A new report from Bloomberg's Austin Weinstein states that Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac may be freed from government control even if Congress doesn’t pass a housing-finance overhaul.
The statement came in an interview with the new head of the Federal Housing Finance Agency, Mark Calabria, who said lawmakers will get "more than sufficient time" to come up with a plan of their own.
Weinstein reports that the comments are a "clear sign that regulators and President Donald Trump’s administration aren’t counting on a legislative solution after more than a decade of failures to address the biggest piece of unfinished business from the 2008 financial crisis."
Lawmakers will get "at least an entire Congress" to act before the companies are freed, said Calabria, who took over at FHFA last month.
"That would put the target date beyond the 2020 presidential election," Weinstein adds.
The implication of Calabria's announcement is huge. One of the main reasons the government-sponsored enterprises did not yet get considered for a full release back into the public sector is the notion of a lack of political will to do so.
The previous administration left the GSEs to funnel money to the Treasury, only to never pay down their bailout — unusual for a rescued financial institution. The reasons for this special treatment were never fully understood, though conspiracy theories are not in short supply.
Calabria's decision would therefore circumvent the potential for further political gridlock on housing agency reform, and could actually result in an element of progress, which would be a new addition to the debate.
In the meantime, Fannie and Freddie continue to provide capital to the federal government, as they continue to post profits.
From the Bloomberg report:
"Since 2012, all of their profits have been sent to Treasury in a so-called net worth sweep that Calabria has said he has no immediate plans to end. He said he’s open to building capital quickly through initial public offerings for the companies, but isn’t certain that could generate all the capital they’d need.
“Even if it was the largest IPO in history it’s not clear that that could do that in one fell sweep,” he said. Eventually, capital ratios at Fannie-Freddie would need to “look like any other large financial institution,” he said.
Even given sufficient time, housing-finance legislation may not have enough support to pass a divided Congress. Multiple efforts to reform the system have failed in the years since the crisis, leaving the uncertain status of the mortgage giants the largest piece of unfinished business from that era."