- May 25, 2002
- Professional Status
- Certified Residential Appraiser
IT'S PERHAPS THE CRUELEST OF ironies that in the U.S. housing market's greatest hour of need, the major entity created during the Depression to bring liquidity to housing, Fannie Mae, may itself soon be in need of bailout.
Fannie, of course, occupies a curious middle ground between the public and private sector as a result of its privatization in 1968 as a Government Sponsored Enterprise, or GSE. While owned by its shareholders, Fannie is regulated by a government agency and is able to borrow money cheaply, thanks to an implicit guarantee by Uncle Sam. It uses those funds to buy and securitize home loans -- lots of them. At year end, the company owned in its portfolio or had packaged and guaranteed some $2.8 trillion of mortgages or 23% of all U.S. residential mortgage debt outstanding
But, if the truth be known, a considerable portion of Fannie's losses also came from speculative forays into higher-yielding but riskier mortgage products like subprime, Alt-A (a category between subprime and prime in credit quality) and dicey mortgages requiring monthly payments of interest only or less. For example, Fannie's $314 billion of Alt-A -- often called liar loans because borrowers provide little documentation -- accounted for 31.4% of the company's credit losses while making up just 11.9% of its $2.5 trillion single-family-home credit book. Fannie was clearly looking for love -- and market share -- in some of the wrong places.