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Did Fannie Mae Bail Out Bank of America?


Fannie Mae agreed to buy the mortgage servicing rights of a portfolio of loans from BofA, but the purchase price is unknown because absolutely no one is talking.

Why is no one in Congress up in arms over the possibility of a half-a-billion-dollar bailout of Bank of America (BAC) last month?

Early in August, Fannie Mae (read: taxpayers) agreed to buy the mortgage servicing rights (MSRs) of a portfolio of 400,000 loans with an unpaid principal balance of $73 billion from Bank of America. In exchange for these rights to collect payments from homeowners in this portfolio, Bank of America reportedly received "more than $500 million."

Strangely, the actual purchase price is unknown. So, too, are the contents of the mortgage portfolio, because neither Fannie Mae, its regulator the Federal Housing Finance Agency, nor the selling bank itself is talking.

Whatever the quality of the MSRs, though, Fannie Mae stands to lose a bundle if President Obama's national refinance program, proposed officially in his jobs speech last week, is pushed forward by the White House and Treasury. Anything that causes borrowers to refinance or prepay mortgages causes the value of MSRs to decline. A revamp of the Home Affordable Refinance Program-which has so far been a total failure-to streamline reducing interest rates would significantly reduce the value of the recently purchased MSRs overtime and possibly lead to serious losses beyond just delinquencies.

Of course, discussion of a more streamlined refinance program has been on the table for months now. Fannie Mae and its regulator, the Federal Housing Finance Agency, knew about this possibility and went ahead with the deal anyway. Considering the lack of transparency and the possibility for millions in losses for Fannie (i.e., taxpayers) on this deal, the transaction is more than a little suspicious.

At least five or six private financial institutions were given access by Bank of America to analyze the mortgage portfolio and perform due diligence before potentially bidding on the MSRs. However, Bank of America didn't wait for even a single competing bid. Perhaps Bank of America decided that Fannie Mae's offer was far above anything it could get from the private sector. Or even worse, perhaps Bank of America knew the delinquency risks in the portfolio were so high that no private actor would want to consider acquiring such a toxic asset.

If either of these cases turned out to be true, the Fannie Mae offer amounts to nothing less than a bailout. And if the government did overpay for the MSRs, the only possible reason is that the Treasury wanted to infuse Bank of America with cash to keep it stable.
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