There is a close-to-truth joke currently circulating around the HousingWire
Spoiler alert: It's not funny.
OK, stop me if you've heard this before: A spaceship lands in the States during the last quarter of 2007 and the alien aboard demands, "take me to your leader, the one who leads your mortgage markets." Everyone responds by pointing the finger to someone else: "He's the leader." "No, I'm not the leader--she's the leader." And so it goes.
Time warp to today. Now, when the same alien lands and wants to be taken to whomever is in charge of mortgages, everyone in the room raises their hand. The desire to be held accountable for the mortgage finance markets has suddenly shifted from 'not me!' to 'me! me! me!'
There is a certain power vacuum that's played a part in making this a possibility. Notably, the FHFA is without independent oversight
. And I wonder if anyone else is looking over the shoulder of the decisions of the regulatory movers and shakers.
When the nation's housing crisis began, the one thing the market feared was massive regulatory changes. That's certainly become a reality, and it does not look close to ending any time soon. But regulatory enthusiasm and attention doesn't always mean market clarity.
The House Financial Services Committee
chair, Barney Frank (D-MA), went on record this week suggesting that agency MBS investors should not automatically expect a federal guarantee
against potential losses. Yet, way back in 2008, the Treasury said certain investments are backed by the government
. And the Treasury was quick to offer a "clarification" of Frank's remarks, too.
The point is that a guarantee is, of course, only as good as the institution upholding it. And in the case of the U.S., there has been a whole lot of guaranteeing as of late. The Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation
, for example, saw no problem with slapping a government guarantee to its new found fancy of structuring bonds from the assets of failed banks
. In many ways, to market sources, the transformation (poof!) of a bank insurer into a bond issuer left two questions on the magic of it all:
Is no one intrigued by how a federal insurer can suddenly become a federal issuer of structured notes?
Or is no one left in a position to be intrigued?
As I mentioned, this joke about who's in charge of our mortgage markets isn't really funny any more--especially considering that when our proverbial alien first landed years ago, everyone seemed eager to get as far away as possible from securitization.
And as for our newsroom's ability to act as a public watchdog--a mandate arguably implied under First Amendment right--today's story on a lawsuit to publicize the operations of the GSEs contains a quote of enormous clarity from Judicial Watch president Tom Fitton
“Apparently, American taxpayers are paying the tab for the collapse of Fannie and Freddie, but are not allowed to ask any questions about why it happened. When it comes to Fannie and Freddie, the Obama Administration is saying, in effect, ‘None of your business.’”
Well, I guess that finally answers who's in charge, doesn't it?
Jacob Gaffney is managing editor of HousingWire.com and HousingWire Magazine.