As the one-year anniversary of the housing and credit crunch approaches, investors in Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac have nothing to celebrate. They won't see an end to the losses at these mortgage finance giants until after next year.
Moreover, a report from the regulator of the two mortgage finance giants gives embarrassing new detail on how Fannie (FNM) and Freddie (FRE) were mindlessly gunning the securitization engines well after the housing bubble had burst and Wall Street backed off.
Freddie Mac will report its second-quarter financial results Wednesday. Fannie Mae will release its results on Friday. Freddie Mac's shares are down 88% this year, while Fannie's shares have dropped 83%. More losses and writedowns for the two are likely on the way.
The Office of Housing Enterprise and Oversight says in a new report that the two combined own about $217 bn in securities minted by Wall Street firms that are backed by the shakiest home mortgages dating to 2004 and 2005, the height of the housing bubble.
The mortgages here are subprime and Alt-A loans, just a notch above subprime. To the extent that Wall Street firms book fair value losses on this pool, "Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac may have to do so as well," OFHEO says.
As delinquencies and defaults on subprime loans continue, and increasingly even prime loans bellyflop, Fannie and Freddie will continue to book losses into 2009, says Credit Suisse. Some analysts say they may lose an additional $24 bn or more.
This should alarm both taxpayers and investors across the country.
Elected officials enacted a $300 bn housing bailout bill that gives these two carte blanche without any statutory limits on their colossal $5.3 tn book of business (Lehman Bros says the two have another $3.3 tn in hedges, among other items, off the balance sheet). The two have reported more than $11 bn in pre-tax losses over the last three quarters and have a history of accounting misdeeds (on a fair value basis, Fannie incurred a loss of $13.3 bn, Freddie, $24.7 bn, OFHEO says).
The housing rescue now lets the government inject tens of billions of taxpayer dollars into these two publicly traded companies, who clearly have failed in their fiduciary responsibilities. The government can now use tax dollars to buy unlimited equity stakes in the companies and their bonds if needed.
The thinking is, the Treasury will simply mint more debt and use that resulting capital to inject more liquidity into Fannie and Freddie, despite their history of accounting misdeeds, losses, misstatements and repeated dilutive equity raises that prove that these two companies do not know what they are doing. Also, the two can now borrow at the Federal Reserve.
Fear is now rampant that if the rescue doesn't work, the US government must spend more than what the Congress said it would cost to bolster Fannie and Freddie, $25 bn, a sum it cooked up in order to sell the $300 bn housing bailout bill.
Remember, the government's estimate of the cost to taxpayers for the S&L crisis rose from an initial $50 bn to more than $124.6 bn (not inflation adjusted).
More importantly, Congress spitballed that $25 bn number even though just this past month it sent in bureaucrats from the Federal Reserve and the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency to go find out what the heck is really sitting on Fannie and Freddie's books, as it clearly doesn't believe the management at these two levered up examples of crony capitalism.
The fear is, too, that the government may have to swallow these two obesities, causing the US dollar to plunge in anticipation of the need to mint more dollars, creating more inflation (not to mention the $99 tn in unfunded liabilities at Social Security and Medicare, according to Fed stats).
In effect, US taxpayers have been loaded into the backseat of Congress's spaceship pointed directly at the center of the sun.
Because the market believes the US government has given Fannie and Freddie an "implicit guarantee"of their debt, for years both have used that backing to execute a sweet carry trade, where they can borrow money much more cheaply than banks and then turn around and use that money to buy things such as higher-yielding mortgage-backed securities from lenders, in turn injecting liquidity into the lending system to make more loans. The two also sell guarantees against defaults on loans for a fee.
For years, Wall Street believed their obligations were "nearly as good as Treasurys themselves," notes Dennis Gartman of The Gartman Letter. Indeed, their securities traded as if the government backed them, and US government debt traded as if the government did not back them.
Fannie Mae was born in 1938 as part of FDR's New Deal to get the country out of the Great Depression and provide home ownership. Back then, millions of Americans were struggling to buy homes, and also faced foreclosures, as banks weren't lending and mortgage money had dried up.
For years Fannie sat on the government's books, helping to expand the real estate industry. In 1968, the LBJ administration, worried about the effect of the Vietnam War on the federal budget, moved Fannie Mae off the government's books, and Fannie became a publicly traded company.
When the savings-and-loan industry wanted its own mortgage financing creature to play with beginning in 1968, Congress obliged and in 1970 Freddie Mac was born. The two quasi-socialist mortgage finance giants then became to the US economy what off-balance sheet vehicles were to Enron, Gartman says.
When Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae were limited in the dollar amount of mortgages they could buy and securitize, to $417,000, in the ‘90s, Wall Street stepped in to securitize these loans.
Wall Street then manufactured all sorts of subprime paper, paid the credit ratings agencies to get rosy ratings, and then sold this drunken daisy chain of paper to all sorts of unwitting investors from here to the Arctic Circle, now sitting as landfill in portfolios run by pension funds, hedge funds and local governments.
Wall Street firms then kept a sizable slug of this bad paper off their balance sheets to keep financial results rosy, and then wrote themselves sweet bonus checks off the goosed-up numbers.
So Wall Street, with the help of Fannie and Freddie, shot these risky loans into the ether, thus breaking the bond between the overseer, meaning the lender, and the borrower. Why care about monitoring a borrower who has no skin in the game with a zero-down mortgage when you've entirely offloaded that loan as a security?
As far back as 1987 the Financial Accounting Standards Board warned there was no adequate way to value these derivatives, and now Frankenstein derivatives are sluicing financial poison through the system.
Then Fannie and Freddie itself started buying Wall Street's mortgage backed securities, securities backed by zombie loans given by banks such as Countrywide Financial (CFC), which already had pointed its conveyor belt of bad loans at Wall Street.
When the credit markets seized up in 2007, Wall Street stopped doing much of these securitization deals as its recycling machine for these cut and paste jobs had sand thrown in its gears.
But as Wall Street stepped back, check out how Fannie and Freddie stepped in big time.
OFHEO says in its recent report that while the volume of single-family mortgatges securitized in 2007 fell by 8% to $1.9 tn, as the number of single family mortgages originated declined, "Fannie Mae's and Freddie Mac's combined share of MBS [mortgage-backed securities] issuance rose substantially to 61.6% from 46.7% in 2006."
Indeed, OFHEO says Fannie and Freddie "increased their MBS issuance by nearly one-third in 2007 as competition" from Wall Street "virtually ceased in the second half of the year," though OFHEO says the two started to curtail their purchases of securities backed by shoddy loans. Too little too late.
Now teetering atop Fannie's and Freddie's painfully razor thin $54 bn in net worth is a pyramid of $5.3 tn in debt that is nearly half the size of the US gross domestic product. The two have much higher leverage ratios than banks or hedge funds, but lower borrowing costs due to their implicit government backing. The two whittled down their capital cushions after they gunned their lobbying engines on Capitol Hill, showering elected officials with money.
JPMorgan Chase (JPM) or Bank of America (BAC), for example, have almost as much bank-level capital as these two "combined supporting one fifth of the commitments," says the research website The Institutional Risk Analyst, published by Lord, Whalen LLC.
So the fear is that, as mortgages belly flop right and left and an increasing number of homes go into foreclosure, the two are insolvent. Former Fed official William Poole has said as much of Freddie Mac.
But instead of reining in their colossal, outsized portfolios which has caused such danger to taxpayers, the new housing rescue legislation went in the opposite direction. It would increase the statutory limit on the national debt by $800 bn, to $10.6 tn, as the two would now get to buy and back jumbo loans worth $625,000.
And as economist Edward Yardeni points out (his reports are a must-read), both "have been scrambling to plug all the holes in their huge mortgage portfolios." Citing the Wall Street Journal, Yardeni notes that at the end of last year, the two "started guaranteeing payments on loans that back mortgage securities held by others to delay recognizing losses on some delinquent loans."
Yardeni adds that "earlier this year, in their most shocking (desperate) tactic to reduce losses, Fan and Fred started making loans of up to $15,000 to people who have fallen behind on their mortgage payments."
Here are the stink bombs, potholes and steam pipes bursting in these two reckless publicly traded companies:
*Both have a total of a microscopic--did you see it, did you catch it?--$54bn in net worth, generally assets minus liabilities (don't listen to the $81 bn figure tossed around for their total capital, that's a pro forma fake number that doesn't include certain losses).
*Teetering atop that razor thin wedge is a pyramid of $5.3 tn in debt.
*One stink bomb is the total of $260 bn in securitized assets backed by subprime and Alt-A loans, loans which sit in between subprime and prime. Those sums dwarf their capital positions.
*Freddie has $156.8 bn in level three assets, those illiquid securities it can't get a pricetag on because no one wants them now. Remember, under US accounting rules, it gets to assign its own values to these assets, they could be worth more, they could be worth less.
*Fannie has $56.1 bn in level three assets, or about a seventh of its fair valued assets.
*Fannie and Freddie have combined debts of $1.59 tn, borrowings they made merely to operate their businesses. Again, that's against just $54 bn in total net worth. Their guaranteed liabilities were 29 times their net worth at the end of the first quarter.
*They each have $2.25 bn pipelines into the Treasury, which the government now wants to expand.
*Forty years ago, when they went public, Fannie had debt of about $15 bn. Do the math against Fannie's $804 bn in liabilities today, and the pipelines should be about $120 bn each.
Still believe that $25 bn figure Congress is selling you?