As GSEs, the companies had some explicit benefits, such as a line of credit from the U.S. Treasury.
But their real advantage was implicit. Because of their special ties to the government, the agencies were able to access funds from the market at rates that were lower than their competitors, and they came to dominate the market in the '90s.
Fannie and Freddie became extremely powerful politically and dodged regulation and criticism by lobbying heavily and using their affordable housing mission as a trump card.
The GSEs were, however, increasingly required to meet affordable housing goals set by the Department of Housing and Urban Development. By 2001-03, the agencies were required to ensure that half of the mortgages they purchased were made to low-income and underserved borrowers.But by 2005, the agencies found that they were steadily losing market share to commercial banks, investment banks and non-bank companies who also began buying and securitizing home loans. The private sector had looser underwriting standards than the GSEs and they increasingly made loans to sub-prime borrowers and borrowers with little or no documentation and securitized them. Meanwhile, the agencies were also struggling to meet their affordable housing goals. So in 2005, they too began to loosen their underwriting standards and started buying mortgages made to borrowers with little documentation and poorer credit, in a quest to regain market share as well as meet the affordable housing goals set by Congress and regulators. When the housing bubble burst, the agencies racked up billions of dollars in losses. Like all the big banks that nearly failed on Wall Street, they were undercapitalized. In the summer of 2008, the markets began to question the solvency of the agencies as the financial crisis deepened. On Sept.6, 2008, the government announced the agencies were to be placed in "conservatorship." It did not put the agencies in receivership which would have wiped out shareholders and triggered the liquidation of the GSEs. The government wanted to avoid taking the GSEs' debt on to its balance sheet. It also feared that placing them in receivership would add further turmoil to a jittery market. Less than 10 days later, Lehman Brothers filed for bankruptcy.