WASHINGTON - Following through on orders from Congress, the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. adopted a rule Tuesday that restricts equity investments by state-chartered banks.

But the FDIC's final rule is more lenient than it had proposed July 9.

The rule, which takes effect in late November, affects about 1,900 state banks concentrated in New England, New York, Delaware, and California, where state laws on bank powers are more liberal than federal law.

Also Tuesday, the FDIC gave a final nod to real estate loan underwriting standards. The rules - part regulation, part guideline - were required by Congress last year and have been debated for months among regulatory agencies.

Last week, the Federal Reserve Board became the first of the four key financial-institution regulators to adopt the rules, which limits loan-to-value ratios by type of property. The Office of the Comptroller of the Currency and Office of Thrift Supervision are expected to follow soon.

Creeping Investment Limits

The government has gradually been limiting equity investment powers at thrifts and banks. In the 1989 thrift-bailout law, Congress prohibited thrifts from making investments barred to national banks. And last December, Congress imposed the same requirement on state banks.

"There is this perception that the states were getting wild in the granting of powers," said Robert Miailovich, associate director of the FDIC's division of supervision, who wrote the new rules.

The FDIC explained Tuesday that any state bank which had made equity investments not allowed national banks between Sept. 30, 1990, and Nov. 26, 1991, may continue to do so, within certain limits.

But state banks that had not taken advantage of more permissive laws to own stocks or mutual funds or to invest in real estate projects may not now do so, Mr. Miailovich said. "If you weren't in it, you can't start it," he said.

An adequately capitalized state bank may continue to invest in stocks and mutual funds up to 100% of its capital. That is an easing from the original proposal, which would have capped a state bank's investments at the highest amount owned during the grandfathered period. However, that cap remains as the limit for undercapitalized state banks.

Any stock holdings exceeding the new limits must be divested by the end of 1996.

The FDIC plans to follow up these rules with another regulation in a few weeks that will govern real estate equity investments. That rule will hit California banks hardest.

"The major impact is in California, where they authorized direct realty investments." Mr. Miailovich said. "Part two of the regulations will probably give them some leeway for rearranging" these investments.

Rule on Insurance Sales

The agency may allow state banks to transfer such investments to separately capitalized subsidiaries.

State banks that on Nov. 21, 1991, were conducting insurance operations that go beyond what is permitted national banks have been grandfathered. This includes the Delaware banks owned by Citicorp and Chase Manhattan Corp.

While this exception was included in last year's banking law, the FDIC originally proposed confining state-chartered banks' insurance activities to their headquarters states. Relaxing that approach, the FDIC decided Tuesday to let these banks continue exporting insurance products to other states.

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