Now raising intellectual capital
It’s hard to keep all the U.S. housing agencies straight. Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac are still basket cases relying on government support, while the Federal Housing Administration and its partner, Ginnie Mae, are setting off alarm bells with their more aggressive efforts to support overstretched homeowners.
But the Federal Home Loan Banks, a government-sponsored
enterprise (GSE) that is the lesser-known cousin to Fannie and Freddie, is one to watch — particularly as small regional banks grapple with deteriorating loan portfolios and fewer financing alternatives.
The FHLB is a system of 12 regional banks that provide cheap financing — thanks to the government’s implicit backing — to its 8,100 member banks. Set up during the Depression to support the home real estate market, the FHLB’s primary mission is still firmly rooted in making sure home buyers have access to credit by giving banks the funding they need to extend loans.
Some of the FHLB’s branches, however, made the classic bad investment choice during the credit market boom: They loaded up on subprime mortgages. Unlike Fannie and Freddie, the FHLB wasn’t forced by the subsequent losses into the arms of the government, but they have put a damper on their lending, according to Ben Garber, economist at Moody’s Investors Service.