The U.S. government last month posted the largest budget surplus for any December on record, boosted by payments from government-controlled housing finance giants Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac.
The mortgage-finance companies, which were propped up by $187.5 billion in taxpayer money after they were placed under government control in 2008, made hefty dividend payments last month in return for the support they received.
Those payments helped the government take in $53 billion more in revenue in December than it paid out, the U.S. Treasury said on Monday. Analysts polled by Reuters had expected a surplus of only $44.0 billion.
Under the terms of the bailout for Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, the government gets a majority of the companies' quarterly profits. The two companies made payments to the Treasury totaling $39.57 billion at the end of last year.
For the first three months of the budget year, the Treasury posted a deficit of $173.6 billion, down 41 percent from the $293.30 billion shortfall from October through December 2012.
Government spending fell 8 percent to $838.20 billion in December. The payments from Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac help reduce spending, and are not included in total revenues.
(Reporting by Margaret Chadbourn; Editing by Andrea Ricci)