Turbulent Days of 2008 Feel Like Ages Ago for Fannie Mae
How different the past and present look for Fannie Mae just over five years after the government-sponsored enterprise’s controversial bailout.
A once-tumultuous housing market is settling down, and past questions over how much taxpayers would lose in their takeover of Fannie—which reported Friday that it has paid back full principal to the government—have morphed into questions over how much profit taxpayers should gain.
"The U.S. taxpayer recovering its principal investment in the GSEs—an event that was once viewed as unthinkable—is now on the horizon," said Isaac Boltansky, an analyst with Compass Point. "Given Treasury's expected recovery of principal, we believe the conversation in D.C. will start shifting towards a more serious discussion aimed at determining the appropriate return on the GSE investment for the American taxpayer."
Fannie reported the milestone that, amid record profits for 2013, its dividends paid to Treasury over the past few years cumulatively exceed the amount of draws the GSE received from the U.S. government since it was placed in conservatorship in September 2008. Cumulatively, Fannie has paid $121.1 billion in dividends, which exceeds its total draws by $5 billion. However, Treasury will continue to sweep its profits in the form of dividends going forward.
The questions of taxpayers' return from the GSE seizures is likely to be part of the debate as policymakers continue to push for a wind-down of the Fannie and Freddie Mac conservatorships and propose options for a new housing finance framework.
Fannie’s recent financial successes come as both the company and the mortgage market are in transition.
Fannie is under orders to gradually reduce the size of its mortgage investment portfolio, which means it will have to rely more on loan guarantee fee income going forward. And the market is transitioning from a refinance boom to a more normal purchase mortgage market.
"We have come through a cycle where the quality of the loans has been extremely high," Fannie chief executive Timothy Mayopoulos told reporters Friday morning.
He noted that purchase mortgage loans are generally riskier than refinancings because they have higher loan-to-value ratios and lower credit scores.
"We are cognitive of the fact that the risk profile is evolving. We are continuing to price the guarantees that we issue in a manner that clearly covers the risk inherent in the business," Mayopoulos said.
The Fannie CEO also provided an update on the dialogue between the mortgage giant and the recently confirmed head of the Federal Housing Finance Agency, Mel Watt. Mayopoulos said Fannie executives have met with Watt several times to discuss mortgage market conditions and other issues.
"We have had a lot of good discussions with Director Watt," Mayopoulos said.
"I must say I have been very impressed by his care and thoughtfulness as he has approached his new role. In terms of his priorities, he has not articulated them to us. I am sure he will in due course."
It appears Fannie has not submitted formal proposals to the FHFA regarding lowering GSE loan fees or increasing mortgage access for first-time homebuyers. But the CEO noted that Fannie officials have regular discussions with FHFA officials on those topics.
"We have ongoing discussions with FHFA with ideas coming from them and ideas coming from us. But that is not unusual," Mayopoulos said.
FBR Capital Markets policy analyst Edward Mills said he expects the FHFA will move to reduce the guarantee fees that Fannie and Freddie charge on loans.
Based on the quality of the loans the GSEs are purchasing from lenders, it appears they are "charging too much," Mills said.
Watt is "more interested in mortgage credit availability than in protecting a certain earnings multiply for the GSEs," he added.