Fannie Mae's Focus Will Not Change with New Administration, CEO Says

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The arrival of President Trump has not changed Fannie Mae's plans for 2017, especially its emphasis on automated loan validation and other customer-focused innovations, CEO Timothy Mayopoulos said Friday.

"The change in administration hasn't affected our approach to our business,” Mayopoulos said in an interview after the company’s fourth-quarter media call. “We've been in conservatorship now for over eight years, and it's very clear to us what our business objectives are."

The government-sponsored enterprise is "focused on enhancing the housing finance system and bringing innovation to the market, things like [the loan-validation product] Day 1 Certainty that we think will be good for the housing finance system regardless of whatever changes might get made by this administration or any future administration," he said.

He has yet to sit down with new Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin. Throughout the conservatorship Fannie Mae executives have met regularly with Treasury officials, and those meetings are expected to continue.

Fannie Mae's fourth-quarter net earnings more than doubled to $5.04 billion from a year earlier. For the full year, Fannie Mae had net earnings of $12.3 billion, up 12% from 2015.

The company does not control some of the drivers of its results, such as interest rate changes and home prices, Mayopoulos said during the media call.

"As today's numbers demonstrate, these factors can cause significant volatility in our financial results, and they may have a positive or negative effect in a quarter or year," he said.

Fannie Mae made $9.6 billion in dividend payments to Treasury in 2016 and plans to pay another $5.5 billion in March. With the March payment, Fannie will have made $159.9 billion in dividend payments to Treasury.

Between 2008 and 2012, it drew $116.1 billion from Treasury; since then it has not made any draws. Its capital cushion is down to $600 million from $1.2 billion a year ago, on its way to being zero by 2018.

The company expects to remain profitable for the foreseeable future. Currently over two-thirds of its net interest income comes from its loan-guarantee business, while less than one-third is from the mortgage investment portfolio.

This completes the shift "from [back in 2004] essentially being a mortgage-investment-oriented company that had a guarantee fee business that supplemented that to now being much more of an insurance-oriented company that collects a premium on every loan that we guarantee against credit loss," Mayopoulos said in the interview.

The driving force of Fannie Mae's profits going forward, absent any "dramatic events" like changes in interest rates or home prices or policy developments, will be its guarantee-fee revenue, he said, adding that the expected switch to a heavily purchase market in 2017 should not affect that.

Fannie Mae's 97% loan-to-value-ratio program is expected to grow as more first-time homebuyers enter the market. But the program amounted to just 2% of acquisitions in 2016, Mayopoulos said, so even with a significant increase in volume it would still just be a modest portion of the total book of business.

Credit risk transfers now represent 23% of the total single-family guaranteed book. "We expect that a larger portion of our single-family guaranteed book will be covered by credit risk transfer transactions over time," he said during the media call.

Asked about future credit risk transfer programs like the deeper front-end coverage the private mortgage insurers are advocating for, Mayopoulos said in the interview that "we continue to look at ways to expand the suite of opportunities to transfer credit risk to private capital. When we do that we want to do that effectively."

One of the challenges with some of the models that have been put forward is they are highly dependent on counterparty exposure. The mortgage insurers are already a significant source of credit risk transfer, backing loans with LTVs greater than 80% for Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, he said.

"We are interested in finding a broad suite of capabilities to do this, but each of these potential models comes with pros and cons, and one of the things we're doing with the help of the FHFA is evaluating all of that," Mayopoulos said.

Jacob Passy contributed to this article

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