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THRIFT DISASTER CLAIMING INNOCENT VICTIMS

What God, nature and our enemies won't do to us, we will do to ourselves. Consider the latest go round in the savings and loan disaster. Banking regulators are forcing healthy, profitable, well-run S&Ls to be sold or closed.

Consider the case of TalmanHome Federal Savings, a $5.1 billion thrift based in Chicago. Talman has become another innocent casualty of government rule changes. Unlike Lincoln Savings of California, and Lincoln's leader Charles Keating, Talman had no problems with junk bonds, it had no questionable loans to family or friends, it had no speculative commercial real estate loans for ski resorts or even office buildings. No one in government has questioned the business ability or integrity of Talman's leaders. Talman was running at a profit. So, why didn't the government leave them alone?Talman's leaders were guilty of only one thing - they tried to play by the government rules, except the government changed the rules, after the fact. That is our opinion. Here are the facts, you judge.

In 1982 as S&Ls were failing across the country, Talman Federal Savings was asked to take over four failing Chicago-area S&Ls. To make the failing S&Ls attractive, and possibly viable, the government allowed "good will" to be used as assets on the books of the newly enlarged company.

In the case of Talman's merger with the four banks, the government allowed Talman to take a billion dollars in good will and use it as a company asset. By doing this, Talman was able to be within the regulations for the debt to asset ratio required by S&L regulators.

Then in 1989, as the true extent of the S&L disaster was becoming more apparent, the government decided to change the rules. Good will could no longer be considered an asset. This change wasn't just for future purchases of S&Ls, this applied to those who had purchased one in the past.

Since then there have been lawsuits against the government for violating the terms of purchase contracts, but not soon enough to stop the sale of Talman.

"They (federal regulators) changed the rules and wanted tangible capital," said Jim Sherman, senior vice president of Talman. "The good will didn't fit into that category and had to be taken off the books. No distinction was made between the bad guys who had abused the "good will" as an asset, and the good guys enticed to buy the banks with "good will" as part of the assets.

"All of a sudden, a healthy multi-billion dollar company running in the black had to go out into the market place and start searching for a capital infusion. Initially the regulators gave us until the middle of 1994 to comply, but by the early part of 1991 they pretty well much said that if we hadn't found a buyer by the end of 1991 they were going to shorten the time line."

In effect this would have meant that the government could have seized the company and it's assets. "We were still the same company that had agreed to buy the failing S&Ls. Still running the organization in exactly the same way and we were healthy, but not within the new "goal posts" the government had moved," continued Sherman.

"The positive side is that a reputable Dutch company, ABN AMRO (Alban Bank Netherlands and Amsterdam Rotterdam Banks) took us over and injected $300 million into Talman," said Sherman. "This brought us totally within capital compliance."

The Dutch international banking group first came to the United States 50 years ago and has headquarters in Chicago. As buyers, they are an excellent financial institution. However, the final solution for Talman was much akin to forcing the adoption of children to new parents, albeit good ones, while the natural parents are still alive, well and competent.

"This type of rule-changing comes as no surprise to me," Jefferey Isacs vice president of IsMan Consultants, San Francisco, told The Meyers Report. IsMan consultants advises and produces a newsletter for their clients in the financial field, keeping them aware of new government regulations. "We make our money because of the rule changes government makes," continued Isacs, "but even we are surprised at how often and how many rules of the game change."

"In my own opinion, I think a striking feature of the U.S. infrastructure is the extent to which government itself has established restrictions, or outright prohibitions, on the development of firms operating in different parts of the country." Isacs continued.

"This accounting rule change for the S&Ls is just one of the domestic restrictions which often don't apply to a foreign company doing business here. Quite often I have seen where the lay of the land for our own corporations looks like a series of economic fiefdoms ruled by government-established local cells," said Isacs.