Parsing the Losers in Fannie, Freddie Bailout
It's going to take some time to determine just who the real winners are in the federal government's move to place Fannie Mae (FNM) and Freddie Mac (FRE) into conservatorship -- outside of debt holders, of course, who now have the full faith and credit of the U.S. government on their side. But for homeowners and the broader financial markets, the picture is less clear. What is clear is who the immediate losers are. That would be holders of the company's common and preferred equity, both of whom seem likely to be left out in the cold; less clear is if either group will be content to stay that way. FTN Financial Capital Markets analyst Jim Vogel said this morning that most of the preferred shares at each GSE "were issued in the last months because the Treasury encouraged the GSEs to raise capital and OFHEO said they were adequately capitalized." Which certainly would seem to bring up a good faith issue up for those who bought preferred issues, at the very least. Common equity holders like FMR, LLC, the parent company of Fidelity Investments, however, may have less of a leg to stand on. FMR held more than $1.5 billion in common shares of Fannie and Freddie, according to filings with the Securities and Exchange Commission; those shares are now essentially worthless. Beyond FMR, well-known Legg Mason fund manager Bill Miller did what now appears to be the unthinkable and upped his stake in Freddie Mac just ahead of the Treasury's move to put the company into conservatorship; last week, Legg Mason disclosed that it had bought an additional 30 million common shares in the GSE, when the stock was trading at roughly $5 per share. Among preferred shareholders, JP Morgan Chase & Co. (JPM) said on Aug. 25 in a filing with the SEC that it held approximately $1.2 billion par value of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac perpetual preferred stock, which it had marked to $600 million; it's likely that any holdings will be further marked down after Sunday's bailout. Philadelphia-area regional lender Sovereign Bancorp (SOV) holds about $588 million of the securities, about 13 percent of its tangible capital, according to a story in the New York Times. Midwest Banc Holdings (MBHI), a community bank in Illinois, holds preferred shares equal to more than one third its tangible capital. Both banks saw their shares tank Monday, despite a broader surge in equities on the heels of the bailout. Even Wells Fargo & Co. (WFC) holds a material amount of Fannie/Freddie preferred equity, according to previous published reports. The FDIC said Sunday that it would look to help those banks hurt by their equity positions in either GSE. "Any negative impact will be narrowly focused only on a few smaller institutions. Regulators will be working closely with those few banks to develop capital plans to assist their recovery," FDIC chairwoman Sheila Bair said in a statement. "All institutions are reminded that investments in preferred stock and common stock with readily determinable fair value should be reported as available-for-sale equity security holdings, and that any net unrealized losses on these securities are deducted from regulatory capital," a joint release from financial regulators said. Rating agency A.M. Best reported recently that insurers hold roughly $4 billion in equity in both GSEs; Citigroup analyst Joshua Shanker said Sunday in a research note that Hartford Financial Services Group Inc. (HIG) held $511 million of preferred stock as of July 14, according to Reuters. American International Group Inc. (AIG) may hold as much as $3 billion worth of exposure to preferred equity in the GSEs, Shanker estimated, although he noted that AIG's portfolio was likely well diversified to handle the hit. Genworth Financial, Inc. (GNW) -- now the nation's largest mortgage insurance underwriter -- said on Monday that it had reduced its total holdings of senior debt in both Fannie and Freddie to $119 million, down from from $141 million at the end of June. It also had reduced its preferred stock holdings to $72 million from $126 million, the company said, and held no common stock in either GSE. Genworth's total preferred stock holdings represent one tenth of one percent of its total investment portfolio of approximately $72 billion, according to a company statement. Disclosure: The author was long FRE and held no other positions when this story was published; indirect holdings may exist via mutual fund investments, as well. HW reporters and writers follow a strict disclosure policy, the first in the mortgage trade.