The Corner

Pain in the Fannie

Fresh on the heels of Freddie Mac’s request for another $10 billion or so between friends, Fannie Mae will be asking for an additional $8.4 billion from the government after reporting an $11.5 billion Q1 loss.

Fannie’s losses were driven partly by accounting changes but also reflected continuing weakness in the housing market. The quarterly loss was an improvement from the $23.5 billion loss for the first quarter of 2009 and marked the 12th consecutive quarterly loss for the Washington-based firm.

Over that time, the company has had losses totaling nearly $148 billion, or nearly double its profits for the previous 35 years. The government’s tab for Fannie Mae will climb to $84 billion, and its tab for both Fannie and Freddie will reach $145 billion. The government took control of both companies in 2008 through a legal process known as conservatorship as rising losses threatened to wipe out their thin capital reserves.

While many of the nation’s biggest banks have repaid their government loans and some are back to racking up big profits, red ink continues to gush from Fannie and Freddie because of their massive exposure to defaulting home loans.

The companies are exposed to a single asset class, holding nearly $5.5 trillion in mortgages and loan guarantees. Unlike many financial companies, they lack profitable sidelines that could be sold off to help dig themselves out of their holes.

Meanwhile, rejecting Republicans calls to wind down Fannie and Freddie as part of the financial reform bill currently under debate in the Senate, Sen. Mark Warner (D., Va.) said the Democrats plan to get to the GSEs sometime next year.

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