Tuesday, August 26, 2008

MBS Deep Freeze

According to various sources, the GSEs Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac have been buying somewhere between eighty and ninety percent of all mortgages recently. This has led to very rapid growth of their mortgage portfolios. Just a few weeks ago, this report appeared in Newsday:

Fannie Mae, the largest provider of funding for U.S. residential mortgages, on Wednesday said it grew its investment portfolio in June at the fastest annualized rate in nearly five years.

Fannie Mae's mortgage portfolio increased at a
22.8 percent annualized rate to $749.6 billion in June, from $736.9 billion in May, the Washington-based company said in a statement.

The government-sponsored enterprise (GSE) has been boosting growth in its investments since its regulator earlier this year began easing requirements on capital it must hold against the assets. Lawmakers consider such purchases by Fannie Mae and rival Freddie Mac as playing a key role in supporting the U.S. housing market that is going through a wrenching downturn.
What a difference a month makes. Buried deep inside a Bloomberg article today, we find this:

Freddie's portfolio expanded at a 9.8 percent annualized rate to $798.2 billion in July, the slowest since March. The holdings may shrink this month based on forward commitments, according to the company's monthly volume summary today. Fannie expanded to $758 billion, an annual rate of 14.4 percent, the smallest increase since April.

The declining demand from the federally chartered companies, the biggest buyers of home loan securities, is sending mortgage prices lower and causing home loan rates to increase.

``It's become pretty obvious that they're not going to be able to grow going forward,'' said Walt Schmidt, a mortgage-bond strategist at FTN Financial Capital Markets in Chicago. ``Without a capital raise, you're not going to see a major recovery in'' mortgage securities.

Growth went from north of 20%, to low double or high single digits, then possibly to NEGATIVE in just a few months. It is a tribute to the speed with which leveraged pyramid schemes fail once the confidence is gone. Since the massive growth of the GSE portfolios was unable to arrest the rapid fall in bloated housing prices, the removal of this prop and sidelining the buyer of last resort is likely to result in another down leg in prices and unit sales.

Although Treasury Secretary Paulson pushed the GSE bailout bill through Congress by saying he needed a bazooka so he wouldn't have to use it, the market appears to have called his bluff. The problem is that many commercial banks hold Fannie and Freddie preferred stock as part of their capital. Simply guaranteeing the debt does nothing for the preferred it would be wiped out in the re-organization - adding another hit to capital and more failed banks. Government purchases of preferred stock would be less bad for the banks but they would still be diluted and have less capital. Only purchasing common stock would leave the preferred (and bank capital) intact. But that would bail out the management and prevent a much, needed re-organization of the companies. More to the point, it would also be seen as a pure bailout and politically very damaging heading into a national election.

There has been very little reason for the credit inflation crowd to cheer lately and the rapid growth of the GSE portfolios was one of the few bright spots for them. This growth appears to be done as well. The Shadow Banks are now shattered banks as off balance sheet vehicles are unwound and hedge funds shut their doors. We should expect to see even more of the later in the near future. The WSJ reports that July was the worst month ever for the Morningstar 1000 hedge fund index at negative 3.07%.