WASHINGTON - The Resolution Trust Corp. on Friday is selling the nation's largest failed thrift, and depositors with $12 million in holdings stand to lose money as a result.

RTC spokesman Stephen Katsanos said a July analysis of Homefed's books indicated that a portion of $12 million - of the $4.88 billion of deposits at San Diego's Homefed Bank - is uninsured because the accounts exceed the federal government's $100,000 limit.

The agency is selling only the insured deposits and has not notified the uninsured depositors of their potential losses

"We expect that the depositors are watching their own money," Mr. Katsanos said, noting that taxpayers would pay more of the thrift cleanup costs if the RTC suggested that uninsured deposits be withdrawn before failed thrifts are resolved.

More Deposits Exceed Limit

In addition to the $12 million, Homefed has $350 million more in deposits above the $100,000 federal deposit insurance limit.

The RTC could not say exactly why those deposits are considered insured, because it does not conduct a final audit on failed institutions until the night it resolves them.

Mr. Katsanos said there are several possible explanations for why the other $350 million in accounts over $100,000 are considered insured.

What appears on the books as a single large account could actually be a group of deposits of less than $100,000 each that brokers have placed on behalf of clients; deposits of more than $100,000 might secure loans; and the large deposit accounts might also be joint accounts, trust accounts, or custodial accounts.

According to second quarter financial reports, Homefed had no uninsured deposits, but had 997 accounts with balances of more than $100,000.

Altogether, the 997 accounts hold $362 million, or 7.4% of Homefed's $4.88 billion of deposits, said William C. Ferguson, president of Ferguson & Co., a Dallas-based consulting firm.

Mr. Ferguson said the large deposits at Homefed are puzzling.

"I can't imagine anybody in their right mind leaving themselves exposed in an institution that is in conservatorship or receivership," he said.

For those holding the $12 million of uninsured Homefed deposits, the RTC will transfer the first $100,000 of an individual's account to whatever company buys the thrift, and the deposit will remain insured by the federal government.

Then, the RTC will notify the depositors that they also have uninsured funds and that they will receive a pro-rata share of any money that the RTC recoups through the sales of Homefed's assets. On average, The RTC has recovered 77% on failed thrifts. Within a year, depositors should get a check for the money they are due, Mr. Katsanos said.

Winning Bids to Be Announced

The RTC is expected to announce the winning bidders for Homefed on Friday. The thrift held $12.4 billion in assets and $8.8 billion of deposits when it failed in July 1992.

The RTC downsized the institution in part by selling some of its northern California branches.

Several large California banks and thrifts submitted bids for Homefed before the Nov. 19 deadline, sources said. Mr. Katsanos declined to disclose the names of the bidders.

While the RTC is accepting bids on Homefed's entire franchise of 136 branches, it also accepted bids on 18 clusters of branches it created for the sale.

Sources said the most intense interest is in the San Diego area, where there are 57 branches with $2.1 billion of deposits.

Likely bidders are First Interstate Bancorp, Home Savings of America, Bank of America, Wells Fargo Bank and Great Western Bank. Several smaller institutions have bid for other California clusters near their headquarters, sources said.

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