With all the buzz about the Feds corruption probe of Gov. Illinois Rod Blagojevich it’s easy for things like this Wall Street Journal column to be missed.
Whitewashing Fannie Mae
Congress begins its self-absolution campaign.
Henry Waxman’s House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform met Tuesday to examine “The Role of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac in the Financial Crisis.” Alas, Mr. Waxman didn’t come to bury Fan and Fred, but to bury the truth.
The two government-sponsored mortgage giants have long maintained they were merely unwitting victims of a financial act of God. That is, while the rest of the market went crazy over subprime and “liar” loans, Fan and Fred claimed to be the grownups of the mortgage market. There they were, the fable goes, quietly underwriting their 80% fixed-rate 30-year mortgages when — Ka-Pow! — they were blindsided by the greedy excesses of the subprime lenders who lacked their scruples.
But previously undisclosed internal documents that are now in Mr. Waxman’s possession and that we’ve seen tell a different story. Memos and emails at the highest levels of Fannie and Freddie management in 2004 and 2005 paint a picture of two companies that saw their market share eroded by such products as option-ARMs and interest-only mortgages. The two companies were prepared to walk ever further out on the risk curve to maintain their market position.
The companies understood the risks they were running. But squeezed between the need to meet affordable-housing goals set by HUD and the desire to sustain their growth and profits, they took the leap anyway. As a result, by the middle of this year, the two companies were responsible for some $1.6 trillion worth of subprime credit of one form or another. The answer to Mr. Waxman’s question about their role in the crisis, in other words, is that they were central players, if not the central players, in the creation of the housing boom and the credit bust. Mr. Waxman released some of these documents Tuesday but kept others under wraps. Read the rest…
It’s easy to blame “Wall Street greed” for the mortgage bust, yes it played a part, but we can not ignore the roll played Congress and government regulators in creating the environment that allowed this to happen.