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Posts Tagged ‘government support of Fannie Mae’

Uncle Sam’s Dirty Little Secret

Posted by Larry Doyle on June 18th, 2009 4:36 PM |

If a tree falls in the forest and nobody is there to hear it, does it make any noise?

If an agency is sitting on billions in losses but nobody asks about it, can we forget about it?

If an entire group of banks is sitting on hundreds of billions more in losses, and the media is not even aware of this banking system, can we pretend they don’t exist?

Oh, if only we could, perhaps our economic life would be so much simpler.

While Uncle Sam and the media can choose to overlook these institutions, the losses are real and will serve as a drag on our economy and nation for the foreseeable future. Yet, they receive very little attention. Fortunately, Bloomberg shed a hint of light on part of this problem today in writing, Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac in Limbo as Geithner Seeks More Time:

Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac will remain in limbo as the U.S. Treasury secretary said the government doesn’t have time now to deal with the future of the two mortgage-finance companies it seized in September.

“We did not believe that we could at this time — in this time frame — lay out a sensible set of reforms to guide, to determine what their future role should be,” Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner told the Senate Banking Committee in Washington today. “We’re going to begin a process of looking at broader options for what their future should be.”

Doesn’t have time or doesn’t want to admit that these agencies represent an ongoing and enormous drag on our economy? How so? Fannie and Freddie hold 50% of the mortgages in our country. These entities are most likely sitting on hundreds of billions in embedded losses currently with limited prospects to generate real revenue. They have no viable business model at this point in time. As a result, rather than entering into an unpleasant and economically harmful dialogue, Geithner chooses to sweep this under the rug. How can Tim do this? Because Uncle Sam has allocated, if not necessarily set aside, funds for these agencies to offset future losses.  As Bloomberg highlights:

The remainder of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac’s  $400 billion U.S. Treasury lifeline should still be “sufficient” until the government decides how to restructure the companies, Federal Housing Finance Agency Director James Lockhart said in June 3 testimony to a House subcommittee. Washington-based Fannie Mae and McLean, Virginia-based Freddie Mac have already requested $84.9 billion in taxpayer aid through the Treasury’s program to buy the companies’ preferred stock to keep them solvent.

Over and above swimming in a sea of losses, both Freddie and Fannie are effectively rudderless. Fannie Mae’s acting CEO, Herb Allison, was recently appointed to oversee management of TARP funds at Treasury. Freddie Mac’s acting CEO, John Koskinen, had resigned and only returned when beseeched. While Koskinen has committed to retaining the role of chairman of Freddie, he can’t get out of his daily Freddie Mac responsibilities quickly enough as the WSJ reports, Freddie’s Accidental CEO Tries to Shed Job.

The dirtier little secret hidden by Uncle Sam is embedded within the Federal Home Loan Bank system. Why? After Uncle Sam, the FHLB system is the second largest creditor in our country with approximately $1.2 trillion in outstanding debt. While Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae’s portfolios are chock full of agency mortgage-backed securities (MBS backed by conforming size loans), the portfolios within the FHLB system (12 regional banks) are stuffed with Jumbo mortgages, Alt-A, pay-option ARMS, and sub-prime. In short, lots of toxic assets and lots of embedded losses hidden by the artful deceit of the relaxed mark-to-market accounting standard.

Where are we going with these future wards of the state?  I project that in 2010, we will see these 14 entities (Freddie and Fannie and 12 regional FHLBs) combined into one large government owned housing finance entity.

Shhhhh . . . don’t tell anybody!!

LD

Bernanke Conundrum

Posted by Larry Doyle on June 8th, 2009 7:27 AM |

Overnight markets indicate that Treasury prices are lower and interest rates subsequently higher (remember the inverse relationship between bond prices and interest rates). 2yr Treasury notes are trading at 1.33% and 10yr Treasury notes are trading at 3.85% (both are .03% higher from Friday’s close).

If interest rates are higher, clearly that move must be an indication that economic activity is improving and equity markets should be higher overnight, correct? In “normal” economic times, perhaps that line of reasoning would hold water, but in the Uncle Sam economy, we need to go deeper.

Equity futures indicate our stock markets will open lower by approximately 1%. What’s going on? Welcome to the Bernanke conundrum! What is the riddle wrapped inside our economic enigma? How can Fed chair Ben Bernanke nurse our economy back to health while at the same time maintaining the necessary fiscal independence, integrity, and discipline of robust Fed policy?

Big Ben has used aggressive measures to backstop a wide swath of our markets. In the process, he has created a fair amount of stability but with an effective government guarantee “insurance” policy as the cost of stability. Some of these policies have lessened in size as certain sectors have normalized. However, the major Fed programs remain in place. What are these?

1. quantitative easing: commitment to buy $1.3 trillion in total of Treasury and mortgage-backed securities in an attempt to keep these rates down. Then why are rates rising? More on this in a second.

2. commitment to provide necessary liquidity as needed to support the “wards of the state” including Freddie Mac, Fannie Mae, GM, AIG, Citigroup.

These programs in conjunction with the massive deficit spending programs undertaken by the Obama administration have ballooned our expected funding needs in calendar 2009 to upwards of $3 trillion, a fourfold increase over prior years.

In my opinion, interest rates are moving up much less on any real signs of economic improvement than on these funding needs and very real signs of a monetary printing press malfunction. What’s that? With the Fed Funds rate at 0-.25%, the Fed is literally flooding the economy with cash. Where is that cash going? Is it flowing through to the economy? Not really.

The cash is pouring into the banking system to cushion and support financial institutions from the ongoing losses connected to rising defaults on credit cards, residential mortgages, commercial real estate, and corporate loans.

The market is now very clearly sending a signal to Bernanke, Geithner, Obama and team that if they want to continue their programs as designed (and they do and will), the price, that is the rate of interest, is going up. Why?

The market is very concerned that the flood of liquidity will lead to inflation if not rampant inflation and potentially hyperinflation. How does Bernanke head that off?

Withdraw the very liquidity that he has found so necessary to pour into the financial system. How does he do that?Two ways.

1. increase the Fed Funds rate: that is, make borrowing more expensive.

2. reverse the quantitative easing program so that the Fed actually sells Treasury and mortgage-backed securities into the market and takes liquidity out in the process. What are the impacts of both those maneuvers? Higher interest rates.

In fact, interest rates are moving higher already in anticipation of Bernanke being forced to make these moves. Can Bernanke “thread this needle?” What will happen if interest rates move higher?

Slow the economy, especially housing given higher mortgage rates, and lower earnings especially for financial institutions. To wit, our equity markets are lower overnight.

Nobody said this was going to be easy.

LD






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