WASHINGTON - Since April 19, state-chartered savings associations have been free to leave the Federal Home Loan Bank System. But so far, according to the Federal Housing Finance Board, which regulates the Home Loan banks, none of the 325 eligible institutions has given any indication that it plans to do so.

"If they were anxious to withdraw, it's likely they would have done it April 20," said Nicolas P. Retsinas, assistant secretary for housing of the Department of Housing and Urban Development and a director of the board.

Six years ago, when the Financial Institutions Reform, Recovery and Enforcement Act of 1989 removed the statutory requirement that state- chartered savings associations belong to the Federal Home Loan Bank System, regulators, and Home Loan bank officials feared a mass exodus.

The Federal Home Loan Bank of Chicago, the Office of Thrift Supervision, and the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. delayed for three years an attempt by Wisconsin's Wauwatosa Savings and Loan Association to leave the system. Then the Office of Thrift Supervision issued a rule banning such departures until last April 19.

Now April 19 has come and gone, and "it has been a major nonevent because people don't really want to go," said Brian Smith, director of policy development for America's Community Bankers, the thrift industry trade association.

The reaction from the 1,182 federally chartered thrifts is expected to be the same if Congress frees them to leave the Home Loan Bank System - as it may do this year.

"I'd be frankly very surprised if any of those institutions leave," said Michael T. Crowley Jr., chief executive officer of Mutual Savings Bank in Milwaukee and chairman of the thrift group's Federal Home Loan Bank committee.

Why is everybody staying put? "The system provides value," said Brent Beesley, chairman and CEO of Heritage Savings Bank of St. George, Utah, a state savings association that's been free to leave since April 19. "Not so much perhaps in terms of return on stock, but in providing liquidity and in providing sources of funds which we as bankers need. It's a good deal."

Raymond Perry, president and chief executive of Wauwatosa Savings and Loan, differs with that assessment. He argues that congressional intervention in 1989 compromised the integrity - and profitability - of the Home Loan Bank System, and that he expects more such intervention in the future. As for why his colleagues have chosen to stay put, he said, "I don't know when we're going to wake up in this industry."

Retsinas suggested another reason why Wauwatosa won't rejoin the Home Loan Bank System. "I think we should have a rule about not admitting members whose names we can't spell," he joked at a finance board briefing last week.

With the switch of the state-chartered savings associations to voluntary status, 79% of the institutions that belong to the Federal Home Loan Bank System are now voluntary members, according to the housing finance board. Commercial banks, which weren't allowed to join the system before 1989, now make up 63% of its members.

Voluntary members now hold 51% of the system's capital stock, 66% of its assets, and 36% of the advances made by the Home Loan banks.

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