The chairman and ranking Republican on the Senate Banking Committee disagreed Friday over whether it's time for the government to bail out the savings industry, which a new report says is headed for its worst year since the Great Depression.
"It's a very, very serious problem . . . more and more savings and loans are getting in very serious trouble," the chairman, Sen. William Proxmire, D-Wis., said on ABC-TV's "Good Morning America."Proxmire said he reluctantly favored liquidating insolvent thrift institutions, an action he said will cost at least $20 billion.
"The longer we put off stepping and closing down these S&L's that are insolvent, the worse the problem becomes," he said Friday.
"The worst news for people is to hear that $20 billion of their money is going to have to bail out anything," said Proxmire, "I've opposed every bailout that has come before the Banking Committee . . . and I would be against this if it were possible to do anyhing else."
But other approaches may still be possible, responded Sen. Jake Garn, R-Utah.
"A taxpayer bailout may be necessary sometime in the future, but not yet; that should only be a last resort," he said on the same program.
"Rather than Congress at this point to say we need a taxpayer bailout, . . . we can still do a great deal more in the private sector," Garn said, "If we've done all of those things, and then it fails, OK."
The Federal Home Loan Bank Board said Thursday that the nation's thrift institutions lost $7.5 billion in the first six months of 1988, almost as much as the $7.8 billion loss for all of last year, a post-Depression record.
"The losses for the year are clearly going to exceed the record losses of last year," said Martin Regalia, an economist with the National Council of Savings Institutions, a trade group.
"I would say there is a very good chance we're going to see losses in the $10 billion to $11 billion range and maybe more," he said.
But, both Regalia and James Barth, the bank board's chief economist, point to signs that the industry is at least not deteriorating as rapidly as before.
The S&Ls' loss for the April-June period of $3.6 billion was modestly better than the $3.9 billion of red ink in the first quarter and the $4.0 billion loss in the last quarter of 1987.
"Things are clearly not getting better rapidly, but they're not pitching off into the abyss," Regalia said.
As in the past, the industry's losses in the second quarter were concentrated in a relatively small number of institutions and in Texas, which has been hard hit by the collapse of oil prices.
The 271 thrift institutions in Texas - 133 of them insolvent - accounted for $3.2 billion of the loss. The 20 worst institutions in the nation - 17 of them in Texas - lost $2.6 billion.
Barth said most of the second-quarter loss came when institutions wrote down bad loans already in their portfolios. He said operating income was in the black, by $225 million, for the first time since the third quarter of last year. That means the industry is earning more than it's paying in operating expenses.