Fannie Freddie Lawsuit and Risk Arbitrage

by Chidem Kurdas

Last week the Federal Housing Finance Agency filed suits against 17 major banks and mortgage businesses for misleading Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac regarding the risks of mortgage securities sold to these government-sponsored enterprises.  Though it targets banks, the litigation shows the mode of operation of Fannie and Freddie.

This development is best understood against the background provided by a revealing new book,  Guaranteed to Fail: Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac and the Debacle of Mortgage Finance, by V. Acharya, M. Richardson, S. van Nieuwerburgh and L. White, professors at New York University’s Stern School of Business. Here’s a quote taken from a decade-old American Enterprise Institute compilation of warnings regarding GSEs from free marketers and left-wingers alike. This is from a Fannie Mae executive:

“We’re not casual about managing our political risk.” 

By contrast, they were casual about managing their credit risk, Continue reading

Just What We “Need”

by Mario Rizzo

Investors’ eagerness to invest in mortgage debt helped drive mortgage rates to all-time lows this week, Freddie Mac said.

The average rate on 30-year fixed-rate mortgages was 4.78%, the agency said Wednesday, matching a record low set in April. That was down from 4.83% from the previous week and 5.97% a year ago

I am amazed that aggregate-demand economists can look at the housing market and simply wonder how to bring it back to normalcy. Today the Wall Street Journal reports that investors are flocking to invest in mortgage-backed securities now that the Fed has been buying them. Freddie and Fannie are too big to fail, and so forth. The risk premium relative to Treasuries has fallen to the narrowest point this year.

From the investor’s perspective these are relatively safe problem-free investments. On the other hand, from the social perspective these investments delay the necessary adjustment of resources out of housing — remember: the over-expanded bubble sector?

Our aggregate-demanders (aka “Keynesians”) do not need to worry because during recessions the allocation of resources is not important. All that matters is propping up spending and restoring “confidence” in something called “the economy.”

UPDATE: A New York Times editorial argues that the housing stimulus is not working. What is their standard of “working”? It is hard to tell precisely. The complaints are that new housing construction has fallen, prices of houses are expected to fall still further and that more homeowners have negative equity. So presumably a policy that “worked” would have increased housing construction, propped up prices, and prevented the spread of negative equity. No readjustment in their play book! What is more disturbing, but predictable, is that the drumbeat for reconsidering the Fed’s plan to begin exiting the housing market has begun:

And the Federal Reserve, whose interventions have sustained the housing market over the past year, must show flexibility. The Fed has made it clear that it would prefer to begin withdrawing support for the market in the months ahead. But without other strong and successful fiscal measures in place, that could do more harm than good.

Stay tuned.

Reflating the Bubble, Part II

by Mario Rizzo

In a recent post I criticized the extension of the Fed’s policy of buying mortgage-backed securities. Then I was told by a quite-knowledgeable economist that I may have misread the report in the Wall Street Journal. The first sentence states:

The Federal Reserve, in a move aimed at keeping interest rates low for home buyers through early next year, decided to extend and gradually phase out its purchase of mortgage-backed securities. (Emphasis added)

So while it is true that the Fed is extending the program, it also plans to phase it out. I replied (in private email) that I preferred to pay attention to what the Fed is actually doing rather than to what it is promising to do. Continue reading

The Fed Against Equilibration

by Mario Rizzo

 

Reality is more complex than our models. Free-market forces are asserting themselves but the Fed is also intervening and trying to affect those forces. Real-world data is the result of both factors.

 

The Commerce Department  has issued some new data showing that house sales are rebounding (but still off their year-ago levels) and that house prices are falling. This is to be expected as supply and demand begin to equilibrate. Continue reading

Reflating the Housing Bubble?

by Mario Rizzo

 

In an effort to prevent deflation, the Fed has now decided to do more quantitative easing, that is, to buy with newly created high-powered money various assets aside from short-term Treasury securities. Over the next six months it will buy up to $300 billion in long-term Treasury bonds.

 

It will also purchase additional mortgage-backed securities (MBS) in the amount of $750 billion as well as up to $100 billion in additional securities of Fannie and Freddie (to a total of $200 billion). These are the parts of the new policy that concern me most. They are bad ideas. Continue reading