than expected for the rescue of the Savings Association Insurance Fund, according to government statistics. Third-quarter figures show the thrift fund is growing faster than Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. agency officials predicted earlier this year. Consequently, thrifts will face a lower tab for building the fund's reserves to $1.25 for every $100 in insured deposits - the level required by law. "There is more money in SAIF than everyone expected, and less money will be required to bring it to full capitalization," said James Chessen, chief economist at the American Bankers Association. The thrift fund balance grew $500 million, to $3.08 billion, in the third quarter. That increase cuts the amount needed to recapitalize the fund to $5.7 billion from $6.3 billion. Budget bills being prepared by the Senate and House banking committees would force thrifts to pay a one-time assessment to replenish the thrift fund. The assessment is regularly described as an 85-basis-point fee on all thrift deposits. Roger Watson, the FDIC's research director, said an assessment of 79 basis points would now be needed to replenish the fund. An analysis by Mr. Chessen at the ABA forecasts a 78.2-basis-point levy. If trends continue, the assessment may go even lower, said Bert Ely, president of Ely & Co. in Alexandria, Va. Fourth-quarter premiums and investment income will boost the thrift fund by roughly $300 million, driving the one-time fee down to approximately 77 basis points, he said. "It'll build further by the end of the year, and that does lower the hit on thrifts, no question about it," Mr. Ely said. Mr. Watson cautioned, however, that Congress may trim the fee charged to weak thrifts and banks that hold SAIF-insured deposits, possibly driving up the one-time fee back to the 85-basis-point range for most thrifts. Officials from the thrift industry's primary trade group were skeptical that its members would see the day when the assessment fell below 85 basis points. "We believe the assessment will be over 80 basis points in all likelihood," said Brian Smith, director of policy development for America's Community Bankers. The growth of the thrift fund was expected, he said, because the Resolution Trust Corp. has been shut down and most of the troubled thrifts have been sold or liquidated. "The fact that the SAIF had no losses in the third quarter is hardly a surprise," Mr. Smith said. Harking back to the ABA's position for the first half of 1995, Edward L. Yingling, the group's chief lobbyist, said Friday that the thrift fund's improving condition demonstrates there is no immediate need to replenish the fund. "This confirms what we've been saying all year: that the horror stories about SAIF are unfounded," he said. The ABA and the banking industry oppose provisions in the thrift fund rescue that would force banks to assume $12 billion in payments for long- term bonds used to finance the 1987 thrift industry bailout. Mr. Yingling said there is little chance of altering the levy on banks, because the budget process is so far along. The FDIC's Mr. Watson said the thrift fund fix remains a pressing issue, despite the growing coffers. "In our view there are risks in the system that could lead to problems in the fund," he said. Mr. Watson said that without the fix, thrift premiums will remain high relative to bank insurance premiums. The thrift fund remains dangerously exposed to the industry's concentration in real estate loans and to the large amount of deposits in California, he added.
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