Unraveling the Freddie-Fannie Tangle l ProPublica

Unraveling the Freddie-Fannie Tangle

The taxpayer-backed mortgage giants, Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae, play a huge and growing role in the economy yet are riven by conflicts of interest and clashing goals. (Pablo Martinez Monsivais/AP Photo)

by Jesse Eisinger and Cora Currier
ProPublica, Jan. 2, 2013, 10:09 a.m.

In the aftermath of the financial crisis, American taxpayers poured $187.5 billion into two huge but poorly understood companies: Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae. Now controlled by the government, the companies play an even larger role in the economy than they did before the crisis and their bailout, but they are riven by conflicts of interest and clashing goals. Are they private companies, only out to increase their profits, or are they instruments of government policy, dedicated to keeping home ownership available?

ProPublica has focused on the tensions within Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae, as well as those besetting their regulator, the Federal Housing Finance Agency (FHFA).

NPR’s Chris Arnold and ProPublica revealed that Freddie Mac had placed multibillion-dollar bets that pay off only if homeowners stay trapped in expensive mortgages with interest rates well above current rates. Freddie began increasing these bets dramatically in late 2010, the same time that the company was making it harder for homeowners to get out of such high-interest mortgages.

The scoop, “Freddie Mac Bets Against American Homeowners,” caused an immediate firestorm. As countless media outlets picked up the story, multiple senators criticized the company and wrote to Edward DeMarco, the acting head of the FHFA, calling for an investigation into the transactions and the company’s activities.

The FHFA responded, saying it had told Freddie not to make any more transactions in the kind of securities at issue, called inverse floaters. The agency said it had “identified concerns regarding the controls, including risk management, surrounding the inverse floaters.” The agency did not specify those “concerns,” but said Freddie agreed in December that “these transactions would not resume pending completion of [FHFA’s] examination work.” The statement also said that Freddie had ceased making the deals earlier in 2011 but did not explain why.

 

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