Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac

Thus far the collapse of the US housing market and [near] failure of Frannie Mae and Freddie Mac have cost US tax payers $145B… and it’s far from over.

The New York Stock Exchange have announced that the two companies will be delisted from the exchange next month (the stocks had been trading at the $1 per share mark — the minimum threshold to remain on the exchange — for over two years (since before the federal government took control of the companies).

The Federal Housing Finance Agency states that the delisting “does not constitute any reflection on either [company’s] current performance or future direction.”

Right…

Fannie and Freddie were created by an act of Congress decades ago… as private companies.  They buy mortgages from banks, re-sell them to investors, and guarantee to pay off the loans if borrowers default.

And, of course, for the last decade they’ve been buying junk mortgages that banks irresponsibly made to people who couldn’t possible afford them on vastly over-valued property.

Of course, the bank’s weren’t the losers; the shareholders of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac largely lost their proverbial shirts — but the tax payers bailed out the banks (and continue to fund Fannie and Freddie — and they continue to lose money).

Congress will have to decide how to handle this mess.  A GAO report last fall included these points.

  1. Create a government agency to buy mortgages and re-sell them to investors. This would eliminate the profit motive that, some critics say, drove Fannie and Freddie to take the risks that led to their demise. It would also continue to subsidize the mortgage market, making it easier for Americans to buy homes. On the other hand, the government would still be putting lots of taxpayer money at risk to subsidize the housing market.
  2. Reconstitute Fannie and Freddie as government-sponsored enterprises, similar to the way they were before. This might be accompanied by new rules limiting the risks the companies can take. Still, this would bring back the problematic ambiguities of having private, government-sponsored companies.
  3. Dramatically reduce the government’s role in the mortgage business. In this model, there would essentially be no replacement for Fannie and Freddie. But the government might still take some role, such as selling insurance to cover mortgage default. This would reduce (but not eliminate) the risk to taxpayers, but it might also make it more difficult for people to get mortgages.

Originally posted 2010-06-18 02:00:20.