Several community thrifts in California continue to report problems in their multifamily loan portfolios as a result of January's Northridge earthquake.
The problems are still hard to quantify because much of the relief effort for the Los Angeles quake is still in limbo where multifamily projects are concerned. The quake problems are also calling attention to broader problems for small thrifts that specialize in multifamily lending in the state.
"While we believe we have adequately provided valuation allowances, until title to all of the unresolved earthquake-damaged properties is acquired and the properties are put in salable condition and sold, the potential for further earthquake-related losses continues," J.L. Thomas, chief executive of Quaker City Federal Savings and Loan in Whittier. said last week.
Almost one-quarter, or $5 million, of Quaker City's nonperforming assets are loans to multifamily properties, many of them low income, that were damaged in the quake.
The $550 million-asset thrift lost $2.3 million in its fiscal 1994 year that ended in June. mostly because of heavy provisioning for earthquake-related losses.
And, while earnings rebounded nicely in September, the earthquake problem remains a blot on its balance sheet.
Though the rest of Quaker City's portfolio is showing signs of stabilizing after three years of slight but steady deterioration, the jury is still out on Quaker's multifamily portfolio. Officials at Quaker and other area lenders are beginning to voice concerns that the earthquake's effects on some properties are permanent and that federal loan programs to help disaster victims will not bail out troubled borrowers.
Some complain that the Small Business Administration, which handles the federal government's disaster loan program, has been slow to act on applications from multifamily owners and unwilling to make such loans.
"Were we slow to begin with, hell yes," said Bernard Kulik, associate administrator for disaster assistance at the agency. "But there are an awful lot of problems with multifamily housing in Southern California and, frankly, little of it has to do with the speed of our loan approval process."
The SBA has lent more than $3.5 billion for earthquake victims more than in all other 1993-94 disasters combined but the lion's share has been to small businesses and single-family homeowners. A cash flow lender with a $1.5 million loan limit, Mr. Kulik said the SBA in many cases simply cannot make loans to multifamily properties because they cannot handle the extra debt.
The situation has led a San Francisco thrift, First Republic Bancorp, to add another $1.25 million to its earthquake reserve in addition to the $4 million it set aside for the disaster in February.
First Republic has $75 million worth of multifamily loans in the Los Angeles area. $36 million of which were affected by the earthquake.
Willis Newton, chief financial officer, said the company is working with the affected borrowers and is hopeful that disaster assistance from federal, state, or city venues will be forthcoming.
He admitted, however, that "some borrowers have been successful in getting assistance. and some haven't." In its earnings statement, First Republic added that "the receipt of [relief] funds has been much slower than had been anticipated."
Because of the earthquake provisions, First Republic's net income in the first nine months of this year fell to $5.7 million from $9 million a year earlier.
Charlotte Chamberlain, who follows California thrifts for Wedbush Morgan in Los Angeles, said First Republic's actions on the earthquake are probably more a result of the company's conservatism than an indicator of its problems.
She cautions, however, that the "fat lady hasn't sung yet on the issue of multifamily in Southern California."
Ms. Chamberlain said that while big California thrifts such as California Federal, Home Federal, and Glendale Federal all have large multifamily loan portfolios. their size precludes them from taking-huge hits. And her worry is that as interest rates rise, more marginal borrowers could fall out of performing status. When that happens, she said, the small multifamily lenders, will be hardest hit.