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Hurdle Cleared for Columbia S&L; Bond Sale : Thrifts: The U.S. adopts a new policy on how to handle such deals.

TIMES STAFF WRITER

A policy adopted last week by federal officials removes a major hurdle for ailing Columbia Savings & Loan to sell its collection of junk bonds, most recently valued at $2.5 billion.

Columbia’s previous agreement to sell the bonds for $3 billion to a Canadian-led partnership, in a deal that the Beverly Hills-based thrift would have financed through a note, was scrapped in September by federal savings and loan regulators.

One of the main reasons cited for the deal’s cancellation was that the government lacked a policy for financing such a sale. Last week, however, the board overseeing the Resolution Trust Corp., the federal agency mopping up the thrift mess, approved a broad policy expanding the ability of thrifts to finance similar transactions.

Unlike most insolvent thrifts, Columbia has not been taken over by the government because regulators would like to sell the junk bonds first in a private sale. But the thrift is insolvent by $710 million, stemming from the free fall in the value of its junk bond portfolio, and has acknowledged in public documents that it will probably be seized eventually. Because the thrift is so troubled, regulators want the terms in any sale to follow their own policies.

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As previously reported, seven groups have expressed interest. Of those, four are believed to be favorites. They are the Gordon partnership and groups led by three Wall Street firms--Salomon Bros., Goldman, Sachs & Co. and the Lehman Bros. unit of Shearson Lehman Bros. Holdings. The Salomon group is believed to also include Citicorp and the investment firm Odyssey Partners.

Because of the new policy, Columbia executives are expected to begin more detailed talks with prospective bidders this month.


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