thrift associations, including John Hanson Savings and Loan of Beltsville, the state's second largest, won final approval yesterday for federal insurance, giving holders of more than 180,000 accounts full access to their money for the first time in four months.
Meanwhile, state government sources said they may soon ask the judge overseeing the state's conservatorship of Baltimore's Old Court Savings and Loan for permission to eliminate future interest payments on Old Court passbook accounts and certificates of deposit.
One official said reducing the interest rates to zero could save the Maryland government between $50 million and $100 million annually as it tries to untangle the financial affairs of Old Court. This official said lawyers employed by the state were "actively considering" asking Baltimore Circuit Court Judge Joseph H.H. Kaplan for permission to eliminate interest payments "in the near future."
John Hanson Savings and Loan and Fairfax Savings and Loan of Baltimore, which have combined assets of more than $1.1 billion, were granted coverage under the Federal Savings and Loan Insurance Corp. by the Federal Home Loan Bank Board. The bank board's action came just hours after the state pledged nearly $19 million to the two thrifts, allowing them to meet a key federal insurance requirement.
The acceptance of John Hanson, Fairfax and the $5.6 million Fullerton Permanent Loan Association of Catonsville into FSLIC means that about two-thirds of the $9 billion in assets reported by state-chartered associations in May are free of any restrictions on withdrawal. About $3.1 billion at 22 associations remains either frozen or subject to a $1,000-a-month withdrawal limit. That restriction was imposed by Gov. Harry Hughes after reports of mismanagement at Old Court Savings and Loan caused depositor runs on several institutions in May.
Officials at John Hanson and Fairfax affixed FSLIC seals to the windows of their branch offices yesterday afternoon, signaling to their depositors that their $1,000-a-month withdrawal limit had been lifted.
The announcements were a dose of good news for the Hughes administration, whose efforts to return the state's thrift industry to normal were recently set back by the imposition of a withdrawal freeze at one Washington-area institution, and the forced conservatorship of another.
Three institutions, Old Court, Merritt Commercial, and Community Savings and Loan, are still under conservatorship, and a temporary freeze on withdrawals is in effect at a fourth, First Maryland. At 18 other thrifts, depositors may withdraw only $1,000 per month. Both Merritt and First Maryland are expected to be acquired by large New York banking companies.
With the addition of John Hanson, Fairfax and Fullerton Permanent, 24 associations have now received FSLIC protection as required by emergency legislation enacted by the General Assembly in May.
"Our 60,000 customers will regard this as a historic day," said Jerry D. Whitlock, the president of John Hanson. A Beltsville-based institution with $649 million in assets and 23 offices, John Hanson is the second largest of the 102 associations formerly insured by the Maryland Savings-Share Insurance Corp.
Employing a mechanism approved by the legislature in May, John Hanson issued $11.25 million worth of net worth certificates yesterday to the state, which in turn promised to sell bonds in that amount if needed. The state's pledge increases, on paper, the thrift's net worth -- and allows the institution to meet a key federal insurance requirement.
The net worth certificate program gives the state considerable control over institutions that take part in it and encourages them to raise money on their own, meaning Maryland may not have to raise much money through bond sales. Under the net worth procedure, the state gains a seat on an institution's board of directors and may ultimately take charge if it feels the thrift is being operated in an unsound manner.
Whitlock said John Hanson expects to sell stock worth about $25 million, perhaps as early as December, which will allow it to redeem the state's certificates and regain total control of the thrift.
Stanford Hess, an attorney for Fairfax, said that institution also expects to raise enough capital on its own to redeem its $7.5 million in net worth certificates within 18 months. Fairfax, which has $463 million in assets, is the sixth largest of the state-chartered associations.
In addition to prodding thrift associations into the federal system of deposit insurance, state officials are considering other ways to minimize any loss the Maryland government might suffer because of its continuing conservatorship of associations that may not obtain FSLIC protection.
One option being considered by the Maryland Deposit Insurance Fund (MDIF), the state agency overseeing the troubled thrifts, is the elimination of future interest payments on savings deposits and deposit certificates at Old Court. That step could anger Old Court's 73,000 depositors, but would be "indispensable" in controlling losses at the Baltimore thrift, one official said.
"The question is whether the taxpayers of Maryland should fund the continued payment of interest on deposits in a insolvent institution," said one government lawyer. "The logical answer is 'no.' "
State lawyers said eliminating interest payments was in keeping with established common law principles governing conservatorships and receiverships. Traditionally, when a business is taken over by a conservator or receiver, "that automatically stops the running of interest," one official said.
In June, Judge Kaplan of Baltimore, who oversees all three MDIF conservatorships, allowed interest rates at Old Court to be lowered several points to 5.5 percent. MDIF would have to obtain Kaplan's permission to lower the rates again.
It was unclear exactly what deposits would be affected if MDIF asks for and wins the interest elimination, but in the past officials have sought restrictions on deposits made before mid-May, when Old Court was forced into conservatorship.
MDIF spokesman Norm Silverstein would not confirm that the state agency was considering the interest elimination, saying such a move was "not under any serious consideration."
Silverstein did say that as MDIF tries to work out Old Court's problems, "the state will keep all its options open."