Wednesday, August 8, 2007

Fannie and Freddie May Be Stepping Up a Little More

According the excerpts below from a WSJ article Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac may be stepping up to take on more mortgages in the future to help stabilize the liquidity in the market. Please realize, however, these two institutions are fairly conservative with strict underwriting criteria. Furthermore, they have to abide by the new loan criteria handed down by the Fed & company about 3 weeks ago. The long and the short of it for right now is that Fannie and Freddie are going to provide liquidity to the traditional mortgage market and not much for the “exotic” mortgages that are struggling.

The mortgage-market meltdown isn't over, but it already has produced two clear winners:
Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, the nation's biggest investors in home loans.

Until recently, politicians in Washington were arguing about how best to rein in the two giant government-sponsored companies, both recovering from accounting scandals and lapses in financial controls. Now, as worry about the housing market trumps accounting scruples, the political debate has shifted to whether Fannie and Freddie need to grow even bigger to buy more loans and calm mortgage investors. . . . .

. . . . Both Fannie and Freddie are pushing to raise the caps placed last year on the amount of mortgages and related securities Fannie and Freddie can hold. A spokeswoman for their regulator, the Office of Federal Housing Enterprise Oversight, or Ofheo, said the agency will respond to the senators shortly.

Fannie and Freddie are benefiting because investors are still happy to buy the mortgage securities they create, backed by loans purchased from lenders scattered across the country. The two companies collect fees for guaranteeing the interest and principal payments on the loans backing those securities. Although Fannie and Freddie are private-sector companies, they were created by Congress to funnel money into housing, and investors assume that Congress would bail them out in a crisis.

With loan defaults rising and house prices falling, investors now are shunning, at least temporarily, mortgage securities packaged by Wall Street firms and others that don't have any implied backing from Uncle Sam. That makes it hard for lenders to find buyers for loans that can't be sold to Fannie and Freddie. Regulations prevent them from buying loans of more than $417,000 on single-family homes, and they have stricter standards on down payments and verification of income than were imposed by Wall Street during the housing boom.

The result is a spike in rates on some types of loans that can't be sold to Fannie or Freddie, such as prime, 30-year, fixed-rate jumbo loans, those above $417,000. Yesterday, the average rate on such loans was 7.44%, according to a survey by financial publishers HSH Associates. That's 0.84 percentage point higher than the average rate on "conforming" loans, those that meet Fannie and Freddie's standards. Typically over the past decade, the premium paid for jumbo loans has been around 0.20 to 0.30 point.

Many investors hope that alarm over the housing market will induce Ofheo to ease restraints on Fannie and Freddie.

But Joshua Rosner, an analyst at the New York research boutique Graham Fisher & Co., describes as "mass delusion" the idea that they can save the day for investors exposed to billions of dollars of ill-advised home loans now heading toward foreclosure. For one thing, he says, Ofheo has required Fannie and Freddie to follow stricter standards, recently imposed by banking regulators, in assessing borrowers' ability to repay. So they can't buy up loads of reckless loans to speculators or people failing to pay bills.

Richard Syron, chief executive of Freddie, agrees that there are limits to what his company can do. "Neither we nor anyone else can buy at par loans that probably shouldn't have been made in the first place," he says.

Mr. Syron says Freddie can provide funding to refinance many subprime borrowers stuck with loans due to reset to sharply higher monthly payments, but not most of them. In addition, he says, Freddie could help the market by buying and holding more mortgage securities packaged by Wall Street if the cap on its holdings rises.

Fannie and Freddie may be able to buy subprime mortgage securities at discounts that more than make up for the credit risk, Kenneth Posner, an analyst at Morgan Stanley, said in a research note. They also may be able to charge more for providing guarantees on securities sold to others, he said: "We can't imagine anyone complaining -- right now there's no other game in town."

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