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'Wind Down' of Fannie, Freddie: 'Positive for Housing'?

By Diana Olick, CNBC Real Estate Reporter

NEW YORK ( CNBC) -- As part of its plan to "wind down" mortgage giants Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, the U.S. Treasury Department is changing the terms of the capital support agreement that kept the two afloat in the first place.

Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac were put under government conservatorship in 2008, in the wake of the housing and mortgage crash.

"With [Friday's] announcement, we are taking the next step toward responsibly winding down Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, while continuing to support the necessary process of repair and recovery in the housing market," said Michael Stegman, Counselor to the Secretary of the Treasury for Housing Finance Policy in a press release.

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Treasury officials announced they will now require the two to reduce their investment portfolios at a faster rate, 15% a year instead of the previous 10%.

The Treasury is also replacing the 10% dividend payments the two make to Treasury on its preferred stock investments with a "quarterly sweep of every dollar of profit that each firm earns going forward." Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac only became profitable again this year, the first time since the crash of the market.

"We see this as a positive for housing, as it ensures that Fannie and Freddie will remain in business," writes Jaret Seiberg of Guggenheim Partners. "Absent Fannie and Freddie, we believe housing finance will become more expensive and less available."

Seiberg also notes that this is a positive for private mortgage insurers because Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac require such insurance when a borrower puts down less than 20% in equity on a loan. Without Fannie and Freddie, the private insurers would lose a lot of business.

The announcement, however, does not really speak to the future of the GSEs, rather just rids them of a counterproductive debt repayment situation. With the former 10% dividend requirement, Fannie and Freddie, up until the past two quarters, were actually having to borrow more from the Treasury in order to pay the Treasury the dividend.

In other words, it was a circular draw that didn't make a lot of fiscal sense. Now that they are profitable, they will instead pay the profits.
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