Fannie Mae's and Freddie Mac's Voluntary Initiatives: Lessons from Banking

W. Scott Frame and Larry D. Wall
Economic Review, Vol. 87, No. 1, 2002

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The federal government has an interest in the financial stability of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac because of their importance to financial markets and the government's implicit guarantee of their liabilities.

In October 2000 these two housing government-sponsored enterprises (GSEs) announced six voluntary initiatives. One initiative would enhance market discipline by having the GSEs issue subordinated debt. A second would boost liquidity by having the GSEs maintain a liquid securities portfolio. The other four initiatives would increase transparency by having the GSEs disclose their credit and interest rate losses under certain scenarios, obtain a credit rating for the government's exposure to loss, and disclose whether the GSEs comply with certain capital adequacy standards.

This article evaluates the initiatives from the perspective of current banking standards. The analysis suggests that the initiatives are beneficial but could be made more effective. The authors point out that the contribution of the subordinated debt initiative depends largely on whether investors believe the implicit guarantee extends to subordinated debtholders. The need for the liquidity initiative has not been established, the authors conclude, and can be criticized as allowing the GSEs to earn a credit spread. The most important of the disclosure initiatives, the one for interest rate risk, will provide some new information but could be more informative if it summarized a wider set of interest rate scenarios.

February 2002