In his latest update on Federal National Mortgage Association (OTCBB:FNMA), Richard Bove of Rafferty Capital Markets examines the implications of the winding up of Federal National Mortgage Association (OTCBB:FNMA), and its sibling Federal Home Loan Mortgage Corp (OTCBB:FMCC), in the event politicians in Washington have their way.
Read about ValueWalk’s previous coverage on this issue here.
Washington’s ‘too-big-to-fail’ fears
Earlier this month, National Economic Council Director Gene Sperling said President Barack Obama would reject proposals by hedge funds to take over Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. “I want to make clear, the Obama administration believes the risks are too great that this model would recreate the risks of the past,” he said. He clarified that their size and infrastructure would enable the two GSEs to stifle competition and raise entry barriers within the securitization market. “All of us should fear that we could re-create a duopoly that the market would perceive as too-big-to-fail market entities with an implicit government guarantee, the core of the failed GSE business model we are trying to replace,” he said.
Hedge funds investors such as Bill Ackman and Bruce Berkowitz have acquired substantial chunks of the publicly available common and preferred stock in the two companies and have proposed to take over their business.
Bove on the implications
Bove’s research finds the practical realities of the mortgage finance business make the government’s proposed actions untenable. The simple fact is that the 20/30-year FRMs, essential elements of America’s housing finance industry, would cease to exist in the absence of buyers such as Freddie and Fannie.
Says Bove, “In the past week I have contacted a small number of large banks and asked whether they would originate and hold 20 and 30 year self-amortizing, fixed-rate mortgages if there was no Fannie Mae or Freddie Mac. The universal answer was “No!””
This is because no bank would be willing to assume the risk on such long-duration, fixed rate loans that could become instantly unprofitable in the event of a rise in interest rates. “Banks might make 15 year self-amortizing mortgages but it is very unlikely that they will carry fixed rates. The standard mortgage in the United States is like to be a 10-year, self-amortizing, adjustable-rate mortgage,” says Bove.
The fallout on the housing market if the 20/30-year FRMs vanish would be colossal. The cost of owning a home would rise and this could trigger a collapse in housing prices, with the attendant adverse effect on the country’s economy.
Not likely, says Bove
According to its latest earnings release, Fannie Mae has funded the mortgage market with approximately $3.9 trillion in liquidity since 2009, enabling families to buy, refinance, or rent a home.
The implications of simply winding up Fannie and Freddie are therefore just too huge to make it practical. “To my way of thinking, the impact will be so profoundly negative that it will not happen. The elimination of these instruments would, in fact, be enough to finally get the majority of Congress thrown out. Thus, I do not believe that Fannie and Freddie will go away despite all of the regulations, white papers and bills mandating their elimination. The question is what form they will take if they stay,” says Bove in his note.
Privatization the only route
According to Bove, the most plausible solution is for Fannie Mae, subject to court rulings, to “be put back in the private sector.”
Bruce Berkowitz’s Fairholme Capital Management LLC proposed to buy the mortgage-backed securities insurance businesses of Fannie and Freddie in exchange for preferred stock worth $34.6B held by Fairholme, Paulson and other investors. Fairholme also proposed to raise another $17.3B through a rights offering, in a bid to preserve the future of the GSEs by freeing them from U.S. government control.
Bill Ackman’s Pershing Square Capital Management LP also bought common stock stakes of 9.98% in Fannie Mae and 9.77% in Freddie Mac earlier this month.
This is not an investment for the faint of heart. “There could be a 500% price appreciation opportunity in this stock if I am right. If I am wrong the value is zero,” says Bove.