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S&L PERFORMANCE PICKUP WON'T DENT RISING BAILOUT COSTS, ANALYSTS SAY

A pickup in the performance of privately run savings and loans won't go very far toward stemming the rising cost to taxpayers of bailing out the industry, analysts say.

The Office of Thrift Supervision said Wednesday that favorable interest rates are helping to cut losses and improve profits at S&Ls. The short-term rates that institutions pay depositors have dropped more than the long-term rates they earn from mortgages and other investments.However, commercial real estate values, whose plunge caused loan defaults that toppled many thrifts now in the possession of the government's Resolution Trust Corp., show little sign of recovery.

"With lower short-term interest rates, even weak thrifts will lose a little less money than they would otherwise, but that's one rather modest plus against some rather large negatives," said economist Martin Regalia of the National Council of Savings Institutions.

Thrift office director Timothy Ryan noted an increase in the percentage of past-due real estate loans to 2.44 percent at the end of March from 2.29 percent three months earlier.

"We are not here to declare victory," he said.

In the first three months of 1991, the nation's 2,283 S&Ls, excluding 204 institutions under government control, earned $627 million. That compares with a loss of $373 million for the 2,505 privately run thrifts in the same period a year ago and a loss of $1.49 billion at 2,342 private S&Ls in the last three months of 1990.

Eighty-five percent of the institutions made money in the first quarter. It was the industry's first profit since January-March 1987, when 3,203 institutions earned $98 million.

"I'd rather have the improvement than not, but its peanuts," said economist Paul Getman of Regional Financial Associates in West Chester, Pa. "It's the real estate that matters."

The report came a day after Charles Bowsher, head of the congressional General Accounting Office, said the cost of the S&L bailout likely will exceed the Bush administration's $130 billion worst-case estimate.

Of the thrifts still under private ownership at the end of March, 164 were in such poor shape that they were expected to fail this year. An additional 378 were classified as troubled by either losses, low capital levels or both.

There were 1,036 thrifts in the healthiest classification and 705 in a group that was not as healthy but still expected to survive.

Of the 164 expected failures, the greatest number were in Florida, 17; California, 15; Texas, 12; Illinois, 11; and New Jersey, 10.

Congress has appropriated $80 billion for the cleanup so far, but the Resolution Trust Corp. says it will need more for 1992.

However, Rep. Leon Panetta, D-Calif., chairman of the House Budget Committee, said Wednesday he will oppose additional funding until the RTC's books are audited.

Bowsher said this week that his accountants could not finish the audit because of spotty record keeping by the RTC and uncertainty over the value of properties the agency stripped from failed S&Ls.