Yes, I know. It’s hard to believe. Fannie Mae continues to lose money and, even more surprisingly, isn’t likely to ever pay taxpayers back for all of the billions that it already has squandered. Rather, it says it will need more bail-out funds – probably another $110 billion this year alone.
Fannie Mae reported yesterday that it lost $23.2 billion in the first three months of the year as mortgage defaults increasingly spread from risky loans to the far-larger portfolio of loans to borrowers who have been considered safe.
The massive loss prompts a $19 billion investment from the government to keep the firm solvent, on top of a $15 billion investment of taxpayer money earlier this year.
The sobering earnings report was a reminder of the far-reaching implications of the government’s takeover in September of Fannie Mae and the smaller Freddie Mac. Losses have proved unrelenting; the firms’ appetite for tens of billions of dollars in taxpayer aid hasn’t subsided; and taxpayer money invested in the companies, analysts said, is probably lost forever because the prospects for repayment are slim.
But the government remains committed to keeping the companies afloat, because it is relying on them to help reverse the continuing slide in the housing market and keep mortgage rates low.
Even as the government bailout of banks appears to be leveling off, the federal rescue of Fannie and Freddie is rapidly growing more expensive. Fannie Mae said that the losses will continue through at least much of the year and that it “therefore will be required to obtain additional funding from the Treasury.” Analysts are estimating that the company could need at least $110 billion.
Freddie Mac, which has been in worse financial shape than Fannie Mae and has obtained $45 billion in taxpayer funding, will report earnings in coming days.
The response of policymakers in the administration and Congress to this fiscal debacle? Silence. No surprise there, since many of them helped create the very programs that continue to bleed taxpayers dry.
Alas, this isn’t the first time that the federal government has promoted a housing boom and bust. Instead, writes Steven Malanga in Investor’s Business Daily:
This cycle goes back nearly 100 years. In 1922, Commerce Secretary Herbert Hoover launched the “Own Your Own Home” campaign, hailed as unique in the nation’s history.
Responding to a small dip in homeownership rates, Hoover urged “the great lending institutions, the construction industry, the great real estate men … to counteract the growing menace” of tenancy.
He pressed builders to turn to residential construction. He called for new rules that would let nationally chartered banks devote a greater share of their lending to residential properties.
Congress responded in 1927, and the freed-up banks dived into the market, despite signs that it was overheating.
The great national effort seemed to pay off. From mid-1927 to mid-1929, national banks’ mortgage lending increased 45%. The country was becoming “a nation of homeowners,” the Times exulted.
But as homeownership grew, so did the rate of foreclosures, from just 2% of commercial bank mortgages in 1922 to 11% in 1927.
This happened just as the stock market bubble of the late ’20s was inflating dangerously. Soon after the October 1929 Wall Street crash, the housing market began to collapse. Defaults exploded; by 1933, some 1,000 homes were foreclosing every day.
The “Own Your Own Home” campaign had trapped many Americans in mortgages beyond their reach.
Financial institutions were exposed as well. Their mortgage loans outstanding more than doubled from the early 1920s to 1930 — $9.2 billion to $22.6 billion — one reason that about 750 financial institutions failed in 1930 alone.
The only serious option is to close down all of the money-wasting federal programs and laws designed to subsidize home ownership. A stake through the hearts of Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac, Federal Housing Administration, and Community Reinvestment Act, to start. Otherwise the cycle is bound to be repeated, again to great cost for the ever-suffering taxpayers.