Here is a copy of the Complaint in Louise Rafter et al. v. U.S., Pershing Square’s Takings case in the U.S. Court of Federal Claims. I will blog about it later, but thought that some might want to see it as soon as possible because it is not widely available yet.
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.
Bloomberg Industries Litigation Analyst Emily Hamburger interviewed me about The Government as Defendant: Breaking Down Fannie-Freddie Lawsuits (link to audio of the call). The blurb for the interview is as follows:
As investors engage in jurisdictional discovery and the government pleads for dismissals in several federal cases over Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac stock, Professor David Reiss of Brooklyn Law School will provide his insights on the dynamics of the lawsuits and possible outcomes for Wall Street, the U.S. government and GSEs. Reiss is the author of a recent article, An Overview of the Fannie and Freddie Conservatorship Litigation.
Emily questioned me for the first half of the one hour call and some of the 200+ participants asked questions in the second half.
Emily’s questions included the following (paraphrased below)
- You’re tracking several cases that deal with the government’s role in Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, and I’d like to go through about 3 of the major assertions made by investors – investors that own junior preferred and common stock in the GSEs – against the government and hear your thoughts:
- The first is the accusation that the Treasury and FHFA’s Conduct in the execution of the Third Amendment was arbitrary and capricious. What do you think of this?
- Another claim made by the plaintiffs is that the government’s actions constitute a taking of property without just compensation, which would be seen as a violation of the 5th Amendment – do you think this is a stronger or weaker claim?
- And finally – what about plaintiffs asserting breach of contract against the government? Plaintiffs have said that the Net Worth Sweep in the Third Amendment to the Preferred Stock Purchase Agreement nullified Fannie and Freddie’s ability to pay dividends, and that the two companies can’t unilaterally change terms of preferred stock, and that the FHFA is guilty of causing this breach.
- Is the government correct when they say that the section 4617 of the Housing and Economic Recovery Act barred plaintiff’s right to sue over the conservator’s decisions?
- Former Solicitor General Theodore Olson, an attorney for Perry Capital, has said that the government’s powers with respect to the interventions in Fannie and Freddie “expired” – is he correct?
- Can you explain what exactly jurisdictional discovery is and why it’s important?
- Do we know anything about what might happen if one judge rules for the plaintiffs and another judge rules for the government?
- Is there an estimate that you can provide as to timing?
- Are there any precedents that you know of from prior crises? Prior interventions by the government that private plaintiffs brought suit against?
- How do you foresee Congress and policymakers changing outcomes?
- What do we need to be looking out for now in the litigation?
- How does this end?
You have to listen to the audiotape to hear my answers, but my bottom line is this — these are factually and legally complex cases and don’t trust anyone who thinks that this is a slam dunk for any of the parties.
Richard Epstein has posted a draft of The Government Takeover of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac: Upending Capital Markets with Lax Business and Constitutional Standards. The paper addresses “the various claims of the private shareholders, both preferred and common, of Fannie and Freddie.” (2) He notes that those claims have
now given rise to seventeen separate lawsuits against the Government, most of which deal with the Government’s actions in August, 2012. One suit also calls into question the earlier Government actions to stabilize the home mortgage market between July and September 2008, challenging the constitutionality of the decision to cast Fannie and Freddie into conservatorship in September 2008, which committed the Government to operating the companies until they became stabilized. What these suits have in common is that they probe, in overlapping ways, the extent to which the United States shed any alleged obligations owed to the junior preferred and common shareholders of both Fannie and Freddie. At present, the United States has submitted a motion to dismiss in the Washington Federal case that gives some clear indication as to the tack that it will take in seeking to derail all of these lawsuits regardless of the particular legal theory on which they arise. Indeed, the brief goes so far to say that not a single one of the plaintiffs is entitled to recover anything in these cases, be it on their individual or derivative claims, in light of the extensive powers that HERA vests in FHFA in its capacity as conservator to the funds. (2-3, citations omitted)
Epstein acknowledges that his “work on this project has been supported by several hedge funds that have hired me as a legal consultant, analyst, and commentator on issues pertaining to litigation and legislation over Fannie and Freddie discussed in this article.”(1, author footnote) Nonetheless, as a leading scholar, particularly of Takings jurisprudence, his views must be taken very seriously.
Epstein states that “major question of both corporate and constitutional law is whether the actions taken unilaterally by these key government officials could be attacked on the grounds that they confiscated the wealth of the Fannie and Freddie shareholders and thus required compensation from the Government under the Takings Clause. In addition, there are various complaints both at common law and under the Administrative Procedure Act.” (4)
Like Jonathan Macey, Epstein forcefully argues that the federal government has greatly overreached in its treatment of Fannie and Freddie. I tend in the other direction. But I do agree with Epstein that it “is little exaggeration to say that the entire range of private, administrative, and constitutional principles will be called into question in this litigation.” (4) Because of that, I am far from certain how the courts should and will decide the immensely complicated claims at issue in these cases.
In any event, Epstein’s article should be read as a road map to the narrative that the plaintiffs will attempt to convey to the judges hearing these cases as they slowly wend their way through the federal court system.
I was quoted on the Bloomberg Terminals (behind a very expensive paywall!) on May 6th about the Fannie and Freddie litigation:
Even if the Junior Preferred Shareholders get the Court to void the Third Amendment to the PSPA, they cannot force the companies to issue dividends so that shareholders receive a payoff. And if the government were to lower the guarantee fee that the two companies can charge or if it were to remove the government’s guarantee of the two companies, Fannie and Freddie’s profits would dissipate altogether.
Given that junior preferred shareholders have developed a multi-pronged strategy to squeeze as much value out of their shares as possible, it is worth attempting to determine the possible endgames that they have in mind. It is hard for me to identify a litigation outcome that results in money in their pockets for the reasons stated above. So the litigation strategy must be part of a broader strategy that involves lobbying over housing finance reform in Congress, lobbying the FHFA and other regulators or negotiating with the two companies. Given the amount of money at stake and the depth of the pockets of the junior preferred shareholders, one can imagine that they are playing a very long-term game, one that might last longer than all of the current decision-makers in DC right now. Some disputes arising out of the S&L crisis took many, many years to resolve so there is reason to think that the junior preferred shareholders have a multi-year or even decades-long perspective on this. And the farther away we are from the events of the 2000s and the emotions that they elicit from decisionmakers, the more likely it is that the junior preferred shareholders can negotiate a favorable result for themselves.
Adam Badawi and Anthony Casey have posted The Fannie and Freddie Bailouts Through the Corporate Lens to SSRN. The paper takes a look at the bailouts as if they were simple insolvent private firms. This is a helpful thought experiment even though the two federally chartered and heavily regulated firms are anything but simple, private firms. They write that while it is politically controversial to wipe out the shareholder equity in the two firms, doing so
is consistent with what often happens to stockholders of distressed companies. Indeed that is the more likely outcome when a corporation is sold or reorganized under Chapter 11 of the Bankruptcy Code. There remains little doubt that the Entities [Fannie and Freddie] were highly distressed at the time of the PSPAs [Preferred Stock Purchase Agreements] and Amendments [to the PSPAs]. Thus, while procedurally suspect, these actions did not substantively violate the norms of corporate law and finance that would apply to private companies in the same position. To the contrary, in the private context there may have been no action available that would have legally allocated any future interest in the Entities to the (junior) preferred and common shareholders. (1, footnotes omitted)
They add, that in “the private context, there would have been pressure to file for bankruptcy to liquidate the assets and eliminate the risk to creditors. And once in bankruptcy, the directors would have been entirely barred from taking actions to benefit equity at the expense of creditors.” (3) And they conclude that “the substance of Treasury’s and the Entities’ actions – in September 2008 and August 2012 – were generally in line with acceptable actions of creditors and debtors involved in restructuring distressed corporations in Chapter 11 bankruptcy or in out-of-court reorganizations.” (3-4)
I could excerpt selection after selection, but instead, I recommend that you read this interesting paper for yourself!
Following up on my posts (here and here) about other suits against the federal government over its amendment of the terms of the distribution of dividends and other payments by Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, I now look at Fairholme Funds, Inc. et al. v. FHFA et al., filed July 10, 2013. The suit alleges very similar facts to those found in Fairholme Funds, Inc. v. United States, filed July 9, 2013, but the claims for relief are more similar to those found in Perry Capital, LLC v. Lew et al.
Here are some of the key claims made by the plaintiffs (owners of Fannie and Freddie preferred shares):
- While the FHFA is the conservator of the two companies, it is acting acting like a receiver by “winding down” Fannie and Freddie’s “affairs and liquidating” their assets, while conservatorship should aim to return a company “to normal operation.” (15) The goal of the conservator, claim the plaintiffs, is to return the company “to a safe, sound and solvent condition.” (15, quoting Conservatorship and Receivership, 76 Fed. Reg. 35, 724, 35, 730(June 20, 2011)) As a result, plaintiffs argue that the Net Worth Sweep (which gives to the federal government substantially all of Fannie and Freddie’s profit) “is squarely contrary to FHFA’s statutory responsibilities as conservator of Fannie and Freddie” because it does not put them in “a sound and solvent condition” and it does not “conserve the assets and property” of the two companies. (25, quoting 12 U.S.C. section 4617(b)(2)(D))
- “Neither Treasury nor FHFA made any public record of their decision-making processes in agreeing to the Net Worth Sweep.” (29) The plaintiffs argue that the FHFA’s “authority as conservator of” Fannie and Freddie “is strictly limited by statute.” (31, citing 12 U.S.C. section 4617(b)(2)(D)) As a result, the FHFA’s actions were “arbitrary, capricious, an abuse of discretion, or otherwise not in accordance with law.” (33, quoting the APA, 5 U.S.C. section 706(2)(A))
- The plaintiffs’ relationship with Treasury as Fannie and Freddie’s controlling shareholders is governed by state corporate law and thus Treasury owes “fiduciary duties to minority shareholders.” (38)
- “Implicit in every contract is a covenant of good faith and fair dealing. The implied covenant requires a party in a contractual relationship to refrain from arbitrary or unreasonable conduct which has the effect of preventing the other party to the contract from receiving the fruits of the bargain.” (41) Plaintiffs argue that their contractual rights pursuant to their preferred shares have been breached by FHFA’s consent to the Net Worth Sweep.
The validity of these claims should not be assessed superficially. The courts will need to read HERA in the context of the APA and the amendment to the terms of the government’s preferred shares in the context of the contractual obligations found in the private preferred shares. The court will also need to assess the extent to which state corporate law governs the actions of the federal government when it is acting in the multiple capacities of lender, investor, regulator and conservator. Let the memoranda in support and in opposition to motions to dismiss come forth and enlighten us as to how it should all play out . . ..