WASHINGTON - Federated Department Stores Inc. became one of the last nonfinancial companies to slip through a celebrated loophole on Monday, when it won regulatory approval to convert its credit card bank to a federal thrift.Federated, which owns 400 stores including Macy's and Bloomingdale's in 33 states, will become a unitary thrift holding company for FDS Bank. Both are based in Mason, Ohio, a Cincinnati suburb.

Federated was one of five nonfinancial companies to apply for a thrift charter before May 4, 1999, a deadline set by Congress. The four other firms still waiting for approval from the Office of Thrift Supervision are Ford Motor Co., General Motors, GE Capital, and Deere Corp. (With the Gramm-Leach-Bliley Act of 1999, Congress closed the so-called unitary thrift loophole and prevented any more commercial firms from entering the banking business by buying a thrift.)

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