WASHINGTON -- A company controlledl by billionire Robert M. Bass has made a preliminary proposal to buy the insolvent American Savings Bank, a prominent New York-area thrift.

If the Bass company goes ahead with a bid, it would compete against Chase Manhattan Corp. and Republic New York Corp., which sources said have already filed proposals with the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp.

Geographic Diversity

A successful acquisition would give Mr. Bass a foothold on the East Coast. American Saving, based in the New York suburb of White Plains, has $3.2 billion in assets and a sizable network of 38 branches.

Mr. Bass is now the fourth-largest holder of thrift assets, which are booked in California at American Savings Bank, an institution acquired from the government in 1988 and unrelated to the White Plains thrift.

The Bass entity looking at the acquisition is Castine Partners, an affiliate of Keystone Holdings Inc., a savings and loan holding company based in Fort Worth. Castine Partners, with offices here and in New York, invests in financial service company Holdings' parent, Keystone Inc., was formerly called the Robert M. Bass Group.

Action Delayed

It was unclear Wednesday when the FDIC would go ahead with a transaction. FDIC officials refused to discuss the deal.

But sources involved in the sale said Wednesday that the FDIC has not acted on American Savings to give representatives of Mr. Bass time to develop their bid.

Regulators were planning to seize American Savings on Friday, May 1. They reportedly had booked nearly all the rooms at the Stouffer Hotel in White Plains in preparation for the action.

But on that day, they decided to hold off because of fears that riots might erupt in New York in the wake of the disturbances in Los Angeles. American Savings has branches throughout New York City.

A Bid for the Whole Thing

The initial delay has now been extended by three weeks. The FDIC is interested in the Bass group's proposal because it calls for acquiring the entire bank. Chase and Republic are believed to want deposits and few, if any, assets. Chase and Republic declined to comment.

"We proposed the possibility of doing a whole bank bid," confirmed Bass spokesman Owen Blicksilver.

The FDIC, which already has its hands full of loans from seized banks, desperately wants acquirers to assume as many assets as possible. In just the last five years, the FDIC's inventory of seized assets has quadrupuled, to $44 billion.

Mr. Blicksilver said Castine outlined a proposed bid for the agency on May 8. The FDIC asked for more details, which were provided, he said.

Mr. Blicksilver declined to say how much FDIC assistance Castine was seeking or elaborate further on the proposal. The ball appears to be in the agency's court now.

Internal Bickering

One source said the FDIC is at war with itself over the deal. He said some FDIC officials want to sell American Savings to an in-market bidder because "it's nice and neat," meaning it is the simplest way to get rid of an institution and it furthers regulators' goals of helping the industry consolidate.

These same people are suspicious of bidders that are not commercial banks, said an investment banker working on the deal.

But the drawback is that in-market bidders rarely take assets.

Other FDIC officials want to try new approaches and reach out to sources of capital beyond the banking industry, both sources agreed.

Keystone Holdings, with $23.4 billion in S&L assets, ranks as the fourth-largest owner of thrift assets. Its main thrift is American Savings Bank in Stockton, Calif., which has $16.9 billion in assets. A related institution that holds nonperforming assets from the thrift's failed predecessor, American Savings and Loan, accounts for the remainder.

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