WASHINGTON - A congressional subcommittee will hold two public hearings in January on pending legislation that would change the rules for state-chartered mutual thrifts selling stock for the first time.

On Jan. 20, the House Banking Committee's financial institutions subcommittee will hold the first hearing in Winston-Salem, N.C. A second hearing will be held on Capitol Hill, probably the following week.

The hearings will explore issues of "fairness and equity to depositors," said subcommittee staff director Peter Kinzler. "We want to get some feel for what the nature of these deals has been - who has benefited and to what extent."

Sponsors of the Bill

House Banking Committee Chairman Henry B Gonzalez, D-Tex., Rep. Stephen L. Neal, D-N.C., and Rep. Jim Leach of Iowa, the committee's ranking minority member, introduced the legislation on Nov. 22.

Rep. Neal, the subcommittee chairman, wanted to hold hearings in his home state because of the high volume of conversions there, Mr. Kinzler said.

Most of the stock conversions in North Carolina have been merger-conversions, in which a depositor-owned thrift goes public at the same time it is merged with another company. There have been 26 merger-conversions there since 1989, according to Charlottesville, Va.-based SNL Securities.

More Lenient State Laws

Critics of the deals say the wave of mutual-to-stock conversions since 1989 has been driven by states that recently began allowing the savings banks they supervise to convert under more lenient rules. Much of the activity has been in North Carolina, Wisconsin, and Illinois.

Dozens of mutual thrifts have changed their charters to state-chartered savings banks since 1989. Many of those states allow management to take or buy much larger stakes in the institution than the 25% to 35% allowed under federal rules. The Office of Thrift Supervision regulates all savings and loans as well as federally chartered savings banks.

Mr. Kinzler said that state regulators, depositors, and thrift executives will testify at the Winston-Salem hearings, although the subcommittee has not yet finalized the list of those testifying.

The OTS Model

Federal regulators are expected to testify al the Washington hearings.

The proposed legislation would require the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. - the primary federal regulator for state-chartered thrifts - to write regulations similar to those that govern stock conversions under OTS rules.

In the hearings, "We are going to look at how the [state] regulations compare to OTS regulations," Mr. Kinzler said. "We are going to look to see whether the OTS regulations themselves are adequate."

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