America’s Two Largest Mortgage Finance Companies Get A Break

The New York Times reports on something that will mean easier and cheaper mortgages for many:

WASHINGTON — With the blessing of the Bush administration, the regulator of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, the nation’s two largest mortgage finance companies, eased a major restriction on the companies on Wednesday in an effort to unfreeze credit markets and stabilize housing prices.

By reducing the extra cushion of capital the two companies have been required to hold since 2004, the regulator, the Office of Federal Housing Enterprise Oversight, is enabling the companies to invest $200 billion more in home loans. In essence, the companies are being allowed to take billions of dollars that had been used as a reserve against possible further losses and invest that money now in the housing market.

“Additional capital will enable the companies to help more homeowners and will strengthen the underlying fundamentals of the mortgage market,” said Treasury Secretary Henry M. Paulson Jr.

Officials hope that by unshackling Fannie and Freddie they can begin to reduce the cost of borrowing for prospective home buyers or refinancing for people who already own homes, help unlock the credit markets and possibly reduce some of the downward pressure on home prices.

But critics said that if the housing market continued to decline, the move could put the two companies on a less sure footing and ultimately require a huge taxpayer bailout.

At the end of 2007, Fannie Mae had $45 billion in capital and Freddie Mac had $37 billion, for a total of $82 billion between them. But that cushion supports more than $1.4 trillion of combined debt and debt guarantees.

“I think it’s very dangerous and it’s a sign that people are very frightened,” said Thomas H. Stanton, an expert on the two companies who teaches a course on credit risk at Johns Hopkins University. “At a time in which finance companies are holding questionable assets and facing losses, regulators typically require more capital, not less.”

About Luke Ford

Raised a Seventh-Day Adventist at Avondale College in Australia, Luke Ford moved to California in 1977. He graduated from Placer High School in 1984, reported the news at KAHI/KHYL radio for three years, attended Sierra College and UCLA, was largely bedridden by Chronic Fatigue Syndrome for six years, and converted to Judaism in 1993. From 1997-2007, Luke made his living from blogging. Living by Beverly Hills (, he now teaches the Alexander Technique (moving the way the body likes to move). Lessons cost $100 each and last about 45 minutes. In 2011, Luke completed a three-year teaching course at the Alexander Training Institute of Los Angeles. His personal Alexander Technique website is Luke is the author of five books, including: » The Producers: Profiles in Frustration » Yesterday’s News Tomorrow: Inside American Jewish Journalism
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