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You may have seen two sets of news reports recently that didn’t quite add up: First, President Obama called for the liquidation of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, the country’s largest providers of funds for home mortgages. Then a couple of days later, Fannie Mae announced its sixth straight quarterly profit and said it was sending $10.2 billion in dividends to the Treasury. Freddie Mac also reported a hefty profit – $5 billion over the previous three months – and said it is providing $4.4 billion in dividends to the government.
Both companies also summarized what they’ve been doing for home buyers and owners following their takeover by the federal government in September 2008. Given the president’s call for them to disappear, it’s worth taking a quick look.
Since January 2009, Fannie says it has provided funding for 3.1 million home purchases and 11.4 million refinancings of existing home loans. It has also helped 1.3 million borrowers who were behind on their payments and heading for foreclosure with loan modifications, workouts and other forms of assistance. It has already paid back $95 billion of the $116 billion in taxpayer funds the government loaned it, and could pay the rest sometime next year. It expects to be profitable for the “foreseeable future” as the result of the high credit quality of the new loans it’s making and because of declining losses on its existing mortgages.
Meanwhile Freddie Mac has financed 1.8 million home purchases, 7.2 million refinancings and 872,000 loan modifications or workouts. As of next month it will have paid back $41 billion of the $71 billion in assistance extended by the government. Its 2.8 percent rate of serious delinquencies is far below the mortgage industry average of 6.4 percent. Both companies also provide significant financial support for rental apartment construction.
Wait a minute. Didn’t both companies go off the rails in the years immediately preceding the housing bust, investing in subprime and other loans that contributed to the severity of the housing bust?
No question. But here’s the point: The president and congressional critics want to dismantle Fannie and Freddie, but what’s to replace them? That’s a thorny political thicket. Not only is there no consensus on how to do it but little discussion of the potential costs for home buyers and owners. What would capital punishment for Fannie and Freddie mean to consumers?