Editor: David Reiss
Brooklyn Law School

November 15, 2013

Reiss on Fannie and Freddie Buyout

By David Reiss

Law360 quoted me in Fairholme Changes The Game For Fannie And Freddie (behind a paywall).  It reads in part,

Fairholme Capital Management LLC’s plan to buy Fannie Mae’s and Freddie Mac’s insurance businesses will likely turn out to be more symbolic gesture than successful deal, experts say, but the hedge fund’s bold move could increase interest in privatization of the entities and potentially encourage other bidders to join the fray.

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Some experts believe this emphasis on the ownership stakes of Fairholme and other hedge funds will be a major turnoff for the White House, the Federal Housing Finance Agency and the Treasury.

“It’s a very good idea, but the question is, will it keep the government and taxpayers off the hook? And will it bring in sufficient private capital to provide a vibrant residential mortgage market?” said David Reiss, a real estate finance professor at Brooklyn Law School. “Of course they’re looking to maximize their return, so the question has to be, what’s the angle that they’re playing?”

The angle, experts and analysts say, is likely connected to claims Fairholme and other hedge funds have made recently against the federal government, accusing it of devaluing their shares of Fannie and Freddie in order to reap all the GSEs’ mounting profits.

Fairholme and Perry Capital LLC both sued the government over its management of Fannie and Freddie this summer.

In July, Perry Capital accused the Treasury of wrongfully altering stock purchasing agreements with Fannie and Freddie, which allegedly allowed it to illegally speed up the liquidation of the companies and reap more than $200 billion over the next decade.

Two days later, Fairholme and insurance holding company W.R. Berkley Corp. sued the federal government, alleging it had acted unconstitutionally when it altered its bailout deal for the GSEs to keep the companies’ profits for itself.

Fairholme’s proposal assumes that their shares have the value they claim they have in their lawsuit, Reiss said. If the deal were to move forward, valuation of Fairholme’s stake could be a major sticking point.

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“It begins the conversation as to whether you can have effectively a buyout of the federal government from Fannie and Freddie, which is a healthy thing, I think,” Reiss said.

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