4 Min Read
* Regulator wants to shrink Fannie, Freddie role
* Fannie, Freddie to abandon current securitization systems
* New company could eventually be privatized (Adds background throughout)
By Margaret Chadbourn
WASHINGTON, March 4 (Reuters) - Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac will build a new joint company for securitizing home loans as a stepping stone toward shrinking the government's role in the mortgage market, the regulator of the U.S. government-controlled firms said on Monday.
"The overarching goal is to create something of value that could either be sold or used by policymakers as a foundational element of the mortgage market of the future," Edward DeMarco, acting director of the Federal Housing Finance Agency, told the National Association for Business Economics.
Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, which were bailed out by the government in 2008, help finance about two-thirds of new U.S. home loans. DeMarco is seeking to shrink their footprint and reduce risks to the taxpayers that support the mortgage giants.
Since they were seized by the government, the companies have drawn nearly $190 billion from the U.S. Treasury to stay afloat.
By creating a new securitization company, FHFA intends to pave the way for a single securitization platform and force Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac to abandon their separate systems.
The aim is to shrink the role the two government-sponsored enterprises play in the housing system in the absence of legislation from Congress or direction from the Obama administration on their future.
DeMarco said the goal is to build a single infrastructure to support the mortgage credit business.
The new company will be structured as a joint venture that is owned by Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, DeMarco told reporters on a conference call to discuss FHFA's plans.
He said the new joint venture is not expected to begin securitizing loans next year. Instead, the focus will be on creating the business and hiring staff. The company will have a separate chief executive and board.
DeMarco expects Congress will ultimately decide how the securitization platform is operated and whether it should be privatized.
"We are on a path to replace the outdated proprietary operational systems of Fannie and Freddie," DeMarco told reporters. "It could be turned to some form of a market utility."
Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac do not directly make loans. They provide financing to banks and lenders by purchasing mortgages, which they either keep on their books or package as securities which they then sell to investors with a guarantee.
DeMarco, in laying out FHFA's goals for 2013, said he also plans to start reducing Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac's role in the housing finance system by shrinking their business by 10 percent in the loan market for multifamily homes.
Fannie and Freddie will also aim to complete $30 billion in single-family credit guarantee business in 2013, sharing some of the risk with the private market. Those transactions could include mortgage insurance or other types of debt securities.
The companies will also be required to reduce the less liquid portion of their portfolio of mortgages by 5 percent next year. This goal comes on top of an existing mandate that requires Fannie and Freddie to shrink their investment portfolios over time and turn over profits to taxpayers.
Fannie Mae and Freddie suffered years of losses after the U.S. housing bubble burst, but have returned to profitability thanks to an improving housing market and their success in reducing their portfolios of poorly performing loans.
Even though the loans they have backed recently are performing well, DeMarco noted that the market was still "reliant on federal support, with very little private capital standing in front of the federal government's risk exposure."
Republicans and Democrats agree that Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac should eventually be wound down, but they have yet to find common ground on how to replace them. (Reporting by Margaret Chadbourn; Editing by Tim Ahmann and David Gregorio)