Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac will be allowed to boost their capital by billions of dollars to protect against potential losses, a key step in the Trump administration’s push to free the mortgage giants from government control.
Fannie will be permitted to retain earnings until its capital buffer hits $25 billion, while Freddie will be allowed to hold $20 billion, the Treasury Department and the Federal Housing Finance Agency announced Monday. Last year, Fannie reported net income of $16 billion and Freddie made $9.2 billion, signaling it could take more than a year for the companies to reach the administration’s new goal.
Treasury and FHFA, Fannie and Freddie’s regulator, also committed to making more changes to the bailout agreements that were struck after the companies were rescued with taxpayer funds at the height of the 2008 financial crisis.
The agencies said they may make additional tweaks to Fannie and Freddie’s capital structures, as well. The moves are all part of an effort — outlined in a plan released by Treasury in September — to end the companies’ decade-long conservatorships and return them to the private market.
“These modifications are an important step toward implementing Treasury’s recommended reforms that will define a limited role for the federal government in the housing finance system and protect taxpayers against future bailouts,” Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said in a statement.
Monday’s changes, which have been telegraphed by FHFA Director Mark Calabria and Mnuchin for weeks, mark some of the biggest for Fannie and Freddie since they were made wards of the state. Under the companies’ current bailout agreements, they are restricted from holding more than $3 billion in capital apiece, much less than they would need to survive outside government control. Instead of retaining earnings, they send their profits each quarter to the Treasury — a process known as the net worth sweep.
But even at the levels outlined in Monday’s statement, Fannie and Freddie would still be far short of the capital cushions that most everyone agrees are required. Calabria and Mnuchin have both said the companies will need to raise private capital, potentially through a share sale. One way to interpret Monday’s announcement is as a suspension of the net worth sweep.
With much still to be sorted out, it’s unclear how soon hedge funds and other investors that own Fannie and Freddie stock might make windfalls on their stakes. And if a Democrat beats President Donald Trump in the 2020 election, Calabria and Mnuchin’s plans would likely be scrapped.
KBW analyst Brian Gardner said in a recent note: “Recapitalization is unlikely to happen until after the 2020 election and then it will obviously be dependent to a large degree on the outcome of the election.”
Fannie and Freddie don’t make loans. Instead they keep the mortgage market humming by buying loans from banks and other lenders and packaging them into securities. Bond investors consider the companies’ mortgage securities to be extremely safe because they have guarantees in case homebuyers default on their loans.