Richard Shelby, the Chair of the Senate Committee on Banking, Housing, and Urban Affairs asked the Congressional Budget Office to prepare a report on The Effects of Increasing Fannie Mae’s and Freddie Mac’s Capital. The report acknowledges that the legislative reform of the two companies is going nowhere, but it analyzed one potential reform option that shares characteristics with some of the GSE reform bills that have been introduced over the years. The option studied by the CBO contemplates recapitalizing the two companies along the following lines:
each GSE would be allowed to retain an average of $5 billion of its profits annually and would thus increase its capital by up to $50 billion over 10 years. The government’s commitment to purchase more senior preferred stock from Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac if necessary to ensure that they maintain a positive net worth would remain in place. In addition, the GSEs would invest the profits that they retained under the option in Treasury securities, and returns on those securities would raise the GSEs’ income. Through its holdings of senior preferred stock, the government would continue to have a claim to the GSEs’ net worth ahead of other stockholders. (2, footnote omitted)
The CBO’s mandate is “to provide objective, impartial analysis,” but this report seems like it is laying the groundwork for a proposal to recapitalize Fannie and Freddie so that they can be released from conservatorship. Most policy analysts (as opposed to investors in the two companies) think that allowing the two companies to return to their prior lives as public/private hybrids is a terrible idea. It is too difficult for them to simultaneously answer to the federal regulators who set their public mission as well as to the private shareholders who would ultimately own them. And, if we were to take this path, the taxpayer would be left holding the bag once again if they were to ever need another bailout.
I think that Senator Shelby has done GSE reform a disservice by looking at this recapitalization option out of context. What we need is an analysis of a compromise plan that Congress can pass once the election is settled. Otherwise we are just leaving the two companies to limp along in conservatorship, slouching toward their next, yet unknown, crisis. Or worse, we are preparing to release them from conservatorship to go back to business as usual. Both of those options are very bad. Congress owes it to the American people to create a workable housing finance system for the 21st century that does not repeat our past mistakes.