Enron Fun with Fannie and Freddie

Let me take you back to Christmas Eve, 2009. It was a time to wrap gifts for loved-ones. That's how the Obama Administration felt about the financial industry when it lifted all caps in emergency bailout money to Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. That means the taxpayer was on the hook for all losses at these two mortgage giants no matter how large the losses.
The move caused a slight stir, but never got the attention of the American public because the announcement was timed to coincide with the peak season of distraction. And so it was forgotten...but not by Fannie and Freddie.

On eight maids a milking day, also known as New Year's Day, Fannie Mae took advantage of this generosity.

Effective Jan. 1, 2010, Fannie Mae brought an additional $2.4 trillion of its guaranty book of business on to the balance sheet under SFAS 166/167.
Therefore, Fannie Mae expects to reflect approximately 18 million loans on its books compared with approximately two million loans as of Dec. 31, 2009. Management estimates that the cumulative effect of adopting FAS 166/167 will boost its net worth by $2 billion to $4 billion in its first-quarter 2010 results.

Stop! Hold the phone. What this statement indicates is that Fannie Mae, the largest mortgage company in the entire world, was holding eight times the amount of mortgages off-book than it had on-book.

Thus despite the fact that it is losing tens of billions of dollars every quarter, and has borrowed $76.2 billion so far, it was actually hiding the vast majority of its worst performing mortgages off-book. The only reason you move assets off-book is if they are illiquid. And that's not even taking into account Freddie Mac, which has borrowed another $50 Billion from the taxpayers so far.
How bad are those assets? It's hard to say for certain, but after moving $2.4 Trillion dollars worth of assets, the net worth of Fannie Mae only improved by $2 Billion, or 0.083% of the assets.

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Just how much is the taxpayer is on the hook for? Well, the former caps were limited to $200 Billion a piece, which the Treasury decided just wasn't enough. So if the losses are north of $400 Billion then we are entering the range of TARP bailout, but with almost none of the press coverage. Or to put it another way:

"The taxpayer bailout of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac will almost certainly be the most expensive of the financial crisis,"...

There has been at least one attempt at estimating the losses.

The Congressional Budget Office estimates that Fannie and Freddie added $291 billion to the federal deficit in 2009 and will cost an additional $389 billion to run over the next ten years. However, Fannie and Freddie are currently considered “off budget” meaning the actual cost to run these agencies is not considered by the Office of Management and Budget.

This article contains two nuggets of information. First of all, we are looking at around $600 Billion in taxpayer bailout, assuming the market doesn't take another sharp downturn. That's nothing to sneeze at, and it certainly deserves a lot more press coverage than it has gotten.
The second nugget is that all these losses are consider off-budget. So what we are talking about is moving hundreds of billions of dollars of bad assets from off-budget Fannie Mae to off-budget Treasury Department.

This accounting gimmick has disturbing parallels to another contemporary crisis.

"It is the same sort of financial shell game that has brought governments like Greece to a crisis point. Hiding your debts just leads to a bigger day of financial reckoning down the road," said Representative Spencer Bachus, the top Republican on the panel.

Bachus may be a Republican, and supported fighting two wars off-budget, but in this case he is 100% correct. Hiding debts off-budget is exactly what broke the Greek government.
The Republicans are pushing to have the money put on-budget, which would, of course, immediately blow out the federal borrowing limits. After weeks of pressing by the Republicans, the Obama Administration has finally agreed to consider it.

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A carefully designed disaster

The collapse of Fannie and Freddie didn't start recently, and didn't happen by accident. It was a calculated decision by the Bush Administration to try and extend and pretend the housing crisis into the next administration. It all started in March 2008.

By reducing the extra cushion of capital the two companies have been required to hold since 2004, the regulator, the Office of Federal Housing Enterprise Oversight, is enabling the companies to invest $200 billion more in home loans. In essence, the companies are being allowed to take billions of dollars that had been used as a reserve against possible further losses and invest that money now in the housing market.
But critics said that if the housing market continued to decline, the move could put the two companies on a less sure footing and ultimately require a huge taxpayer bailout.
"I think it’s very dangerous and it’s a sign that people are very frightened," said Thomas H. Stanton, an expert on the two companies who teaches a course on credit risk at Johns Hopkins University. "At a time in which finance companies are holding questionable assets and facing losses, regulators typically require more capital, not less."

On top of that, the size of the mortgages that Fannie and Freddie were allowed to buy was increased, from $417,000 to $729,750. This change happened in the face of collapsing asset prices.
Homes worth nearly 3/4 of a million dollars are not part of the original reasons why Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac were created, nor should they be. People that can afford homes of that price do not need public subsidies, nor should they get it.

Now, thanks to Congress, junk bond investors will be able to pawn off their bad debt to Fannie and Freddie, instead of suing the big investment houses for ripping them off. This shift will certainly doom Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, so don't be surprised if we, the taxpayers, have to bail out poor Fannie and Freddie - to the tune of more than $1 trillion.

It was a risky gamble, and it failed. Spectacularly.
The balance sheet of Fannie and Freddie that was cut 6 months earlier was now in danger of collapse.
It seems that the thin layer of cash reserves left over after the Bush Administration cut it 6 months earlier, wasn't enough to cover their massive losses. Yet the financial media failed to note that the Bush Administration was partly responsible for this enormous calamity.

But the Bush Administration was going to make it right now. They were going to backstop Fannie and Freddie and calm investors...at least that was the plan.

The powers Paulson won from Congress last month enabling a government rescue of Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae -- authority he likened to a weapon whose mere existence made it unlikely it would have to be fired -- may end up making a bailout more likely, say analysts and investors.
They say the threat of government action is creating uncertainty that is raising the companies' borrowing costs and increasing the odds Fannie and Freddie will need taxpayer funding.

The problem with the bailout plan is that Paulson is the implied threat of a de facto nationalization of the two mortgage giants. This would leave existing shareholders with pennies on the dollar.

Thus the bailout plan that Bush and Paulson assured us that they would never have to do, caused stock prices of Fannie and Freddie to crater. This reduced their capital reserves even further, increasing the chances of a taxpayer bailout.

On the other side of the ledger, the Bush Administration also changed the rules in April 2008 to get the FHA more involved in the mortgage industry.

“The government was using the Federal Home Loan Banks as a way to bail out the banking system early on.”
- James Bianco

One forgotten scandal was from late September 2008, the FHLB of Atlanta loaned Countrywide Financial $51 Billion in exchange for questionable mortgages as collateral.
Countrywide went under shortly afterward.

The decision to increase the FHA's exposure to a collapsing housing market is now meeting its limits.

The share of borrowers who are falling seriously behind on loans backed by the Federal Housing Administration jumped by more than a third in the past year, foreshadowing a crush of foreclosures that could further buffet an agency vital to the housing market's recovery.
About 9.1 percent of FHA borrowers had missed at least three payments as of December, up from 6.5 percent a year ago, the agency's figures show.
If the trend continues and the FHA's cash reserves are exhausted, the federal government would automatically use taxpayer money to cover the losses -- a first for the agency, which has always used the fees it charges borrowers to pay for its losses.
...
Adding to the trouble was a now-defunct FHA program that enabled sellers to cover the down payments of buyers. This meant many borrowers had no skin in the game and were more likely to walk away at early signs of trouble. The program resulted in excessive defaults before it was ended in late 2008, and it is projected to cost FHA an additional $10.5 billion in losses, Stevens said.

The program in question was another Bush Administration idea to bail out the housing industry to the benefit of Wall Street.

Meet the New Boss

After inheriting this disastrous legacy from the Bush Administration, you could only assume that the Obama Administration would do things drastically different, right?

Fannie Mae will drop some credit-score requirements, reduce income-documentation standards and waive the need for appraisals in some cases, according to a notice yesterday to lenders posted on the Washington-based company’s Web site. The changes apply to loans that the company owns or guarantees.

Let me translate for you. "Drop credit-score requirements" = subprime. "Reduce income-documentation standards" = Liar Loans.

And it just keeps getting better. The Obama Administration plans to subsidize at-risk borrowers. Has anyone bothered to ask "How long"? Meanwhile the Fed is buying up all those subprime, liar-loans that Fannie and Freddie are pumping out.

On top of it, the next part of Obama's plan had a ring of familiarity to it.

The loan-to-value (LTV) limit on mortgages Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac will be able to refinance as part of Obama’s Homeowner Affordability and Stability Plan may go higher than the original 105 percent, according to National Mortgage News.

Bush's disastrous legacy was to at first ignore the bubble, then to try to keep it inflated until he was out of office by using Fannie and Freddie.
Obama's plan is to use taxpayer money to subsidize subprime, liar-loans at more than 105% of the home's value with Fannie and Freddie as a conduit. Thus attempting to recreate all the properties of the bubble that got us into trouble in the first place.

Seriously. Is this the best that Washington can do? Is our leadership really this bankrupt of ideas?

One other item to note is that when the Obama Administration lifted all bailout caps, they also promised that plans on reforming Fannie and Freddie would be drawn up by February. Last week, that promise was broken.

The Obama administration will wait until 2011 to propose an overhaul of mortgage giants Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner said yesterday, arguing that he wanted to put some distance between a new system and what he called “the worst housing crisis in generations.’’...
“We can’t do everything right away,’’ he said.

We don't expect you to do "everything" Timmy. We only expect you to do your job, which includes coming up with plans to reform these companies within the 13 months that you previously promised.
Meanwhile, Fannie and Freddie continue to be traded on the stock exchange, hand out dividends to stock holders (while asking for taxpayer bailouts), and pay their CEOs as much as $6 million a year.

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Comments

2011

with the government purchasing trillions in MBS and these two with unlimited bail outs and the government pretty much has the entire residential real estate market on their books.

Just completely unreal and frankly if we do not have Financial Armageddon 2.0 by 2012 I will be very surprised.

I hope I'm wrong but it's so bad, the numbers so massive and now the deficit and debt so beyond belief....

well, it makes me think survival gear and heading up to those remote mountains to live off of the land!

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survival gear

Yeah, we'll probably devolve into some third world style quasi-fascist dictatorship nightmare, OR cut most of our military budget, start taxing the shit out of rich people and become a more just society with a bit less material comforts for a while but with education and healthcare for all, OR muddle along somewhere in the middle as a former super power with declining living standards for most of us.

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back door bailout of Wall St.

At some point in 2008 I remember hearing something about Fannie and Freddie being bailed out by tax payers at the same time that they were knowingly buying up toxic assets from the rest of the market. A light bulb went off in my head at the time: "Ah, they're going to use Fannie and Freddie to soak up all the garbage in the system, absorb Wall Streets losses, leave the bill with the taxpayers and leave the blame with the Republicans' favorite scapegoat and probably reward Fannie and Freddie execs handsomely for going along with it." I don't understand many of the details, but did I get the big picture basically right?

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Not just Fannie and Freddie

They've also got the FHA and the Federal Reserve involved in this backdoor bailout of the Wall Street banks. Every government institution is saturated with this toxic waste. Even the TARP was designed to soak it up, but was instead used to buy bank stocks directly.

Basically, yes, you are right.

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Three interesting points

First and most interestingly, it indicates that US accounting standards are lax enough for an entity like Fannie to move "off book" mortgages to "on book" mortgages in a single day and purely for the purposes of gaining government protection.

If they could legitimately do this, then US accounting standards are shot to hell and gone. You literally cannot trust the books of any US corporation because they can hide and revive liabilities at will.

Second, the actual numbers are staggering. If the US Treasury thought they were guaranteeing $200 billion when they gave unlimited guarantees, but in fact were covering at least $600 billion or even more, how can they seriously have any faith in your budget?

Finally, what are the macro effects of this sort of blow out on the US economy? And what does it say about the condition of the housing market?

Much of the market is already underwater.

Seems like a hard rain is gonna fall.

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new PR war on Fannie/Freddie, Barney Frank vs. Treasury

Calculated Risk sums it up, amounts to
Frank: Not guaranteed free money
Treas: Oh course it's guaranteed free money

Could your post have promoted this media snowing?

Let's hope so!

Also, don't forget to link over to EP as an "originally posted on" when cross posting to other sites.

I'd say this is a problem for so many blogs, but at the same time, it's certainly how I located great insight/writers, when they cross posted.

George Washington's blog is one and should i add it to the middle column?

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Seriously. Is this the best that Washington can do?

Is our leadership really this bankrupt of ideas?

They generally don't have ideas, at least any original ones. Anything that passes for an 'idea' that turns into a Bill is guaranteed to have been spawned by a lobbyist from the industry which the Bill will 'regulate', or perhaps it is a bill to guarantee that the industry never will have any constraints placed on it, whatsoever. In any event, it was decided this was 'the plan,' over lunch, you see.

More to the particulars of your post, I know of an individual that was very recently given a mortgage on a single-family dwelling. As I make reference to some objective truths, I must caution I make no 'judgment' on this person's circumstances or how they got there, etc., but merely point them out so as to demonstrate the, seeming, absurdity of loaning any person in this financial condition money for a home, or anything else for that matter.

10 yrs at same very low-skill job
$15hr maxed out on pay scale and in grave danger of being retired early as this company, and the 'company' that it keeps, are so wont to do
Absolutely NO credit history; the phone bill was used as a 'credit reference'.
$0 in savings
Struggling paycheck to paycheck with $600 mo rent

Moreover this individual is now, by their own account, 'broke,' after the first month's payment. Despite a HUD, county, and city 'inspection,' it turns out the home needed a lot of other things. For instance, a suitable outlet so the stove could be plugged in, but I digress.

My question is who in their right mind would NOT loan this individual money? As you have so aptly described in this post, assuming one were properly 'hooked up,' 'networked,' and, most importantly, so inclined, money can be loaned to same safe in the knowledge that not only will $ on the closing and 'down payment' (from .gov) be realized, but, most likely sooner rather than later, this house will be returned to its owners, whereby they can rinse and repeat this process on the next financially deficient/illiterate/handicap, along with the added benefit of hounding them for the rest of their lives, despite the fact that nearly the full loan amount (or perhaps more if some derivative bets lay on the side?) is guaranteed by the U.S. Taxpayer, and of course the derivative bets as well.

So you do see, when viewed from the psychopath/socio-economic cannibal point of view, how all this does make perfect sense.

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