Mortgage: Everything you need to know....and more!

Who is Freddie Mac?

The Federal Home Loan Mortgage Corporation (FHLMC), known as Freddie Mac (NYSE: FRE), is a government sponsored enterprise (GSE) of the United States federal government. Freddie Mac has its headquarters in the Tyson's Corner CDP in unincorporated Fairfax County, Virginia.

The FHLMC was created in 1970 to expand the secondary market for mortgages in the US. Along with other GSEs, Freddie Mac buys mortgages on the secondary market, pools them, and sells them as a mortgage-backed security to investors on the open market. This secondary mortgage market increases the supply of money available for mortgage lending and increases the money available for new home purchases. The name, "Freddie Mac", was an acronym of the company's full name that had been adopted officially for ease of identification (see "GSEs" below for other examples).

On September 7, 2008, Federal Housing Finance Agency (FHFA) director James B. Lockhart III announced he had put Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac under the conservatorship of the FHFA (see Federal takeover of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac). The action has been described as "one of the most sweeping government interventions in private financial markets in decades".

Moody's gave Freddie Mac's preferred stock an investment grade rating of A1 until August 22, 2008 when Warren Buffett said publicly that both Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae had tried to attract him and others. Moody's changed the credit rating on that day to Baa3, the lowest investment grade credit rating. Freddie's senior debt credit rating remains Aaa/AAA from each of the major ratings agencies Moody's, S&P, and Fitch.

As of the start of the conservatorship, the United States Department of the Treasury had contracted to acquire US$1 billion in Freddie Mac senior preferred stock, paying at a rate of 10 percent a year, and the total investment may subsequently rise to as much as US$100 billion.

Home loan interest rates may go down as a result and owners of Freddie Mac debt and the Asian central banks who had increased their holdings in these bonds may be protected. Shares of Freddie Mac stock, however, plummeted to about one U.S. dollar on September 8, 2008. The yield on U.S Treasury securities rose in anticipation of increased U.S. federal debt.

History

From 1938 to 1968, the Federal National Mortgage Association (Fannie Mae) was the sole institution that bought mortgages from depository institutions, principally savings and loan associations, which encouraged more mortgage lending and effectively insured the value of mortgages by the US government. In 1968, Fannie Mae split into a private corporation and a publicly financed institution. The private corporation was still called Fannie Mae and its charter continued to support the purchase of mortgages from savings and loan associations and other depository institutions, but without an explicit insurance policy that guaranteed the value of the mortgages. The publicly financed institution was named the Government National Mortgage Association (Ginnie Mae) and it explicitly guaranteed the repayments of securities backed by mortgages made to government employees or veterans (the mortgages themselves were also guaranteed by other government organizations). To provide competition for the newly private Fannie Mae and to further increase the availability of funds to finance mortgages and home ownership, Congress then established the Federal Home Loan Mortgage Corporation (Freddie Mac) as a private corporation through the Emergency Home Finance Act of 1970. The charter of Freddie Mac was essentially the same as Fannie Mae's newly private charter: to expand the secondary market for mortgages and mortgage backed securities by buying mortgages made by savings and loan associations and other depository institutions.

The Financial Institutions Reform, Recovery, and Enforcement Act ("FIRREA") of 1991 revised and standardized the regulation of both Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. Prior to this act, Freddie Mac was owned by the Federal Home Loan Bank System and governed by the Federal Home Loan Bank Board, which was reorganized into the Office of Thrift Supervision by the Act. The Act severed Freddie Mac's ties to the Federal Home Loan Bank System, created an 18-member board of directors, and subjected it to HUD oversight.

In 1995, Freddie Mac began receiving affordable housing credit for buying subprime securities, and by 2004, HUD suggested the company was lagging behind and should "do more."

Freddie Mac was put under a conservatorship of the U.S. Federal government on Sunday, September 7, 2008.

Business

Freddie Mac's primary method of making money is by charging a guarantee fee on loans that it has purchased and securitized into mortgage-backed security bonds. Investors, or purchasers of Freddie Mac MBS, are willing to let Freddie Mac keep this fee in exchange for assuming the credit risk, that is, Freddie Mac's guarantee that the principal and interest on the underlying loan will be paid back regardless of whether the borrower actually repays.

Both Alan Greenspan and Ben Bernanke have spoken publicly in favor of greater regulation of the GSEs, because of the size of their holdings and the widespread perception that they are government backed. Freddie Mac is currently regulated by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) and its Office of Federal Housing Enterprise Oversight (OFHEO). The United States House of Representatives passed HR 1427 (Federal Housing Finance Reform Act of 2007) to consolidate oversight for Freddie, Fannie, and the Federal Home Loan Banks into a single regulator.

Conforming loans

The GSEs are allowed to buy only conforming loans, which limits secondary market competition for non-conforming loans. The law of supply and demand accordingly renders the non-conforming loan harder to sell (fewer competing buyers); thus it would cost the consumer more (typically 1/4 to 1/2 of a percentage point, and sometimes more, depending on credit market conditions). OFHEO annually sets the limit of the size of a conforming loan in response to the October to October change in mean home price. Above the conforming loan limit, a mortgage is considered a jumbo loan. The conforming loan limit is 50 percent higher in such high-cost areas as Alaska, Hawaii, Guam and the US Virgin Islands, and is also higher for 2-4 unit properties on a graduating scale.

Guarantees and subsidies

In mid July 2008 there was widespread speculation that the US government would move to provide Freddie Mac with additional guarantees of capital, because of widespread instability in the financial markets and public perceptions of looming insolvency. On Sunday July 13 The Secretary of the Treasury announced that the US government would seek legal permission to invest in Freddie Mac, which it later obtained as part of a Congressional housing bill. In addition, the Federal Reserve offered Freddie access to its emergency borrowing facility, the Discount Window (see also press release of the Fed), a resource traditionally reserved for banks. While, many are calling this move tantamount to a bailout, the Treasury has not yet invested in Freddie Mac and has in fact announced that it has no plans to do so; rather, the Congressional permission constituted a last-resort.

No actual guarantees

The FHLMC states, "securities, including any interest, are not guaranteed by, and are not debts or obligations of, the United States or any agency or instrumentality of the United States other than Freddie Mac." The FHLMC and FHLMC securities are not funded or protected by the US Government. FHLMC securities carry no government guarantee of being repaid. This is explicitly stated in the law that authorizes GSEs, on the securities themselves, and in public communications issued by the FHLMC.

Assumed guarantees

There is a widespread belief that FHLMC securities are backed by some sort of implied federal guarantee and a majority of investors believe that the government would prevent a disastrous default. Vernon L. Smith, 2002 Nobel Laureate in economics, has called FHLMC and FNMA "implicitly taxpayer-backed agencies." The Economist has referred to "the implicit government guarantee" of FHLMC and FNMA.

The then-director of the Congressional Budget Office, Dan L. Crippen, testified before Congress in 2001, that the "debt and mortgage-backed securities of GSEs are more valuable to investors than similar private securities because of the perception of a government guarantee."

Federal subsidies

The FHLMC receives no direct federal government aid. However, the corporation and the securities it issues are thought to benefit from government subsidies. The Congressional Budget Office writes, "There have been no federal appropriations for cash payments or guarantee subsidies. But in the place of federal funds the government provides considerable unpriced benefits to the enterprises. Government-sponsored enterprises are costly to the government and taxpayers. The benefit is currently worth $6.5 billion annually."

Subprime adjustable rate loans

Freddie Mac announced on February 27, 2007 that it will buy a subprime adjustable rate mortgage only if the borrower qualifies for the maximum rate of the loan, rather than merely a low introductory (so-called teaser) rate.