The Federal Housing Finance Agency Office of Inspector General has posted a White Paper, FHFA’s Conservatorships of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac: A Long and Complicated Journey. This White Paper on conservatorships updates a first one that OIG published in 2012. This one notes that over the past six years,
FHFA has administered two conservatorships of unprecedented scope and simultaneously served as the regulator for these large, complex companies that dominate the secondary mortgage market and the mortgage securitization sector of the U.S. housing finance industry. Congress granted FHFA sweeping conservatorship authority over the Enterprises. For example, as conservator, FHFA can exercise decision-making authority over the Enterprises’ multi-trillion dollar books of business; it can direct the Enterprises to increase the fees they charge to guarantee mortgage-backed securities; it can mandate changes to the Enterprises’ credit underwriting and servicing standards for single-family and multifamily mortgage products; and it can set policy governing the disposition of the Enterprises’ inventory of approximately 121,000 real estate owned properties. (2)
I was particularly interested by the foreward looking statements contained in this White Paper:
Director Watt has repeatedly asserted that conservatorship “cannot and should not be a permanent state” for the Enterprises. Director Watt has indicated that under his stewardship FHFA will continue the conservatorships and build a bridge to a new housing finance system, whenever that system is put into place by Congress. In this phase of the conservatorships, FHFA seeks to place more decision-making in the hands of the Enterprises. (3)
Those who have been hoping that the FHFA will act decisively in the face of Congressional inaction should let that dream go. And given that just about nobody believes (I still hope though) that there will be Congressional reform of Fannie and Freddie during the remainder of the Obama Administration, we must face the reality that we are stuck with the conservatorships and all of the risks that they foster for the foreseeable future. Today’s risks include historically high rates of mortgage delinquencies and exposure to defaults by counterparties like private mortgage insurers. As I have said before, the risks that Fannie and Freddie are nothing to laugh at. Let’s hope that the FHFA is up to managing them until Congress finally acts.