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U.S. Seizes Mortgage Giants

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JAMES R. HAGERTY, RUTH SIMON and DAMIAN PALETTA
Wall St Journal
Monday, Sept 8, 2008

In its most dramatic market intervention in years, the U.S. government seized two of the nation’s largest financial companies, taking direct responsibility for firms that provide funding for around three-quarters of new home mortgages.

Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson announced plans Sunday to take control of troubled mortgage giants Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac and replace the companies’ chief executives. The Treasury will acquire $1 billion of preferred shares in each company without providing immediate cash, and has pledged to provide as much as $200 billion to the companies as they cope with heavy losses on mortgage defaults. The Treasury’s plan puts the two companies under a conservatorship, giving management control to their regulator, the Federal Housing Finance Agency, or FHFA.

With that, the U.S. mortgage crisis entered a new and uncharted phase, potentially saddling American taxpayers with billions of dollars in losses from home loans made by the private sector. Bush administration officials argued that the cost of doing nothing would be far greater because of the toll on the economy of falling home prices and defaults in the $11 trillion U.S. mortgage market.

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Mr. Paulson noted that more than $5 trillion of debt and mortgage-backed securities issued by Fannie and Freddie is owned by central banks and other investors world-wide. “Failure of either of them would cause great turmoil in our financial markets here at home and around the globe,” Mr. Paulson said.

By taking this action, the government has seized control of the vast bulk of the secondary market for home mortgages and will have a more direct responsibility than ever for solving the housing crisis. The intervention also marks the failure of the public-private experiment that was created to boost home ownership among Americans. Fannie and Freddie were created by Congress to help prop up the housing market, and investors have long believed the government would bail the companies out in a crisis. But the companies have long been owned by private shareholders seeking to maximize profits.

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This article was posted: Monday, September 8, 2008 at 12:50 pm





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