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#887542 --- 09/23/08 05:31 PM Worth a post of its own for the critcs...
Zealot Offline
Senior Member

Registered: 07/29/08
Posts: 2016
Loc: Yates
Blame Fannie Mae and Congress
For the Credit Mess
By CHARLES W. CALOMIRIS and PETER J. WALLISON

Many monumental errors and misjudgments contributed to the acute financial turmoil in which we now find ourselves. Nevertheless, the vast accumulation of toxic mortgage debt that poisoned the global financial system was driven by the aggressive buying of subprime and Alt-A mortgages, and mortgage-backed securities, by Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. The poor choices of these two government-sponsored enterprises (GSEs) -- and their sponsors in Washington -- are largely to blame for our current mess.

How did we get here? Let's review: In order to curry congressional support after their accounting scandals in 2003 and 2004, Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac committed to increased financing of "affordable housing." They became the largest buyers of subprime and Alt-A mortgages between 2004 and 2007, with total GSE exposure eventually exceeding $1 trillion. In doing so, they stimulated the growth of the subpar mortgage market and substantially magnified the costs of its collapse.

It is important to understand that, as GSEs, Fannie and Freddie were viewed in the capital markets as government-backed buyers (a belief that has now been reduced to fact). Thus they were able to borrow as much as they wanted for the purpose of buying mortgages and mortgage-backed securities. Their buying patterns and interests were followed closely in the markets. If Fannie and Freddie wanted subprime or Alt-A loans, the mortgage markets would produce them. By late 2004, Fannie and Freddie very much wanted subprime and Alt-A loans. Their accounting had just been revealed as fraudulent, and they were under pressure from Congress to demonstrate that they deserved their considerable privileges. Among other problems, economists at the Federal Reserve and Congressional Budget Office had begun to study them in detail, and found that -- despite their subsidized borrowing rates -- they did not significantly reduce mortgage interest rates. In the wake of Freddie's 2003 accounting scandal, Fed Chairman Alan Greenspan became a powerful opponent, and began to call for stricter regulation of the GSEs and limitations on the growth of their highly profitable, but risky, retained portfolios.

If they were not making mortgages cheaper and were creating risks for the taxpayers and the economy, what value were they providing? The answer was their affordable-housing mission. So it was that, beginning in 2004, their portfolios of subprime and Alt-A loans and securities began to grow. Subprime and Alt-A originations in the U.S. rose from less than 8% of all mortgages in 2003 to over 20% in 2006. During this period the quality of subprime loans also declined, going from fixed rate, long-term amortizing loans to loans with low down payments and low (but adjustable) initial rates, indicating that originators were scraping the bottom of the barrel to find product for buyers like the GSEs.

The strategy of presenting themselves to Congress as the champions of affordable housing appears to have worked. Fannie and Freddie retained the support of many in Congress, particularly Democrats, and they were allowed to continue unrestrained. Rep. Barney Frank (D., Mass), for example, now the chair of the House Financial Services Committee, openly described the "arrangement" with the GSEs at a committee hearing on GSE reform in 2003: "Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac have played a very useful role in helping to make housing more affordable . . . a mission that this Congress has given them in return for some of the arrangements which are of some benefit to them to focus on affordable housing." The hint to Fannie and Freddie was obvious: Concentrate on affordable housing and, despite your problems, your congressional support is secure.

In light of the collapse of Fannie and Freddie, both John McCain and Barack Obama now criticize the risk-tolerant regulatory regime that produced the current crisis. But Sen. McCain's criticisms are at least credible, since he has been pointing to systemic risks in the mortgage market and trying to do something about them for years. In contrast, Sen. Obama's conversion as a financial reformer marks a reversal from his actions in previous years, when he did nothing to disturb the status quo. The first head of Mr. Obama's vice-presidential search committee, Jim Johnson, a former chairman of Fannie Mae, was the one who announced Fannie's original affordable-housing program in 1991 -- just as Congress was taking up the first GSE regulatory legislation.

In 2005, the Senate Banking Committee, then under Republican control, adopted a strong reform bill, introduced by Republican Sens. Elizabeth Dole, John Sununu and Chuck Hagel, and supported by then chairman Richard Shelby. The bill prohibited the GSEs from holding portfolios, and gave their regulator prudential authority (such as setting capital requirements) roughly equivalent to a bank regulator. In light of the current financial crisis, this bill was probably the most important piece of financial regulation before Congress in 2005 and 2006. All the Republicans on the Committee supported the bill, and all the Democrats voted against it. Mr. McCain endorsed the legislation in a speech on the Senate floor. Mr. Obama, like all other Democrats, remained silent.

Now the Democrats are blaming the financial crisis on "deregulation." This is a canard. There has indeed been deregulation in our economy -- in long-distance telephone rates, airline fares, securities brokerage and trucking, to name just a few -- and this has produced much innovation and lower consumer prices. But the primary "deregulation" in the financial world in the last 30 years permitted banks to diversify their risks geographically and across different products, which is one of the things that has kept banks relatively stable in this storm.

As a result, U.S. commercial banks have been able to attract more than $100 billion of new capital in the past year to replace most of their subprime-related write-downs. Deregulation of branching restrictions and limitations on bank product offerings also made possible bank acquisition of Bear Stearns and Merrill Lynch, saving billions in likely resolution costs for taxpayers.

If the Democrats had let the 2005 legislation come to a vote, the huge growth in the subprime and Alt-A loan portfolios of Fannie and Freddie could not have occurred, and the scale of the financial meltdown would have been substantially less. The same politicians who today decry the lack of intervention to stop excess risk taking in 2005-2006 were the ones who blocked the only legislative effort that could have stopped it.

Mr. Calomiris is a professor of finance and economics at Columbia Business School and a scholar at the American Enterprise Institute. Mr. Wallison, a senior fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, was general counsel of the Treasury Department in the Reagan administration.
_________________________
"The best argument against Democracy is a 5 minute conversation with the average voter" - unknown

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#887728 --- 09/23/08 11:33 PM Re: Worth a post of its own for the critcs... [Re: Zealot]
Dunkler Himmel Offline
Senior Member

Registered: 05/10/08
Posts: 709
Loc: Valhalla
So Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac are the only financial entities in distress? Why then are we bailing out the rest of Wall St for doing the same thing these two GSEs were doing? You can't lay the blame on just two financial entities when the whole system is a house of cards awaiting a federal handout when it collapses.
_________________________
Proud member of "sky finally got his just deserts" club, let him rot!

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#887793 --- 09/24/08 05:49 AM Re: Worth a post of its own for the critcs... [Re: Dunkler Himmel]
Offline
Gold Member

Registered: 01/09/06
Posts: 17154
FBI probing bailout firms
Investigators start search for fraud at Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac, Lehman Brothers and AIG, sources say.
By Kelli Arena, CNN Justice Correspondent
Last Updated: September 23, 2008: 11:25 PM ET
WASHINGTON (CNN) -- The FBI is investigating Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac, Lehman Brothers and AIG - and their executives - as part of a broad look into possible mortgage fraud, sources with knowledge of the investigation told CNN Tuesday.

The sources would not speak on the record because the investigation is ongoing.

FBI spokesman Special Agent Richard Kelko had no comment on that information, but said that 26 firms were currently under investigation as part of the bureau's mortgage fraud inquiry.

Earlier this month, FBI director Robert Mueller told Congress that 1,400 individual real estate lenders, brokers and appraisers were now under investigation in addition to two dozen corporations.

"The FBI currently has 26 pending corporate fraud investigations involving subprime lenders," Kelko said. "As we have seen, this number can fluctuate over time, however we do not discuss which companies may or may not be the subject of an investigation."

Previously, CNN has reported that Countrywide is part of the investigation.

The sources said the probes of Fannie (FNM, Fortune 500), Freddie (FRE, Fortune 500), Lehman (LEHMQ) and AIG (AIG, Fortune 500) are believed to be in the early stages. One source said the government would be "remiss" if it didn't look into what happened at these companies because of the financial problems they are involved in and the actions of individuals running them.

The United States is in the midst of a spiraling economic crisis fueled largely by the housing market. Earlier this decade, mortgage lenders relaxed restrictions on obtaining mortgages as home prices soared about 85 percent from 1996 through 2006 in inflation-adjusted dollars, creating a bubble. Then the bubble popped, and lenders - as well as mortgagees - took the hit.

Last week, mortgage insurer AIG narrowly avoided bankruptcy when the federal government took 80 percent of its equity in exchange for an $85 billion loan from the Federal Reserve while Lehman filed the largest bankruptcy in American history. Earlier this month, the government took over mortgage giants Fannie and Freddie.

Bank of America (BAC, Fortune 500) bought Countrywide in July. Other bank failures and takeovers have led to the Bush administration's current proposal to spend $700 billion to shore up the financial markets. The proposal is under consideration by Congress, where lawmakers from both sides of the aisle have balked at the proposal's lack of oversight provisions, among other issues.

As the mortgage industry began to unravel, the FBI, with assistance from the IRS, launched a broad investigation into mortgage fraud. In June, its Mortgage Fraud Task Force arrested more than 400 mortgage brokers, lenders, appraisers and other industry insiders who, the it said, were responsible for more than $1 billion in losses.

Last month, a Mortgage Asset Research Institute (MARI) study found that the number of fraudulent loans issued during the first three months of 2008 skyrocketed 42 percent compared with the same period in 2007.

First Published: September 23, 2008: 9:12 PM ET

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