Will Fannie and Freddie lose their home?

NAR the US National Association of Realtors expects the housing market to be badly damaged and the value of homes to fall; in markets there is a credit deep freeze, there is hedge funds bloodbath, and there is the highest level of uncertainty; given the fact that there is no clear signal of a turnaround in US markets, world central banks stepped in to protect global markets from from falling back. It’s assuring to know that large economies will chip in to steer away from a major global collapse when the US economy is hit hard. This by all means constitues nothing less than government intervention in free markets, which goes against principles of free markets and principles of those firms and banks who are being bailed out! but what’s the alternative?…more to come!…

Read on the outlook for the global economy by the Bank of International Settlements:  bis-global-economy-report.pdf

Read on the US housing market: housing-meltdown.pdf

And to understand a bit what was going on at the top of the home mortgage pyramid just few years ago (and less than 2 years after the corporate scandal haven of summer 2002), read about the two dominant players below by Bob Alford from 2004: 

fannie-and-freddie.gif

In recent months, the nation’s two largest mortgage finance lenders have come under increasing scrutiny at the hands of Congress, the Justice Department and the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC). The Federal National Mortgage Association, nicknamed Fannie Mae, and the Federal Home Mortgage Corporation, nicknamed Freddie Mac, have operated since 1968 as government sponsored enterprises (GSEs). This means that, although the two companies are privately owned and operated by shareholders, they are protected financially by the support of the Federal Government. These government protections include access to a line of credit through the U.S. Treasury, exemption from state and local income taxes and exemption from SEC oversight. A recent accounting scandal at Freddie Mac that resulted in the replacement of three of the company’s top executives has lead to mounting concerns over the privileged status these GSEs enjoy in the marketplace.

Fannie Mae was created in 1938 as part of Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s New Deal. The collapse of the national housing market in the wake of the Great Depression discouraged private lenders from investing in home loans. Fannie Mae was established in order to provide local banks with federal money to finance home mortgages in an attempt to raise levels of home ownership and the availability of affordable housing.

Initially, Fannie Mae operated like a national savings and loan, allowing local banks to charge low interest rates on mortgages for the benefit of the home buyer. This lead to the development of what is now known as the secondary mortgage market. Within the secondary mortgage market, companies such as Fannie Mae are able to borrow money from foreign investors at low interest rates because of the financial support that they receive from the U.S. Government. It is this ability to borrow at low rates that allows Fannie Mae to provide fixed interest rate mortgages with low down payments to home buyers. Fannie Mae makes a profit from the difference between the interest rates homeowners pay and foreign lenders charge.

For the first thirty years following its inception, Fannie Mae held a veritable monopoly over the secondary mortgage market. In 1968, due to fiscal pressures created by the Vietnam War, Lyndon B. Johnson privatized Fannie Mae in order to remove it from the national budget. At this point, Fannie Mae began operating as a GSE, generating profits for stock holders while enjoying the benefits of exemption from taxation and oversight as well as implied government backing. In order to prevent any further monopolization of the market, a second GSE known as Freddie Mac was created in 1970. Currently, Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac control about 90 percent of the nation’s secondary mortgage market.

GSEs such as Fannie Mae and Freddie Mae, with their combination of private enterprise and public backing have experienced a period of unprecedented financial growth over the past few decades. The current assets of these two companies combine for a total that is 45 percent greater than that of the nation’s largest bank.

On the other hand, their combined debt is equal to 46 percent of the current national debt. It is this combination of rapid growth and over leveraging that has lead to the current concerns of Congress, the Justice Department and the SEC with regards to the financial practices of these GSEs.

Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac are the only two Fortune 500 companies that are not required to inform the public about any financial difficulties that they may be having. In the event that there was some sort of financial collapse within either of these companies, U.S. taxpayers could be held responsible for hundreds of billions of dollars in outstanding debts. A recent investigation by the Justice Department and the SEC into the accounting practices at Freddie Mac revealed accounting errors in the amount of 4.5 to 4.7 billion dollars and resulted in the termination of three of the company’s top executives. Ongoing investigations by Congress, particular the House Finance Services subcommittee that oversees the activity of GSEs, will determine the future role of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac and the secondary mortgage market that they dominate.”

— Amr

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