I’m sure you’ve seen the names “Fannie Mae” and “Freddie Mac” in the new more recently. Yes, these are the tools with which our government has long been playing a con on us. And we, the taxpayers, are going to be left with the bag.
What Americans need to know is how damaging such a failure would be. This wouldn’t merely be a matter of the Federal Reserve guaranteeing $29 billion in dodgy mortgage paper, a la Bear Stearns. Fannie and Freddie are among the largest financial companies in the world. Their liabilities – mortgage-backed securities (MBSs) and other debt – add up to some $5 trillion.
To put that in perspective, consider that total U.S. federal debt is about $9.5 trillion, compared to a total U.S. GDP of $14 trillion. About $5.3 trillion of that debt is held by the public (in the form of Treasury bonds and the like), while $4.2 trillion is intragovernment debt such as Social Security IOUs. This is the liability side of America’s federal balance sheet, and its condition influences how much the government can borrow and at what rates.
The liabilities of Fan and Fred are currently not on this U.S. balance sheet. [yeah, congress removed them!] But one danger is a run on the debt of either company, putting pressure on the Treasury and Federal Reserve to publicly guarantee that debt to prevent a systemic financial collapse. In an instant, what has long been an implicit taxpayer guarantee for both companies would be made explicit – committing American taxpayers to honoring as much as $5 trillion in new liabilities. U.S. debt held by the public would more than double, and the national balance sheet would look very ugly.
and (emphasis mine)…
The assumption was that the taxpayer guarantee would never have to be honored, just as everyone before the savings and loan debacle thought deposit insurance would rarely have to be paid. But these political bills always come due.
The double irony amid the current credit crunch is that our politicians have been promoting Fannie and Freddie as mortgage saviors even as their risk of insolvency has grown. Chuck Schumer, Chris Dodd and many others have encouraged the duo to take on even greater mortgage risk as the housing slump has unfolded. They’re the arsonists posing as firemen while putting more dry tinder around the blaze.
Read the whole thing. *sigh*