Editor: David Reiss
Brooklyn Law School

June 19, 2014

Investors Unite for High GSE-Fees

By David Reiss

Investors Unite, a “coalition of private investors . . . committed to the preservation of shareholder rights for those invested in” Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac sent a letter to FHFA Director Watt pushing for higher guarantee fees (g-fees). The technical issue of how high g-fees should be set actually contains important policy implications, as I had blogged about earlier.

Tim Pagliara, the Executive Director of Investors Unite, writes,

g-fees were historically determined by the GSEs and FHFA does not have a mandate as conservator to run the GSEs as not-for-profit entities. We urge you to adhere to a set of principles that takes into account the critical purpose of setting appropriate guarantee fees while respecting the rights of all economic stakeholders, including the GSE’s shareholders. Ideally, after undoing the 2012 sweep, when setting guarantees fees, FHFA should also take into full consideration that:

1. Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac have profit-making purposes onto which public mandates are layered, and they should charge guarantee fees that earn an appropriate market-based return on the capital employed, whether taxpayer capital or private capital. This is an absolutely critical factor “other than expected losses, unexpected losses and G&A fees” that should be considered when determining g-fees.

2. Increasing guarantee fees will provide more cash flow with which the GSEs can build capital and be restored to “safe and solvent condition.” Maximizing returns is not only consistent with, but arguably required by, the conservatorship.

3. FHFA as conservator has legal duties to the direct economic stakeholders – including all shareholders – that must be respected alongside the interests of other parties.

4. Earning an appropriate return on capital is entirely consistent with the conservatorship and affordable housing mandates. There is no conflict here between the GSEs building capital and setting aside funds for affordable housing. Indeed, it is only when the GSEs have earned their way back to a “safe and solvent condition” that they can sustainably meet their public affordable-housing mandates. After the GSEs have adequate capital, the suspension of those mandates can be reversed, i.e. the affordable housing support can be turned back on.

5. Keeping guarantee fees low to support the housing market in general, including homeowners and homebuyers that are well off and do not need help, is not as important as charging higher guarantee fees (a) to build a capital base to protect against future credit losses, and (b) to redistribute a portion of earnings to targeted constituencies that  particularly need financial support.

6. Guarantee fee rates should be tied to sound underwriting standards. If FHFA directs the GSEs to relax underwriting standards, it is essential that guarantee fees be adjusted upwards to account for the greater credit risk assumed in doing so.

Ultimately, g-fees profits should be allowed to stay within the housing market and should be set at levels that help ensure safety and soundness of the GSEs, that protect long-term health of the housing market, and that respect the rights of all economic stakeholders-including the GSE’s shareholders. (1-2, emphasis added)

This letter goes to the heart of the g-fee debate and the GSE litigation, as far as I am concerned.  The g-fee level will determine whether Fannie and Freddie shares have any value at all. A low g-fee means no profits and no value. A high g-fee means profits and shareholder value. I agree with Pagliara that g-fees should reflect “sound underwriting.” The FHFA should therefore clearly outline the goals that the g-fee is intended to achieve. I may disagree with Pagliara as to what those goals should be, but sound underwriting is key to any vision of a sustainable housing finance market.

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