FHFA takes Fannie and Freddie: Government begins restructuring troubled mortgage giants

by Dan Krell

If you haven’t yet heard, the newly created Federal Housing Finance Agency (FHFA) wasted little time in pursuing its regulatory authority over Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac by taking over as conservator. The agency was established as the new regulatory agency for Government Sponsored Enterprises (GSE) when President Bush signed the Housing and Economic Recovery Act of 2008 on July 30th. The takeover is a coordinated effort between the FHFA, the United States Treasury Department and the Federal Reserve.

In a statement made on Sunday, FHFA secretary James Lockhart outlined the reasons for the takeover of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac as well as the goals of the conservatorship. (The Secretary’s statement can be found at: www.ofheo.gov/media/statements). Secretary Lockhart stressed the importance of Fannie Mae’s and Freddie Mac’s role in the housing industry. However, the FHFA felt it was necessary to take action because of Fannie and Freddie’s ongoing capitalization problems, poor financial performance and deteriorated market conditions.

Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson also underscored the importance of Fannie and Freddie’s survival (the Secretary’s statement can be seen at www.treas.gov/press/releases). Secretary Paulson stated that the failure of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac would cause great turmoil in local and global markets. The turmoil would in turn negatively impact everyone personally, reducing savings and restricting credit (all forms of credit would be affected).

Due to the fragility and uncertainty of Fannie and Freddie in recent weeks, Treasury Secretary Paulson stated that the risk of funneling money to these institutions “in their current form” was not in the best interest of the tax payers. As the FHFA takes over operations in Fannie and Freddie, the role of the U.S. Treasury will be to ensure that Fannie and Freddie maintain a positive net worth through preferred stock purchases. By maintaining a positive net worth, Fannie and Freddie dodge the bullet of receivership (which could trigger a global financial meltdown).

The Treasury’s second role will be to purchase mortgage backed securities (MBS) from Fannie and Freddie. Although the MBS purchases will be temporary, it is anticipated that the special MBS purchases will increase mortgage availability and affordability.

Additionally, special credit facilities will be made available to the FHFA entities (which include Fannie Mae and Freddie as well as the twelve Federal Home Loan Banks) to sustain their liquidity. Secretary Lockhart stated that the Federal Home Loan Banks will most likely not use the recently made available facilities as they have “preformed well over the last year.”

The conservatorship is intended to be temporary; there is no timeline for transition. However, as Fannie and Freddie are required to reduce their mortgage portfolios starting in 2010, it is anticipated the new model will allow for a more streamlined and profitable organization at both Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac.

Although many agree that the takeover will positively affect interest rates temporarily, modestly lowered interest rates will not be enough to fix the real estate problem. The real story (that will evolve in ensuing months) will be Fannie and Freddie’s encouragement and support of banks to modify delinquent loans rather than foreclosing, which will play a role in the stabilization of home values and ultimately the real estate market.

This article is not intended to provide nor should it be relied upon for legal and financial advice. This article was originally published in the Montgomery County Sentinel the week of September 8, 2008. Copyright © 2008 Dan Krell.