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Morgan Stanley Latest Band-Aid Over Fannie, Freddie's Bullet Hole


Mortgage giant bleeds cash, seeks new capital.


It looks like all those short-sellers might have been on to something.

Freddie Mac (FRE), the beleaguered mortgage giant that was just weeks ago on the brink of collapse, released second quarter results this morning that were nothing short of abysmal. Along with the financial backing of you, me and all the other US taxpayers, the government-sponsored enterprise now has:

  • $831 million loss or $1.63 per share, compared with net income of $729 million a year ago.

  • Revenue fell 28% to $1.69 billion compared to last year.

  • $2.5 billion in credit loss provisions and $1 billion in mortgage-related writedowns.

  • Board approval to slash dividends from $0.25 per share to "$0.05 or less".

  • The intention to raise $5.5 billion or more in fresh capital.

Although the company currently meets capital requirements demanded by its regulator, the Office of Federal Housing Enterprise Oversight, it may fall below those levels if the housing and credit markets continue to deteriorate.

Last month, shares plunged on fears that Freddie and its larger cousin Fannie Mae (FNM) would crumble under the weight of mounting losses in their massive mortgage portfolios. The Treasury Department tried to shore up confidence by demanding Congressional approval to support the 2 companies, should the need arise.

Treasury announced this week it had hired Morgan Stanley (MS) to help sort out the mess and assess the two companies' financial positions.

It takes a very active imagination to think a company capitalized with just $37 billion to support more than $2 trillion in U.S. mortgage debt is anything resembling stable.

Although Fannie and Freddie managed to avoid buying the worst of the subprime mortgages originated during the housing boom, many equally toxic Alt-A and other non-prime loans made it onto their balance sheets. Even marginally savvy originators were able to exploit their automated underwriting and risk systems, resulting in the loss of billions of dollars from questionable loans.

Fannie and Freddie are now paying for their transgressions - or rather, the American taxpayer is paying, since Congress gave Treasury Secretary Hank Paulson what amounts to a blank check to bail out the two failed companies.

The only questions left are: When will Fannie and Freddie collapse, and what form will they take thereafter?

Many advocate for privatization, splitting the firms into several publicly traded companies. Others, mindful of the Federal government's tendency to privatize profits and socialize losses, expect outright nationalization.

One near-certainty, irrespective of the outcome of their current crisis, is that Fannie and Freddie's ability to keep mortgages rates artificially low will be greatly reduced. That doesn't bode well for anyone considering buying a house in the next 20 years.

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