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DECEMBER 28, 2009
U.S. Move to Cover Fannie, Freddie Losses Stirs Controversy
By JAMES R. HAGERTY and JESSICA HOLZER
The Obama administration's decision to cover an unlimited amount of losses at the mortgage-finance giants Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac over the next three years stirred controversy over the holiday.
The Treasury announced Thursday it was removing the caps that limited the amount of available capital to the companies to $200 billion each.
Unlimited access to bailout funds through 2012 was "necessary for preserving the continued strength and stability of the mortgage market," the Treasury said. Fannie and Freddie purchase or guarantee most U.S. home mortgages and have run up huge losses stemming from the worst wave of defaults since the 1930s.
"The timing of this executive order giving Fannie and Freddie a blank check is no coincidence," said Rep. Spencer Bachus of Alabama, the ranking Republican on the House Financial Services Committee. He said the Christmas Eve announcement was designed "to prevent the general public from taking note."
Treasury officials couldn't be reached for comment Friday.
So far, Treasury has provided $60 billion of capital to Fannie and $51 billion to Freddie. Mahesh Swaminathan, a senior mortgage analyst at Credit Suisse in New York, said he didn't believe Fannie and Freddie would need more than $200 billion apiece from the Treasury. But he and other analysts have said the market would find a larger commitment from the Treasury reassuring.
In exchange for the funding, the Treasury has received preferred stock in the companies paying 10% dividends. The Treasury also has warrants to acquire nearly 80% of the common shares in each firm.
The Treasury removed the cap on the size of available bailout funds by amending agreements it reached with the companies in September 2008, when the government seized control of the agencies under a legal process called conservatorship. The agreement allowed the Treasury to make amendments through the end of the year, without the consent of Congress. Changes made after Dec. 31 would likely involve a struggle with lawmakers over the terms.