The Bailout of Fannie and Freddie: Redux

by Joseph · 5 comments

in Miscellaneous

You may remember the post I published a month ago which was about the government bailout of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac and what it might mean to us as the American people.  I haven’t made it a habit to revisit old posts often because a large amount of my content is focused more on timeless financial advice.  However while I was reading back through some of my old content today this post caught my eye and I thought it might be fun to revisit it, especially on a day where our government may pass an extraordinarily large bailout package to prop up the U.S. financial system.

Expect To Pay More In Taxes

The first point that I made was in reference to the sheer size of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac and how taxpayers are likely to be ultimately responsible for any losses taken on by our government with the privatization of these two mortgage giants!  Here’s what I said in early September:

Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac are HUGE companies. They alone service over half of the mortgages in the U.S. They have trillions of dollars worth of liabilities as well. In fact according to the former president of the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis, William Poole, they have up to $6 trillion dollars in liabilities (as reported by the Wall Street Journal Online). He believes that it would not be unreasonable to assume that they may end up taking a loss on as much as 5% of their loan portfolio which would provide taxpayers a burden of some $300 billion dollars.

Unfortunately it’s much too soon to make any educated assumptions about how well I did (or rather Mr. Poole did) on this prediction.  I’m going to stand by Mr. Poole and agree with him that Fannie and Freddie are likely to end up taking a loss of at least 5% on their current loan portfolio.  The problems in the housing market haven’t hit rock bottom yet and this will lead to an increased number of foreclosures and, therefore, bad loans.

Mortgage Rates May Finally Drop

The second point I made was in reference to mortgage rates at the time and the likelihood that they were going to drop.  Here’s what I said last month:

The rising level of defaults on mortgages over the past year or two has forced Fannie and Freddie to get more defensive and stop buying up so many mortgages. This has led to an increased risk for mortgage originators, as they might not be able to sell off their risky loans. It has also decreased the amount of cash flowing through the mortgage market and as such has had a strong effect on mortgage rates. Because of the increased risk and the limited capital mortgage lenders have been forced to raise mortgage rates and keep them high. Now that the U.S. has virtually guaranteed the success and liquidity of Fannie and Freddie mortgage originators are likely to have a less difficult time securing cash and selling off their loans. This should lead to a drop in mortgage rates over the next six months or so.

Six months may have been too conservative an estimate.  Mortgage rates actually dropped almost overnight, by about half a percent.  They’re still hovering around six percent (which is what they dropped to after the Fannie and Freddie takeover) and are likely to stay there for a while longer.

Start Investing Now If You Haven’t Already

We’re really starting to get to the meat of this stuff now.  It’s interesting how right after this bailout investors were sure that things were finally starting to get better.  Check out what I had to say then, paying special attention to the bold text:

The markets rebounded on Monday with the Dow Jones Industrial Average ending up almost 300 points (or 2.59%). Investors are excited about the future now that they don’t have to worry about Fannie and Freddie. If the Treasury Department and Paulson are right (and I personally doubt they are) then this bailout should fix everything. After all the housing market is the primary cause of the “recession” that we are currently facing. By shoring up the two largest mortgage companies and providing much-needed capital to the mortgage industry they’re hoping to end this downturn once and for all. Things aren’t quite that black and white however but we’ll come back to that in the next section. In the meantime for the purposes of investing they (the feds) may be right about one thing. By taking over Fannie and Freddie they should increase investor confidence and lower mortgage rates. This should have the effect of a declining bear market if not the return to a bull market.

The heading to this point was the same as the heading above… a recommendation to begin investing.  Considering that it’s nearly impossible to time the markets right, I’m fairly confident that if someone had taken $1,000 dollars and put it into an index fund it would be a great time to start investing.  Sure we’ve had some ups and downs over the past month but overall the markets have been trading mostly sideways since then.  Truthfully in my opinion no time is better than the present to begin investing.  If you haven’t done so yet, then why not start now?

I want to concentrate on the bold point in the quoted paragraph above.  As you can see I predicted that the bailout of Fannie and Freddie would NOT fix the markets like Paulson and the Treasury were predicting.  In fact they were far from right on this point, as if any of us need to be reminded that the government is most likely going to be investing around $700 billion dollars in the financial system over the next several weeks.  I said it here first folks, the Fannie and Freddie takeover would not fix our problems – ready for another one?  Neither will this $700 billion bailout.  It’ll help, there’s no denying that – at least not in the short term.  However it’s not going to fix things overnight, or even over the course of several months.  We still have an underlying problem that is directly related to an OVERSUPPLY of housing in the U.S.  There just aren’t enough potential homeowners to fill all of the houses.

The Financial System Is Nowhere Near A Full Recovery

It’s important to remember that this financial turmoil that our economy is facing was not created overnight and it won’t be fixed overnight either, no matter how hard Bernanke, Paulson and Washington try.

It is true that the primary cause of the economic turmoil that the U.S. is currently facing is due to the uncertainty in the mortgage markets. It’s also true that the decreased cash flowing into these markets due to Fannie and Freddie’s cutbacks was having a negative affect on the entire market. However one would have to be naive to assume that by taking over Fannie and Freddie and providing capital to the mortgage markets that this mess will clean up quickly. The fact is that homeowners are not walking away from their houses because their mortgage lender was unable to sell their mortgage to Fannie – they are walking away because they are upside down on their houses they are unable to afford the payments. Losses will continue to come. The process may be slowed down and stopped sooner than it might have without this bailout (due to the increased affordability of purchasing a home) but unfortunately home values have not reached their lows, as most would-be homeowners are not ready to jump into the market even with today’s home prices!

The fact is that homes are STILL unaffordable in many markets across the U.S. Homeowners are losing money and are bailing ship which is slowly decreasing home prices but we still have quite a ways to go before the buyers start to line up. Bailout out Fannie and Freddie may help some, but as I stated already, the financial system is nowhere near a full recovery.

The point is that we’ve got to be patient and focus on the future and not so much the present.  Things will get better – they always do – but in the meantime it’d be smart of us to take advantage the great investing opportunities that this bear market is providing.  But be smart and don’t rush into anything without some good research.  Good luck out there!

{ 4 comments… read them below or add one }

allan October 2, 2008 at 8:40 am

They don’t have to raise taxes, they can just print money and let the decreased value of your dollars (inflation) be a hidden tax. Just this one bailout would buy hundreds of gallons of gas for your car, all bailouts together are thousands of gallons of gas, or months of rent or mortgage payments. Don’t worry if you can’t afford it – your kids and grandkids will have to pay the tab – with interest.


Joseph October 2, 2008 at 8:45 am


Good call. I actually meant that it would eventually fall on someone to pay back. Whether that’s my kids or my grandkids it’s hard to say. Inflation is definitely a big concern right now though. Thanks for the comment!


Gina Curtis October 2, 2008 at 11:47 am

You make some great points. I am not looking forward to having to pay more taxes — especially since I didn’t have a vote in whether or not to bail out Freddie and Fannie.

Gina Curtiss last blog post..Spooky Wedding or Lifetime of Misery?


Blake October 3, 2008 at 4:52 am

What a fitting time for us to be studying the money supply in macro 366. lol.

I know you’ll almost certainly be proven right about now being a great time to begin investing in broad indexes, but hardly anybody thinks that way. I think of all these people plunging into their 401k’s and IRA’s right now; talk about digging a financial grave.

Warren Buffett gives me some hope though. He amassed his fortune buying when nobody else would, and lo and behold he’s at it again. That’s encouraging.

Blakes last blog post..Tracking My Expenses:


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