Astounding move on the part of the US Treasury to announce these changes to the government sponsored entities on Christmas Eve… unfortunately it echoes all the late Sunday night moves made when Tim Geithner was President of the Federal Reserve Bank of New York like the conversion to bank holding companies of Goldman Sachs and Morgan Stanley…
~~~ “Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, the linchpins of the American housing market, continue to bedevil the U.S. financial system.
In February 2003, their regulator issued a report saying the companies were taking on too much risk by using implicit government backing to plunge deeper into the mortgage market.
The government-sponsored enterprises would pose a systemic threat to the economy in the “remote” chance that either failed, Armando Falcon told the Bond Market Association the same day. The Bush administration, considering his report a potential threat to financial markets, asked him to resign.
Five years later, regulators seized the mortgage-finance companies. Since then, leaders from former Federal Reserve Chairman Alan Greenspan to Warren Buffett have argued the companies can’t be sustained in their dual roles — a for-profit enterprise beholden to shareholders and a tool of housing policy — and should be nationalized or sold.
Nothing has happened. Instead, Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, which buy home mortgages from banks and package them into bonds sold to investors, have been bailed out with $1.5 trillion in direct and indirect government aid. The Obama administration is banking on the companies to help end a three-year housing slump. The president is delaying plans to lay out a new framework for them in February, and Congress hasn’t scheduled hearings on their future.
“They’re going to get a giant pass on all of this,” said Paul Miller, a former examiner for the Federal Reserve Bank of Philadelphia who is now a bank analyst at FBR Capital Markets in Arlington, Virginia. It’s going to be “three to five years before their fate is determined.”
Rather than beginning to extricate itself from Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac as it is with other bailed-out businesses, the Treasury Department on Christmas Eve removed a $200 billion limit on aid to each of the companies and promised to cover their losses through 2012. Earlier, the Federal Reserve extended a mortgage-bond purchase program by three months, through March.
The approaching withdrawal of Fed support in the form of the mortgage-bond purchases risks “a very, very scary situation,” said Meredith Whitney, founder of Meredith Whitney Advisory Group LLC in New York. Mortgage rates would soar, endangering the economic recovery, if private buyers failed to step in to buy the companies’ debt, she said.
The status of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac isn’t dealt with in the proposed overhaul of the financial regulatory system that the Senate plans to take up next year. While Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner said in June that the companies’ future would be discussed in the president’s budget outline in February, the Treasury in its Dec. 24 statement promised only to provide a “preliminary report” by then.
Washington-based Fannie Mae and McLean, Virginia-based Freddie Mac own or guarantee about $5.5 trillion of the $11.8 trillion in U.S. residential mortgage debt. They have financed as much as 75 percent of new U.S. mortgages this year.
They have been run for more than 40 years as shareholder- owned companies that also have a federally chartered mission to promote the housing market. Those dual mandates have collided and contributed to the companies’ failure, said Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. Chairman Sheila Bair.
“Go one way or the other,” Bair said in an interview this month. “Either completely privatize them and get them completely out or run them as public utilities.” The hybrid structure, with private shareholders, public mandates and federal backstopping, “is classic too big to fail.” ~~~