Monday, September 8, 2008

US Taxpayers Cover Freddie's Fannie

The US taxpayer is going to insure the financial solvency of two public companies. Sounds a bit odd. So odd, that Jim Rogers of Rogers Holding proclaims, " (the U.S. is )more communist than China right now."

According to the Wall Street Journal Print edition ("US Seizes Mortgage Giants", Sept. 8, 2008, A1)

"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 provided funding for around three-quarters of new home mortgages."

What is person to think? Should the government be meddling in a publicly-traded company's solvency? Is it right to have the government backing the fortunes of shareholders? Is there some greater good at stake to make this more palatable?

Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae are federally-chartered, publicly traded companies. Both companies' missions are to make home ownership more affordable, as well as making financing more reliable. Sounds good, right? Ah, but the catch is that when government is in the business of making things "more affordable," it presumes that the market can't do that effectively, thus creating constraints and other conditions not present in the market, which may or may not increase risk.

While millions of Americans have benefited from home ownership, and world financial markets have benefited from the buying of mortgage-backed securities (until recently), it would appear that these businesses have been a success. However, with flood of loose mortgages and the collapse of the credit market, maybe these "affordable" mortgages weren't such a good idea.

But they were! When the government chartered the businesses, it assumed the risks via the conditions placed on Freddie and Fannie. While there has been considerable legislative debate over their existence, they have provided the financing for millions of mortgages. However, it is time to pay the piper, and that is just what the government did, step in and put US taxpayer money on the line to pay for a system set up over four decades ago.

Right, wrong, or indifferent, when the government proposes interference in the free market, it is up to the citizens to either approve or disapprove of the action. US taxpayers should view this situation with great concern and think long and hard about the value of these two institutions.

I don't presume to have an answer, but I am willing to hear the arguments for both sides and would like to see more detailed analysis to make an informed decision.

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