Financing Fannie

| Sat Oct. 4, 2008 12:42 PM PDT

FINANCING FANNIE....The New York Times continues "The Reckoning" today, its series of stories about the origins of the credit crisis. Today's piece about Fannie Mae makes a couple of things clear. First, Fannie wasn't in any way the cause of the crisis, it was merely following Wall Street's lead. Angelo Mozilo, the head of mortgage giant Countrywide Financial, made that clear to Fannie's CEO, Daniel Mudd, in 2004:

Mr. Mozilo, who did not return telephone calls seeking comment, told Mr. Mudd that Countrywide had other options. For example, Wall Street had recently jumped into the market for risky mortgages. Firms like Bear Stearns, Lehman Brothers and Goldman Sachs had started bundling home loans and selling them to investors — bypassing Fannie and dealing with Countrywide directly.

"You're becoming irrelevant," Mr. Mozilo told Mr. Mudd, according to two people with knowledge of the meeting who requested anonymity because the talks were confidential. In the previous year, Fannie had already lost 56 percent of its loan-reselling business to Wall Street and other competitors.

"You need us more than we need you," Mr. Mozilo said, "and if you don't take these loans, you'll find you can lose much more."

Second, this was a bipartisan screwup. Democrats and Republicans were both eager to keep the housing market bubbly:

Capitol Hill bore down on Mr. Mudd as well...."When homes are doubling in price in every six years and incomes are increasing by a mere one percent per year, Fannie's mission is of paramount importance," Senator Jack Reed, a Rhode Island Democrat, lectured Mr. Mudd at a Congressional hearing in 2006. "In fact, Fannie and Freddie can do more, a lot more."

....The White House also pitched in. James B. Lockhart, the chief regulator of Fannie and Freddie, adjusted the companies' lending standards so they could purchase as much as $40 billion in new subprime loans. Some in Congress praised the move.

"I'm not worried about Fannie and Freddie's health, I'm worried that they won't do enough to help out the economy," the chairman of the House Financial Services Committee, Barney Frank, Democrat of Massachusetts, said at the time. "That's why I've supported them all these years — so that they can help at a time like this."

The whole piece is worth reading.

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