Since being seized by the government after the housing market collapse, Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac have repaid the $191.5 billion in bailouts they received — plus an additional $115 billion to Treasury — and returned to profitability.
Now investors are asking: When with they be reprivatized?
For more than a decade, lawmakers have been struggling to release the government-sponsored enterprises from Washington’s control. Although there’s bipartisan agreement that federal housing policy needs to be reformed, the parties are divided on how to do it.
“It’s just not healthy or safe for the long-term interest of our economy to have this,” said former Federal Housing Finance Agency Director Ed DeMarco, about government control of Fannie and Freddie.
The GSE’s don’t make loans, but they’re crucial to the U.S. housing-finance system. Their process of buying mortgages from lenders and packaging the debt into bonds that are sold to investors makes homes more affordable while keeping the mortgage market liquid.
The Trump administration has laid out a new path to privatization, but it faces an uphill battle.
Under Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin’s plan, Fannie and Freddie would both pay an annual fee to the government, and in return the government would guarantee their loans. That guarantee would require an act of Congress.
“It is wildly optimistic to think that this Congress will act on any of the suggestions directed toward it,” said Thomas Wade, director of financial services policy at the American Action Forum. “These detailed and numerous recommendations represent a tall order for a divided Congress, particularly in the run-up to an election.”
Federal Housing Finance Agency Director Mark Calabria said he and Mnuchin are on track to reach an agreement soon to end the so-called “net-worth sweep” that required Fannie and Freddie to send nearly all their profits to the government. But the GSE’s won’t be privatized until the end of 2020 at the soonest, he said.
“It really depends on how quickly they raise capital,” he said in an interview on Bloomberg TV. “What we want to be able to do, essentially, is to some extent put their destiny back in their hands. They’re going to be responsible for building capital, they’re going to be responsible for hitting goalposts.”
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