TWO INTERESTING ITEMS in The New York Times caught our eye the other day. One noted that the savings and loan industry lost $1.6 billion in the third quarter, bringing its total loss for the first nine months of 1988 to $9.4 billion. The other mentioned that the Federal Home Loan Bank of San Francisco is building a new 18-story headquarters.

That juxtaposition illustrates a recurring theme in the sorry saga of the nation's savings and loan industry. The industry has big problems. One big obstacle to resolving them is the institutional interest of the agency that regulates them, the Federal Home Loan Bank System.The world doesn't need thrift institutions in 1988; financial deregulation, which eliminated the favored status of money deposited for mortgage lending, has made them obsolete. But if thrifts are encouraged to turn into banks, thrift regulators will find themselves unemployed. As long as they can build and occupy shiny new buildings, regulators will do their best to keep their regulatees in business.

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