Red Herring or Clue? Fannie Job Posting Hints at NYSE Listing

Fannie Mae, the large mortgage lender bailed out by the U.S. government, may be looking to have its shares listed on the New York Stock Exchange, in what would be a historic move.

According to a recent job posting, Fannie (TICKER:FNMA) is looking for an attorney, who among other things, would “provide advice and counsel on corporate governance and securities law matters, including Federal Housing Finance Agency, ‘34 Act, (and) ‘NYSE listing requirements.’”

Seeking a listing on the Big Board would be an audacious move for Fannie, which along with its counterpart Freddie Mac was put into conservatorship in 2008 after receiving nearly $188 billion in federal assistance —a move designed to forestall the looming financial meltdown. Shares of both Fannie and Freddie, which had traded on the NYSE, were subsequently delisted, and currently trade on the over-the-counter markets.

Congress and the White House continue to wrangle over the future of government-sponsored entities, with some lawmakers looking to combine the two firms, and others looking to dismantle them altogether. The Obama Administration has sought to keep the lenders operating as separate entities, and maintain their status of promoting home ownership by guaranteeing mortgages made by banks.

Since the depths of the financial crisis, Fannie and Freddie have seen their fortunes improve. Shares of both financial heavyweights are up roughly 1,400% since the end of 2012 and classes of the preferred shares are up nearly 700%. Both firms are now profitable once again and have paid the Treasury dividends in excess of the taxpayer support they received in 2008.

A spokesman for Fannie said the mortgage lender has “no plans” to list on the NYSE, and that the job listing for someone with knowledge of the NYSE listing requirements is based on Fannie’s corporate governance guidelines. “As noted in our Corporate Governance Guidelines…the director independence requirement is set forth in FHFA corporate governance regulation 12 C.F.R. 1710.10, which requires the standard of independence adopted by the NYSE,” the spokesman added.

A spokesperson at IntercontinentalExchange-owned NYSE (NYSE:ICE) declined to comment on the matter.

Others aren’t so sure: The NYSE requires all listed stocks to maintain a certain market capitalization, profitability and legal procedures, and the imprimatur of a “Big Board” listing brings with it wide acceptance in the marketplace.

Former NYSE chief Richard Grasso said with the job listing, Fannie could be trying to stoke a bidding war for its listing between the NYSE and archrival the Nasdaq Stock Market, operated by Nasdaq OMX Group (NASDAQ:NDAQ).

“Fannie Mae had been one of the great listed companies on the exchange” prior to the financial crisis, Grasso said. “With its return to profitability, maybe the people there want to create a little competition between the [NYSE] and the Nasdaq.”

Major exchanges charge a fee to have company shares listed and to trade on their exchange; in addition to certain profitability and corporate governance standards, exchanges also provide key marketing support for their listed companies.

A senior executive at Fannie told FOX Business that the mortgage lender may change the job description in order to avoid confusion about its plans on listing shares. It may also be looking to avoid the wrath of those in Congress who partially blame the firm for the 2008 financial crisis, and would like to wind down its operations.

Fannie and Freddie insured hundreds of billions of dollars in mortgages purchased by lenders who couldn’t repay their debt; such lending practices helped push up home prices to bubble proportions. When the defaults began in 2007 and 2008, the federal government stepped in with one of the largest bailouts in the history of such measures.

“I think if the NYSE were to list the company, it would be flaunting what Congress is doing, therefore I think it’s a long shot,” said Dick Bove, financial analyst at Rafferty Capital Markets. “A listing would be an incredibly significant event suggesting that there has been a rethinking at the highest level of the U.S. government of what the future of Fannie Mae should be.”

The duo have garnered headlines for other reasons, including a lawsuit filed earlier this month by Bill Ackman’s Pershing Square Capital Management. During the bailout in 2008, the government was given "senior preferred" shares of the companies in exchange for the bailout funds, which initially paid a 10% dividend along with warrants to acquire 80% of the companies' common stock.

That agreement was changed in August 2012 when the Treasury Department altered the terms of the new class of shares, eliminating the 10% dividend and moving to take nearly all of Fannie's and Freddie's profits instead.  Ackman’s lawsuit against the U.S. government is challenging the terms of the bailout. Pershing Square has a large stake in both Fannie and Freddie.