Editor: David Reiss
Brooklyn Law School

October 20, 2015

Hypothetically Reforming Fannie and Freddie

By David Reiss

Ben Turner

S&P issued a report, Fannie, Freddie, and the FHLB System: Plus Ca Change . . . The report opens, “Despite reform talk in the years since the U.S. housing crisis, Standard & Poor’s Ratings Services believes the likelihood of extraordinary government support for key U.S. housing government­-related entities (GREs) Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac, and the Federal Home Loan Bank (FHLB) system remains “almost certain” in case of need.” (1) Notwithstanding the fact that S&P expects that this extraordinary support will last well into the next presidential administration, S&P “can envisage three “tail risk” scenarios in which such support could become less likely under certain conditions, but view each of these scenarios as improbable.” (1) The three scenarios, which S&P characterizes as plausible, albeit improbable, are

  • An electoral sweep, with favorable macroeconomic conditions and few competing legislative priorities;
  • Court judgments, pursuant to shareholder lawsuits, forcing the legislators’ hand; or
  • A renewed housing market crisis, with one or more of these GREs viewed as more cause than cure. (4)

In the first scenario, “an election gives one party control of all three legislative actors (the president, House of Representatives, and Senate), precluding the need for bipartisan compromise to enact major reforms to Fannie and Freddie via legislation.” (4)

In the second, Fannie and Freddie shareholders win lawsuits that stem from the “U.S. Treasury’s decision to modify, in 2012, the Preferred Stock Purchase Agreements (PSPAs) governing the terms of its financial support to Fannie and Freddie . . ..” (4)

The final scenario,

is a renewed housing market crisis, on a scale at least similar to that of 2008. Like the other two scenarios, we don’t view this as likely, at least in the coming few years . . . perhaps as a result of the unfortunate confluence of several negative surprises- ­­including, for example, overreaction to Federal Reserve monetary policy normalization, terms­-of­-trade shocks (geopolitical conflicts that cause a rapid and dramatic spike in energy costs, perhaps), fresh financial sector  problems that suddenly tighten the sector’s funding costs, and an abnormally long spell of bad weather. (5)

This seems like a pretty reasonable analysis of the likelihood of reform for Fannie and Freddie. But that should not stop us from bemoaning Congressional inaction on this topic. Obviously, Congress is too ideologically driven to bridge the gap between the left and right, but the likelihood that we are building toward some new kind of crisis increases with time. I can’t improve on S&P’s analysis in this report, but I’m sure unhappy about what it means for the long-term health of our housing finance system.




| Permalink