Freddie Mac: Political Risk

August 18th, 2012 by Potato

When I first talked about Freddie Mac, political risk was one of the things I highlighted that might undermine what otherwise looked like an attractive long-shot bet. The US government has been requiring that Freddie Mac (and its sibling GSE, Fannie Mae) borrow more money than they need, and pay a punitive 10% interest rate on that — a worse deal than the TBTF banks who arguably had more to do with the cause of the global financial crisis. Part of what lead to the excess borrowing was the fact that Freddie’s been over-reserving for years now. It looks as though they’re getting to the point where even the most conservative accountants realize that those excess reserves will start unwinding, which will enable Freddie to start paying back the government — and after that, the preferred shareholders.

So it looks like the main investing thesis was playing out.

Unfortunately that political risk reared it’s head this week as the government announced it would change the deal to instead confiscate all future profits. I have no idea why the government decided to nationalize the GSEs but not AIG or the TBTF banks, or why they decided to change the deal at this late stage, just as the profitability was re-emerging. I suppose I’ll just have to pray they don’t decide to alter the deal any further.

I’m not quite sure what that means in terms of the preferreds being paid back, but my first take on it is that they’ll be worthless. The market seems to be equally panicked, as most issues were down about 60% on Friday.

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