2011-12-22wsj.com

The Securities and Exchange Commission's lawsuits against six top executives of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, announced last week, are a seminal event.

For the first time in a government report, the complaint has made it clear that the two government-sponsored enterprises (GSEs) played a major role in creating the demand for low-quality mortgages before the 2008 financial crisis. More importantly, the SEC is saying that Fannie and Freddie--the largest buyers and securitizers of subprime and other low-quality mortgages--hid the size of their purchases from the market. Through these alleged acts of securities fraud, they did not just mislead investors; they deprived analysts, risk managers, rating agencies and even financial regulators of vital data about market risks that could have prevented the crisis.

The lawsuit necessarily focuses on 2006 and 2007, the years that are still within the statute of limitations. But according to the SEC complaint, the behavior went on for many years: "Since the 1990s, Freddie Mac internally categorized loans as subprime or subprime-like as part of its loan acquisition program," while its senior officials continued to state publicly that it had little or no exposure to subprime loans.

The GSEs began acquiring large numbers of subprime and other low-quality loans in the mid-1990s, as they tried to comply with the government's affordable-housing requirements--quotas for mortgage purchases imposed by the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) under legislation enacted by Congress in 1992.

These quotas initially required that, of all the loans bought by Fannie and Freddie in any year, 30% had to have been made to borrowers earning at or below the median income in their communities. The quotas, however, would increase--they rose to 40% in 1996, 50% in 2000, and 55% in 2007. HUD also added and raised quotas for "special affordable" loans that were to be made to borrowers with low or very low incomes (in some cases a mere 60% of the area median income).

...

Relying on the research of my colleague Edward Pinto at the American Enterprise Institute, I stated in my dissent from the majority report of the Financial Crisis Inquiry Commission that there were approximately 27 million subprime and other risky mortgages outstanding on June 30, 2008, and a lion's share was on Fannie and Freddie's books. That has now been largely confirmed by the SEC's data.


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