Editor: David Reiss
Brooklyn Law School

October 4, 2017

FHFA’s Strategic Plan for Fannie and Freddie

By David Reiss

The Federal Housing Finance Agency released its Strategic Plan for fiscal years 2018-2022 for public input. As discussed in yesterday’s post, Director Watt is very focused on maintaining the health of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. The Strategic Plan reiterates that focus:

As conservator of the Enterprises, FHFA will also promote stability by working to preserve and conserve the Enterprises’ assets and business operations. Additionally, FHFA will encourage the Enterprises and the housing industry to adopt standards and practices that promote market and stakeholder confidence. (8)

The Plan goes into depth to describe the FHFA’s role as conservator:

The Enterprises were placed into conservatorships in September 2008 in the midst of a severe financial crisis. Their ongoing participation in the housing finance market has been an important factor in maintaining market liquidity and stability. Conservatorship permitted the U.S. Government to take greater control over management of the Enterprises and gave investors in the Enterprises’ debt and MBS confidence that the Enterprises would have the capacity to honor their financial obligations. As conservator, FHFA establishes restrictions and expectations for the Enterprises’ boards and for their managements while authorizing them to conduct the Enterprises’ day-to-day operations.

As detailed earlier, FHFA’s authority as both regulator and conservator of the Enterprises is based upon statutory mandates. FHFA, acting as regulator and conservator, must follow the mandates assigned to it by statute and the missions assigned to the Enterprises by their charters. Congress may choose to revise the statutory mandates governing the Enterprises at any time.

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The Enterprises are also parties to PSPAs with the Treasury Department. Under the PSPAs, the Enterprises are provided U.S. taxpayer backing with explicit dollar limits. The PSPA commitment still available to Fannie Mae is $117.6 billion and the commitment still available to Freddie Mac is $140.5 billion. Additional draws would reduce these commitments, and dividend payments do not replenish or increase the commitments under the terms of the PSPAs. Starting in 2013, the PSPAs provided each Enterprise with a capital buffer of $3 billion to protect each Enterprise against making additional draws of taxpayer support in the event of an operating loss in any quarter, and the PSPAs provide mandated declines of $600 million each year to these capital buffers. On January 1, 2017, each Enterprise’s capital buffer declined to $600 million and the capital buffer is scheduled to decline to zero on January 1, 2018.

FHFA continues to encourage Congress to complete the important work of housing finance reform. FHFA has reiterated the urgency of reform and that it is up to Congress to determine what future, if any, the Enterprises will have in the future housing finance system. (16-17)

Reading between the lines, I see the FHFA under Watt doing whatever it has to in order to maintain stability and liquidity in the mortgage markets. If Congress does not act, if the Treasury does not act, I think that Director Watt will go it alone and do what it takes to maintain Fannie and Freddie’s reputation with mortgage lenders and MBS investors.

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