The Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. approved a rule Tuesday that will make it easier for the banks it regulates to operate overseas.

Under the rule, FDIC-supervised banks that are well-run and well- capitalized may open additional branches in foreign countries without first applying to the agency. The agency, which regulates state banks that are not part of the Federal Reserve, also eased restrictions on the types of investments their overseas branches may make.

The FDIC estimates the rule will affect a dozen banks. The Federal Reserve Board is considering similar changes that would affect the bulk of internationally active U.S. banks.

"Because of our action today, banks will be able to compete more effectively in the international marketplace without the delay and expense of unnecessary application procedures and regulatory requirements," acting FDIC Chairman Andrew C. Hove Jr. said at an agency board meeting, where the rule was approved unanimously.

"What the industry gains out of this is some parity among the various bank charters regarding foreign activities," said Christopher Spoth, an assistant director in the FDIC's supervision division. "Previously, state nonmember banks were a bit out of sync."

The rule also simplifies accounting for fees on international loans and lets a bank's foreign branch underwrite and trade in the obligations of any foreign government, not just the government of the country where the branch is located.

In other board action Tuesday, the FDIC approved an interagency policy statement that would make it easier for banks to purchase mortgage-backed derivative products. Arguing that bank risk-management systems adequately protect institutions from losses, the agency said it could eliminate regulatory constraints on purchases of mortgage-backed derivatives.

The FDIC also announced Tuesday that the Bank Insurance Fund earned $1.4 billion in 1997, closing the year with a record balance of $28.3 billion. By comparison, the Savings Association Insurance Fund had net income of $500 million in 1997 and ended with a balance of $9.4 billion.

The insurance funds' reserve ratios also increased in 1997. At Dec. 31, the reserve ratio for the bank insurance agency was 1.38%, compared with 1.34% at yearend 1996. The thrift insurance fund's reserve ratio rose to 1.36%, up from 1.30% in the final quarter of 1996.

Tuesday's was the first open meeting of the FDIC board since Feb. 10.

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