Editor: David Reiss
Brooklyn Law School

March 31, 2015

The Rescue of Fannie and Freddie

By David Reiss

Federal Reserve researchers, W. Scott Frame, Andreas Fuster, Joseph Tracy and James Vickery, have posted a staff report, The Rescue of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. The abstract reads,

We describe and evaluate the measures taken by the U.S. government to rescue Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac in September 2008. We begin by outlining the business model of these two firms and their role in the U.S. housing finance system. Our focus then turns to the sources of financial distress that the firms experienced and the events that ultimately led the government to take action in an effort to stabilize housing and financial markets. We describe the various resolution options available to policymakers at the time and evaluate the success of the choice of conservatorship, and other actions taken, in terms of five objectives that we argue an optimal intervention would have fulfilled. We conclude that the decision to take the firms into conservatorship and invest public funds achieved its short-run goals of stabilizing mortgage markets and promoting financial stability during a period of extreme stress. However, conservatorship led to tensions between maximizing the firms’ value and achieving broader macroeconomic objectives, and, most importantly, it has so far failed to produce reform of the U.S. housing finance system.

 This staff report provides a nice overview of the two companies since the financial crisis. I was particularly interested by a couple of sections. First, I found the discussion of receivership versus conservatorship helpful. Second, I liked how it outlined the five objectives for an optimal intervention:

(i) Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac would be enabled to continue their core securitization and guarantee functions as going concerns, thereby maintaining conforming mortgage credit supply.

(ii) The two firms would continue to honor their agency debt and mortgage-backed securities obligations, given the amount and widely held nature of these securities, especially in leveraged financial institutions, and the potential for financial instability in case of default on these obligations.

(iii) The value of the common and preferred equity in the two firms would be extinguished, reflecting their insolvent financial position.

(iv) The two firms would be managed in a way that would provide flexibility to take into account macroeconomic objectives, rather than just maximizing the private value of their assets.

(v) The structure of the rescue would prompt long-term reform and set in motion the transition to a better system within a reasonable period of time. (14-15)

You’ll have to read the paper to see how they evaluate the five objectives in greater detail.

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