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Nordstrom Eyes Setting Up S&L

Department store chain Nordstrom Inc. on Thursday became the latest company joining the rush to set up a federal savings and loan.

Seattle-based Nordstrom, which has 99 stores in 22 states, asked federal regulators for permission to convert its credit-card operation into an S&L.

"This move strengthens our competitive position within financial services while expanding the products we can offer our customers," Kevin Knight, president of the company's credit-card operation, said in a statement. "A thrift charter allows us to offer products and services that until now no other retailer has offered customers."

If the application is approved, the new thrift may offer business credit-card accounts, home equity lines of credit, and money-market checking accounts, Knight said. Other services being considered include ATM-debit cards and limited mortgage lending, he added.

The savings and loan, to be named Nordstrom Financial Services, would be based in Scottsdale, Ariz.

The thrift will not have branches; business will be conducted using telephone lines and the mail. Nordstrom spokeswoman Brooke White said the S&L would initially seek business from the company's current customers.

The Office of Thrift Supervision could approve the application within a few months. The agency has a backlog of 59 pending applications to establish federally chartered S&Ls, of which 20 are from insurance companies.

The OTS, part of the Treasury Department, has reviewed and approved applications from a number of insurance companies, brokerage firms and other businesses outside the banking industry seeking to open federal thrifts. In granting the requests, the regulators have chipped away at Depression-era laws separating banks, securities firms and insurance companies. Legislation to lift the barriers died in Congress this year.

Companies receiving new S&L charters in recent months include agribusiness giant Archer Daniels Midland Co., long-distance telephone company Excel Communications Inc. and coffin manufacturer Hillenbrand Industries.

And last week, the OTS gave insurance giant State Farm permission to operate a federal thrift after it mollified concerns about lending discrimination.

Thrift charter applications are pending from, among others, American Express Co., Ford Motor Co., General Motors Corp. and GE Capital.

Nordstrom, which specializes in clothing and shoes, reported $4.9 billion in sales last year. It has some 40,000 employees nationwide.

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