“The System Works,” Says Fannie Mae CEO

Speaking at the Rotary Club of Atlanta with Fannie Mae chairman Egbert Perry yesterday, Fannie Mae president and CEO Tim Mayopoulos took the opportunity to defend the GSEs and argue that they have proven their worth in the years since the financial crisis.

“Fannie Mae was able to repay the taxpayer within five years. It is sustainable,” said Mayopoulos, reports Maria Saporta for The Atlanta Business Chronicle. “The system works. Any new system being discussed would involve a lot of change and would have a huge amount of risk. It’s important for policymakers to consider how much change do you want to introduce after the crisis when things have stabilized.”

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Housing a ‘fundamental societal need,’ says Mayopoulos

Now, when the housing market is neither in crisis nor booming, is arguably the best time to introduce systemic changes, but there is still the unanswered question of what would come next. Going beyond the role that Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac specifically play, he sees a role for government in the mortgage market because owning a home is a “fundamental societal need”. Fannie Mae alone has provided $4.3 trillion in liquidity to the mortgage market since 2009, when private lenders had no interest in taking on such long-term risk at low rates. It has also managed to pay $134.5 billion in dividends in return for the $116.1 billion bailout that it received in from the US Treasury, though Fannie Mae is technically unable to repay its debt (it doesn’t have the right to repurchase Treasury’s senior preferred stock).

Fannie Mae longs will be happy to hear Mayopolous’s remarks

Some Fannie Mae bulls, such as Richard Bove, say that the administration is quietly changing its stance on the GSEs and now wants to keep them around to buttress the housing market and help meet affordable housing goals. Some of the signs they point to may seem like a stretch, but here we have a clear example of someone inside (and right at the top) arguing that the GSEs should continue to function more or less as they are. Mayopoulos didn’t comment on whether they should exit conservatorship, but his comment that Fannie Mae has repaid the taxpayers is suggestive.

It’s also interesting that he made those comments just a couple of days before President Obama’s housing speech scheduled for this Thursday. Perhaps we’re going to get a bigger break from previous policy than expected.