GSE Investors Propose Reform Blueprint

Moelis & Company, financial advisors to some of Fannie and Freddie investors including Paulson & Co. and Blackstone GSO Capital Partners, has release a Blueprint for Restoring Safety and Soundness to the GSEs. The blueprint is a version of a “recap and release” plan that greatly favors the interests of Fannie and Freddie’s private shareholders over the public interest. The blueprint contains the following elements:

1. Protects Taxpayers from Future Bailouts. This Blueprint protects taxpayers by restoring safety and soundness to two of the largest insurance companies in the United States, Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. This is achieved by (a) rebuilding a substantial amount of first-loss private capital, (b) imposing rigorous new risk and leverage-based capital standards, (c) facilitating the government’s exit from ownership in both companies, and (d) providing a mechanism to substantially reduce the government’s explicit backstop commitment facility over time.

2. Promotes Homeownership and Preserves the 30-Year Mortgage. This Blueprint ensures that adequate mortgage market liquidity is maintained, the GSE debt markets continue to function without interruption, and the affordable 30-year fixed-rate conventional mortgage remains widely accessible for every eligible American.

3. Repositions the GSEs as Single-Purpose Insurers. Given the substantial reforms implemented by the Federal Housing Finance Agency (“FHFA”) since 2008, the GSEs can now be repositioned and safely operated as single-purpose insurers, bearing mortgage credit risk in exchange for guarantee fees with limited retained investment portfolios beyond that necessary for securitization “inventory” and loan purchases.

4. Enables Rebuild of Equity Capital while Winding Down the Government Backstop. The Net Worth Sweep served the purpose of dramatically accelerating the payback of Treasury’s investment in both companies. The focus must now turn to protecting taxpayers by rebuilding Fannie Mae’s and Freddie Mac’s equity capital and winding down the government’s backstop.

5. Repays the Government in Full for its Investment during the Great Recession. Treasury has retained all funds received to date during the conservatorships. The government has recouped the entire $187.5 billion that it originally invested, plus an additional $78.3 billion in profit, for total proceeds of $265.8 billion. Treasury’s profits to date on its investment in the GSEs are five times greater than the combined profit on all other investments initiated by Treasury during the financial crisis.

6. Produces an Additional $75 to $100 Billion of Profits for Taxpayers. Treasury can realize an estimated $75 to $100 billion in additional cash profits by exercising its warrants for 79.9% of each company’s common stock and subsequently selling those shares through secondary offerings. This monetization process, which follows the proven path of Treasury’s AIG and Ally Bank (GMAC) stock dispositions, could bring total government profits to $150 to $175 billion, the largest single U.S. government financial investment return in history.

7. Implements Reform Under Existing Authority. This Blueprint articulates a feasible path to achieving the Administration’s GSE reform objectives with the least amount of execution risk. It can be fully implemented during the current presidential term by FHFA in collaboration with Treasury utilizing their existing legal authorities. Congress could build on these reforms to develop an integrated national housing finance policy that accounts for the Federal Housing Administration, the Department of Veterans Affairs, and Rural Housing Service, and emphasizes (i) affordable housing, (ii) safety and soundness, and (iii) universal and fair access to mortgage credit for all Americans. (1)

As can be seen from the last paragraph, GSE investors are trying to use the logjam in the Capitol to their own advantage. They are arguing that because Congress has not been able to get real reform bill passed, it makes sense to implement a reform plan administratively. There is nothing wrong with such an approach, but this plan would benefit investors more than the public.

My takeaway from this blueprint is that the longer Fannie and Freddie remain in limbo, the more likely it is that special interests will win the day and the public interest will fall by the wayside.

Consumer Protection’s Holy Grail

The Round Table experiences a vision of the Holy Grail by Évrard d'Espinques

The Federal Financial Institutions Examination Council (FFIEC) has issued a notice and request for comment regarding the Uniform Interagency Consumer Compliance Rating System (the CC Rating System). The FFIEC’s six members represent the Federal Reserve Board, Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation, National Credit Union Administration, Office of the Comptroller of the Currency, State Liaison Committee and Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. This veritable roundtable of regulators is seeking to revise the CC Rating System “to reflect the regulatory, examination (supervisory), technological, and market changes that have occurred in the years since the current rating system was established.” (81 F.R. 26553)

I know, I know, this is a deeply technical issued and you are wondering why I am writing about it for a somewhat general audience. The answer is that I think this is a good thing for people to know about: the federal government is seeking to implement a consistent approach to consumer protection across a broad swath of the financial services industry.

One of the CC Rating System’s categories is Violations of Law and Consumer Harm. The request for comment notes that over the last few decades, the financial services

industry has become more complex, and the broad array of risks in the market that can cause consumer harm has become increasingly clear. Violations of various laws, including, for example, the Servicemembers Civil Relief Act 5 and Section 5 of the Federal Trade Commission Act, as well as fair lending violations, may potentially cause significant consumer harm and raise serious supervisory concerns. Recognizing this broad array of risks, the proposed guidance directs examiners to consider all violations of consumer laws, based on the root cause, severity, duration, and pervasiveness of the violation. This approach emphasizes the importance of a range of consumer protection laws and is intended to reflect the broader array of risks and the potential harm caused by consumer protection related violations. (81 F.R. 26556)

This is all to the good. A big part of the problem the last time around (pre-Subprime Crisis) was that financial services companies used regulatory arbitrage to avoid scrutiny. Lots of mortgage lending migrated to nonbanks. Nonbanks did not need to worry about unwanted attention from the regulators that scrutinized banks and other heavily regulated mortgage lenders. (To be clear, Alan Greenspan and other regulators did not do a good job of scrutinizing the banks. But let’s leave that for another post.) With the CFPB now regulating nonbanks and with this coordinated approach to consumer protection, we should expect that regulatory arbitrage will decrease.

If successful, this would amount to a regulatory equivalent of finding the Holy Grail.  So, while this is a technical issue, it is something to feel good about.

Comments due July 4th, so get crackin’!