WASHINGTON – Mortgage giant Freddie Mac is reporting net income of $2.2 billion for the first quarter, reversing a loss in the same period of 2016.
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The government-controlled company said Tuesday that its earnings in the January-March period were boosted by an increase in its fees from lenders for backing mortgages.
Freddie, based in McLean, Virginia, will pay an equivalent dividend of $2.2 billion to the U.S. Treasury next month. Freddie will have paid a total $108.2 billion in dividends, exceeding its government bailout of $71 billion.
The government rescued Freddie and larger sibling Fannie Mae at the height of the financial crisis in September 2008, after they suffered huge losses from risky mortgages in the housing market bust.
Together the companies received taxpayer aid totaling about $187 billion. The housing market's gradual recovery has made Fannie and Freddie profitable again.
Freddie's first-quarter profit marked a reversal from the $354 million net loss it sustained in the same period last year. The company said it continued to move high-risk mortgages off its books to private investors during the quarter.
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Record-low interest rates in recent years have helped spur home purchases and boosted the housing market.
With the economy on solid footing and unemployment at a near-decade low, the Federal Reserve remains in the midst of a campaign to gradually raise interest rates from ultra-lows. But this week, it's widely expected to take a pause, keeping its key short-term rate unchanged, after having raised it in March for the second time in three months.
The housing market's revival has been choppy, and it has lagged behind the rest of the economy. Despite the low borrowing rates that could lure prospective homebuyers, the market has remained hampered by limited supply, rising home prices and tight mortgage credit.
The bad news for buyers is that the number of houses for sale has dropped to its lowest level in nearly 20 years.
Fannie and Freddie own or guarantee about half of all U.S. mortgages, worth about $5 trillion. Along with other federal agencies, they back roughly 90 percent of new home loans.
The two companies don't directly make loans to borrowers. They buy mortgages from lenders, package them as bonds, guarantee them against default and sell them to investors. That helps make loans available.
Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin has said that privatizing Fannie and Freddie, cutting them loose from government control, is a priority of the Trump administration.