As lawmakers haggle over new sweeping reforms for thefinancial services sector, I read last week that mortgage financing concernFreddie Mac petitioned the Treasury for an additional $10.6 billion, a requestthat came shortly after thegovernment-sponsored albatross posted its third straight quarterly loss- this one a mere $6.7 billion of red ink.
Now I've written on a number of occasions in this spaceabout how Freddie Mac and its sibling Fannie Mae, perhaps more than any otherfactor, contributed to the housing collapse. The fact that these two are not inline for immediate reform is so disturbing as to be almost comical.
By 2008 their portfolios had swelled so far out ofcontrol and their lending guidelines so egregious that the government wasforced to place them into conservatorship, where they pledged to keep thesealbatrosses afloat for a minimum of three years.
While much of the public read and were rightly outragedby taxpayer bailouts of automakers such as General Motors and Chrysler, itshould be noted that those two companies combined received $77 billion.
By contrast, the government's largesse to Fannie andFreddie to date has been $126 billion. And if the Treasury gives Freddie itsmoney, that figure balloons to $136.6 billion.
Want more encouraging numbers?
Last year, Freddie Mac posted a loss of $9.8 billion. In10 of the last 11 quarters, the entity has lost a total of $82 billion - whichis roughly TWICE the amount it earned over the past 30 years.
No, that's not a misprint.
For fiscal 2009, the total debt outstanding was $8.1trillion. And again that's not an error.
One need only to survey the U.S. and see countlesspockets of home foreclosures - courtesy of incredibly shabby credit guidelinesgiven to wannabe owners who would not possibly make the payments, much lessunderstand terms such as adjustable rate mortgage.
According to the Wall Street Journal, despite all theSanta Claus type lending, the percentage of households owning homes increased amere 4 percentage points since the 1970s. Add to that the fact that despite theoceans of red ink, the top executives at these companies were obscenelycompensated.
So not only should their balance sheets and executive payprompt outrage, but their overall purpose and effectiveness as well.
Perhaps more galling is the fact that the same lawmakers(Frank, Schumer, Dodd) who are exhorting financial reform are many of the samecast members who protected these two failing enterprises much in the samemanner as parents would an anti-social child.
But there may be hope.
A trio of GOP Senators, Richard Shelby of Alabama, JuddGregg of New Hampshire and John McCain of Arizona have introduced an amendmentthat would force the government to give up control of Fannie Mae and FreddieMac within two years. It would also finally strip the pair of their mandate topromote affordable housing and mercifully reduce the government's role in themortgage finance sector.
You cannot address serious financial reform withoutincluding Fannie and Freddie in the equation and passage of this amendmentwould be a critical first step.
Anything short of that would be like a plumber patchingfrequent leaks instead of replacing a useless and antiquated water main.
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