The Role of Fannie & Freddie

Sunday, October 19, 2008 | 03:30 PM

A very good description of Fannie/Freddie, via Doug Diamond and Anil Kashyap, posting at the Freakonomics blog:

"The Fannie and Freddie situation was a result of their unique roles in the economy. They had been set up to support the housing market. They helped guarantee mortgages (provided they met certain standards), and were able to fund these guarantees by issuing their own debt, which was in turn tacitly backed by the government. The government guarantees allowed Fannie and Freddie to take on far more debt than a normal company. In principle, they were also supposed to use the government guarantee to reduce the mortgage cost to the homeowners, but the Fed and others have argued that this hardly occurred. Instead, they appear to have used the funding advantage to rack up huge profits and squeeze the private sector out of the “conforming” mortgage market. Regardless, many firms and foreign governments considered the debt of Fannie and Freddie as a substitute for U.S. Treasury securities and snapped it up eagerly. 

Fannie and Freddie were weakly supervised and strayed from the core mission. They began using their subsidized financing to buy mortgage-backed securities which were backed by pools of mortgages that did not meet their usual standards. Over the last year, it became clear that their thin capital was not enough to cover the losses on these subprime mortgages. The massive amount of diffusely held debt would have caused collapses everywhere if it was defaulted upon; so the Treasury announced that it would explicitly guarantee the debt.

But once the debt was guaranteed to be secure (and the government would wipe out shareholders if it carried through with the guarantee), no self-interested investor was willing to supply more equity to help buffer the losses. Hence, the Treasury ended up taking them over."

That's about as cogent an explanation as I have come across . . .

And to repeat what I have written ad nauseum, Fannie/Freddie were cogs in the great housing mess, but they were not the proximate cause of either the boom or bust, or the eventual credit collapse.


Diamond and Kashyap on the Recent Financial Upheavals
Steven D. Levitt
Freakonomics, September 18, 2008,  10:04 am

Sunday, October 19, 2008 | 03:30 PM | Permalink | Comments (25) | TrackBack (0) add to | digg digg this! | technorati add to technorati | email email this post



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It is stuff like this that makes me want to vomit on our politicians in Washington - they all knew this crap was happening years ago, but no one fixed it. I know it is childish to even ask the question but is there really no virtue in our nations capital??? No wonder Christ said let the children come to me.

Posted by: ConcernedCitizen | Oct 19, 2008 4:46:06 PM

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