August 14, 2010
Fannie & Freddie Bailout?
I really enjoyed reading the article linked in Chad's post yesterday, and the good points in the comments so far. I've linked or mentioned a few times about the need to rethink housing policy with respect to the primacy of homeownership. But with all the talk in the article and elsewhere of reforming or replacing Fannie and Freddie, there is talk in the wind of a different plan: a Fannie-Freddie Bailout.
James Pethokoukis, the Reuters money & politcs blogger, wrote recently about such a bailout as an August Surprise:
Main Street may be about to get its own gigantic bailout. Rumors are running wild from Washington to Wall Street that the Obama administration is about to order government-controlled lenders Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac to forgive a portion of the mortgage debt of millions of Americans who owe more than what their homes are worth. An estimated 15 million U.S. mortgages – one in five – are underwater with negative equity of some $800 billion. Recall that on Christmas Eve 2009, the Treasury Department waived a $400 billion limit on financial assistance to Fannie and Freddie, pledging unlimited help. The actual vehicle for the bailout could be the Bush-era Home Affordable Refinance Program, or HARP, a sister program to Obama’s loan modification effort. HARP was just extended through June 30, 2011.
The move, if it happens, would be a stunning political and economic bombshell less than 100 days before a midterm election in which Democrats are currently expected to suffer massive, if not historic losses. The key date to watch is August 17 when the Treasury Department holds a much-hyped meeting on the future of Fannie and Freddie. A few key points:
Then a couple of days ago the Boston Globe published an op-ed by Paul McMorrow titled One More Bailout.
WHEN PRESIDENT Barack Obama signed legislation overhauling the nation’s financial regulations last month, he declared an end to Wall Street bailouts. Going forward, he said, failing finance houses won’t skirt by on the taxpayers’ dime. Bay State Representative Barney Frank characterized the new law as a death penalty for reckless institutions.
Both men are only half right. Congress has one more bailout to complete. That job — bringing Fannie Mae’s and Freddie Mac’s toxic balance sheets onto the government’s ledger — was left out of last month’s financial overhaul because the job is so massive and so politically unpalatable that it dwarfs every record-breaking handout that came before it.
That approach is also the only realistic option on the table.
Next Tuesday, policymakers will convene a summit to help determine what to do with Fannie and Freddie, the two government-owned mortgage giants. It’s bound to conclude that there’s little to do but nationalize them, stuff them with $300 billion in taxpayer funds, and hope that when they’re eventually able to stand on their own as semi-private corporations, the nation’s economy doesn’t implode again.
We'll we're certainly seeing mixed signals in the air about the future of housing, real estate, and land use in public policy and finance. Keep your eyes on Tuesday's Treasury meeting
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