15 September 2008

Government Takes Over Frannie and Freddie

You wake up one Monday morning to find Fannie (FNMA) and Freddie (FHLMC) no longer exist - that was a scenario that NAR staff have been contemplating over the past month. Well, the government has in effect taken over Fannie and Freddie this weekend and it is in fact Monday morning. The federal government had no choice because the capital situation of two organizations was insufficient to face the upcoming realities of rising mortgage defaults. Now what?

Mortgage rates will trend down over the short run. But how much of a decline will depend on how actively the government - more specifically the Treasury Department and the FHFA - loosens their mortgage liquidity spigot. For over the next 12 months at least, the FHFA has the authority to purchase more than the normal amount of mortgages from lenders to put into their portfolio holdings. That means all conforming loans, including the newly conforming jumbo loans up to $625,000, will qualify for purchase by the FHFA. That will help drive down mortgage rates. In about two year time, when the housing recovery is assumed to be well underway, the government will trim its mortgage portfolio. Then Fannie and Freddie will be completely restructured. It will be up to the next administration and Congress to determine that structure in for which NAR will make our 1.3 million voices heard.

The credit spread between the 10-year Treasury and the 30-year mortgage rates has greatly widened in recent past months due to uncertainties surround the fate of Fannie and Freddie. The typical historic spread has been about 150 to 180 basis points. That means if the 10-year Treasury yield is 4%, then the 30-year mortgage would be about 5.5% to 5.8%. Rather, we have seen the spread at 250 to 300 basis points in recent months. With the government takeover, the spread will surely narrow and hence result in lower mortgage rates.

One legitimate concern is over taxpayer bailout. It is certainly possible that the Treasury will be forking over federal dollars if the default situation worsens. It is also possible for the Treasury and the taxpayers to come out ahead if the mortgage defaults slow down. The defaults will depend heavily on the direction of home prices and the home prices, in turn, are driven heavily by whether or not housing inventory gets trimmed. Assuming there are notable declines in mortgage rates from the federal takeover, then the demand for homebuying will return to the market place and help lower inventory. Therefore, it is very possible that this unprecedented move by the federal government may not cost the taxpayer a dime.

We should also be mindful that even if some taxpayer funds are used in the end, it was just not permissible to have Fannie and/or Freddie go under without any government backstop. The global economy would no doubt have entered one of the harshest recessions in recent memory. Loss of income and jobs would have been brutal, unnecessary collateral damage to ordinary people from the mistakes of the flawed mortgage lending model (which included no down-payment, no documentation, unloading the risk to the secondary market after originations, exuberant credit ratings by Moody's and Standard and Poor's, etc.)

Over the long term, after the above time-out phase of government activism, we need to ensure continuous flow of capital into the mortgage market to help consumers. The restructuring of Fannie and Freddie must meet this important criterion.

By Lawrence Yun, NAR Chief Economist

For Real Estate Information in the Kingsland, Georiga and St. Marys, Georia Areas please visit our website.
This article was copied from an email circulated to Realtors for informational and educational purposes.  We have provided it so you may develop an opinion on the real estate market based on insights from a legitimate Economists vice only hearing opinions from the national media outlets.

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