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How Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac Helped Create the U.S. Housing Market Bubble

Housing-Market / US Housing Jul 30, 2009 - 02:37 PM GMT

By: Money_Morning

Housing-Market

Shah Gilani writes: Fannie Mae (NYSE: FNM), originally designated as a "government-sponsored enterprise" (GSE), was born in 1938 as a child of U.S. President Franklin Delano Roosevelt's Great-Depression-fighting "New Deal," and was designed to stimulate mortgage lending.


Fast-forward 30 years. In 1968, Fannie Mae shares were sold to the public to help finance the Vietnam War.

Freddie Mac (NYSE: FRE), also a GSE, was created by Congress in 1970 to compete with the growing - but monopolistic - Fannie Mae.

Both firms were successful, profitable and made steady money by charging a fee to guarantee mortgage-originators against homeowner defaults. Their combined guarantees totaled almost $3.7 trillion at the end of 2008.

They also developed high standards for loans that they themselves would buy and then package into mortgage-backed securities (MBS). They sold these pools of "conforming" loans to institutional investors and made even bigger profits as the MBS business exploded.

It all changed in the 1990s for Fannie and Freddie. Intensely competitive banks and investment banks aggressively rounded up their own pools of mortgage loans to package and sell to eager investors. Non-bank originators - the largest and most aggressive of which was Countrywide Financial Corp. (NYSE: BAC) - were eager to supply the growing demand for mortgages to be pooled and sold to investors

The resulting "velocity" of mortgage money meant that competition for good borrowers became tremendous as easy and cheap money flooded the economy. To keep mortgage origination pipelines full, standards began to fall. New products were created to entice new borrowers. Subprime, Alt-A, Pick-A-Pay, adjustable rate mortgages (ARMS), and a host of other offerings brought in lower quality borrowers who eagerly bet the farm their homes and their futures on the rising real estate bubble's ascent to investment and speculative heaven.

 In the end, however, real estate was merely the latest financial bubble, which burst like all of its predecessors.

[Editor's Note: For additional insights on how Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac will short-circuit Fed Chairman Ben S. Bernanke's so-called "exit strategy," please click here to check out an additional story, which appears elsewhere in today's issue of Money Morning.

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