Colin Barr

Following the money in banking, economics, and Washington

Freddie Mac sees no housing recovery soon

November 3, 2010: 10:05 AM ET

Freddie Mac lost $2.5 billion in the third quarter and said it will be a "considerable time" before the housing market recovers.

The McLean, Va., company asked the government for $100 million to shore up its balance sheet in its latest draw on its credit line with Treasury. That is the smallest sum Freddie has asked for since the government put it in conservatorship in September 2008.

Haldeman isn't holding his breath

Freddie (FMCC), which has been majority owned by taxpayers since its rescue two years ago, has received $64 billion in federal funds so far and expects to take more in coming periods as house prices fall and more borrowers default.

Freddie Mac said the amount it set aside to cover credit losses tumbled by more than half, to $3.7 billion in the latest quarter from $8 billion a year earlier. The company said 3.8% of borrowers were 90 days or more late on payments at Sept. 30, down from 3.96% in June.

But that good news was tempered by the observation that more late borrowers are defaulting on their loans.

During the third quarter, the company continued to see slowdowns in new single-family delinquencies, a reduced volume of newly modified loans subject to individual impairment, and higher expected recoveries from mortgage insurers; however, those improvements were largely offset by worsening default probabilities.

The company's CEO, Charles Haldeman, was appropriately subdued in his commentary.

"As we near the end of 2010, the housing market remains fragile, and has recently come under renewed pressure from slowing economic growth, weaker employment and foreclosure uncertainties," Haldeman said. "We believe that it will be a considerable time until the housing market has a sustained recovery."

The company was able to ask Treasury for a check that amounts to just 4% of its latest-quarter loss because falling interest rates drove up the value of its securities portfolio, increasing the company's worth.

But the increase in its net worth was less than the $1.6 billion Freddie owed the government as a quarterly dividend on its preferred stock investment in the company, so Freddie was forced to ask for the latest handout.

Supporters of Freddie and its big sister Fannie Mae (FNMA) have been pushing Treasury to reconsider the terms of its dealings with the companies. They sell the government preferred shares in exchange for any federal funds they receive, but then must pay 10% of that sum annually to the feds in dividends.

The National Association of Realtors wrote in a letter to Treasury this summer that paying the dividends interferes with the companies' duties in supporting the housing market.

The pushback comes at a time when the administration and a newly Republican House are likely to consider quite different approaches to restructuring the companies and the U.S. housing market.

"Eliminating a punitive dividend is a step that should be taken now, regardless of how the GSEs may be restructured in the coming years," NAR said.

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About This Author
Colin Barr
Colin Barr
Senior Writer, Fortune

Colin Barr has covered finance for Fortune.com since November 2007. Previously he was a writer and editor for TheStreet.com, winning a 2006 Society of American Business Editors and Writers award for "The Five Dumbest Things on Wall Street," and for Dow Jones Newswires. He is a 1991 graduate of Penn State and lives in Port Washington, N.Y., with his wife Meena Bose and their two kids.

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