Fannie and Freddie Shareholders: Hedge Funds vs. Government

The two best performing stocks this year are two names no one would have expected. After peaking at return in excess of 1400% in May, shares of Fannie Mae (FNMA) and Freddie Mac (FMCC) are up over 600% year-to-date.

Fannie Mae



What’s Behind the Rise of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac?

Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac’s recent resurgence and subsequent rise from near bankruptcy during the 2008 financial crisis may evolve into one of the most interesting stories in finance. When the U.S. Government put Fannie and Freddie in conservatorship, it seized virtually all of the value in the government-sponsored entities. Common shares had their voting rights temporarily suspended. Government awarded itself warrants worth 80% of the common equity in the two GSEs in exchange for a cash infusion via preferred stock. Congress essentially took control.

It was at that point the market for the stock ceased to exist. Government would own any and all decisions, and presumably all the cash flows from the company’s vast portfolio of mortgage securities. Fannie and Freddie were broke and destined to be broke, investors thought.


What’s Happened Since

It turns out that Fannie and Freddie weren’t exactly broke. In fact, a rising home market served as the catalyst for profits. The GSEs earn billions of dollars each year, but the government’s getting all of it. Previously, the GSEs would have the option to repay bailout funds over time, drawing the balance of the loan to zero. The terms were changed in 2012, when the government forced the GSEs into a position where every payment from Fannie and Freddie is treated as a simple dividend. The result is that no matter how much Fannie and Freddie earn, it all goes to the U.S. Treasury. The debt cannot be repaid. All cash will flow to the U.S. Treasury and, as it stands today, investors have zero claim to either GSE’s profitability.


Hedge Funds Enter the Fray

A laundry list of world-class investors have entered into the trade. Bruce Berkowitz owns a stake worth roughly $2.5 billion at par value, which is the largest position I’ve heard of yet. Portfolio managers are banking on the long odds that government allows Fannie and Freddie to record a profit, pay back the sums government invested during the financial crisis, then make dividend payments to preferred and common stock holders just like any other company. Famed investors say that if it worked with AIG (the government converted its preferred shares to common stock to later sell out) then it should work with Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac.

Consider it a lottery ticket; the market does. Preferred shares with an almost ubiquitous par value of $25 trade all around $5 each. Should the government allow the GSEs to repay their bailout debt, dividends could once again flow to preferred shareholders. The preferreds, which offer yields well above current interest rates, would immediately shoot to par value.


GSE Profits Won’t Flow to Shareholders

Make no mistake: Fannie and Freddie are very, very profitable. Fannie, which claimed an extra $50 billion in income from a reversal of tax losses, earned pre-tax income of $8.1 billion in the first quarter of 2013. Freddie earned $4.6 billion in net income at the same time. Of course, neither company has anything to show from the gain. All cash generated goes to government. Other preferred shareholders and common stock holders have no claim to earnings.

It’s a lottery, not an investment

Fannie and Freddie can and should pay off the US government’s initial cash infusions. However, the political will to make Fannie and Freddie public again doesn’t seem to exist. Congress has no reason to sell its position as part of an IPO to recapitalize both companies seeing as all profits flow to the Treasury, reducing the deficit. There are only two ways to make any money in Fannie or Freddie. Either the Treasury will have to give up a very valuable perpetuity received in dividends, or investors will have to beat the government in court. Neither outcome seems all that likely.

If you’re on the prowl for a lottery ticket stock, the trading in Fannie and Freddie common shares ensure a wild ride. Expect nothing more than a binary result – you’ll either lose it all or double or triple up. As an alternative, the preferred securities are much safer (but very likely still money losers), trading at a fraction of par value.

What are your thoughts on Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac?

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  1. says

    This isn’t the first time either of these two stocks have had run ups, and this particular case study is an example of a stock being tied to company “too big to fail”. If an investor is willing out wait out an extreme dip in the stocks, it is likely the government will help “fix” the situation and give the stock a chance to recover. Free market my balls.

  2. Roger says

    Extremely biased article here. As if the government can just choose to take control of companies permanently in a capitalist society? This is not Nam, there are rules here people.

  3. Larry says

    The US Government, Obama, democratic controlled Congress are stealing from investors.

    They are calling for the eradication of FNMA because they created the real estate problems. Well as usual they are mis-informed. FNMA is not an originator but purchased supposedly A or better paper from banks, mortgage companies etc. the very ones that are paying back billions for packaging low quality mortgages as A or better rated and sticking FNMA with the loans. Congress wants to give the banks the control of the mortgage markets. No 30 year mortgages. Total bank control…….sounds like a good idea……..not!
    FNMA has nearly paid back the $ received during the recession. Yet Obama and the Congress will not turn the company back to public ownership.
    They took over FNMA with out allowing or giving due notice to stockholders. However, they left the common stock to trade yet insist there is no value.
    I have shares of FNMA and they as well as the old General Motors were “Blue Chip” investment for my retirement. Well, I am 65 and now through these debacles, I get to work until I just drop dead.
    How can a government seize a public traded company with no concern for the stock holders. What is stop them from seizing Apple because they make too much money……………that would not happen, but it is the same premise. Taking something they did not own. We call Bernie Madoff a crook.

    The media should jump on this “like a new ride at 6 Flags”

  4. Mike says

    Article left out one little detail, to release Fannie & Freddie from conservership, Treasury makes the decision to do so. No IPO needs to take place, no law suits to the supreme court, no congressional votes. Treasury has sole right and privilege to get up one day and say: you’re no longer in conservership, your debt is paid, our mortgage system is no longer in shambles, it’s ok to start trading on the exchange again… which is probably what will happen.

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