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American Savings Outlives Speculation

If the rumor mill is accurate--and it hasn’t been yet--American Savings Bank is being sold. This time, it’s supposed to go to Washington Mutual Savings Bank in Seattle.

Ever since an investor group led by financier Robert M. Bass of Fort Worth bought the remains of failed American Savings & Loan in late 1988, industry wags have been predicting a sale and a big profit for Bass.

“They said he would hold it for four or five years and then sell,” said Bass spokesman Owen Blicksilver. “And then they said in five to eight years. But here it is eight years later and he still has it. They’ll keep lifting the bars. It’ll be 10 to 12 years next.”

Certainly the rumors have been flying in recent years. Citicorp was interested for a while. NationsBank sent people to check American’s books. But there are big stumbling blocks. The Bass group reportedly wants $2 billion for the nation’s fifth-largest thrift, and structuring a deal is difficult.

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American won’t talk, nor will potential buyers, usually. But this time, Washington Mutual is fanning the flames. “We’ve said for quite some time that we’re quite interested in moving into California,” said Bill Ehrlich, a Washington Mutual spokesman. “If we move in, we would go in through an acquisition, and we’d want an institution with at least $10 billion in assets.”

There are only seven of those thrifts in California and, while there may be talk about a few of them merging, American is the most likely candidate.

James S. Granelli covers financial institutions and fraud issues for The Times. He can be reached at (714) 966-5810 and at james.granelli@latimes.com


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