The Office of Thrift Supervision on Thursday proposed a new mutual holding company structure that would allow thrifts to avoid paying high taxes in stock buybacks.

Under the proposed three-tier structure, a federally chartered stock holding company would be sandwiched between a thrift and its mutual parent company. This intermediate holding company would hold all of the thrift's stock, but would be able to issue up to 49% to the public. The proposal would require at least 51% to be owned by the mutual holding company.

Currently, when thrifts owned by mutual holding companies buy back stock issued to the public, they pay substantial taxes. The proposed arrangement would allow thrift companies to avoid this expense.

Under the proposal, the investment powers of the stock holding company would be the same as those of the parent mutual holding company. The intermediate holding company also would be required to follow the same rules as thrifts when issuing stock. For example, new stock must be offered to a thrift's depositors before being sold to the public. Comments are due August 4.

The OTS in November asked the industry for input on the concept of the intermediate stock holding company structure. In response to suggestions, the agency decided to require the intermediate holding company to obtain a federal, rather than state, charter.

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