Unstructured Finance

Berkowitz, Ackman bets on Fannie and Freddie puzzle investors and policy buffs

On Thursday, the United States threw cold water on Bruce Berkowitz’s daring proposal to recapitalize mortgage finance behemoths Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, saying the only way to revamp the home loan market is through proper housing finance reform.

Berkowitz’s Fairholme Capital Management said it wants to buy the mortgage-backed securities insurance businesses of Fannie and Freddie by bringing in $52 billion in new capital, in a bid to resolve the uncertain future of the mortgage financiers by freeing them from U.S. government control. For its part, the government said the way forward would be to create a new housing finance system in which private capital would play a pivotal role.

Up until a few days ago, the idea that the government would hand Fannie and Freddie back to private investors seemed unlikely. Now, the idea appears all but dead. This appears to be bad news for a number of well-known money managers – the most prominent of which are Fairholme and Bill Ackman’s Pershing Square – which recently scooped up shares in both companies.

“When you talk to anybody in Washington, there is an almost universal view that Fannie and Freddie should be a part of the past, that it is a broken model, and also that private investors in Fannie and Freddie shouldn’t realize any returns from those investments,” said Colin Teiccholtz, the co-head of fixed income trading at $14 billion Pine River Capital Management, in New York this week at the Reuters Global Investment Outlook Summit. He described a bet on a stock that relied on taking Fannie and Freddie private as “extreme optimism.”

On Friday, Ackman told Bloomberg TV that he sees “greater opportunity” in Fannie and Freddie common shares than their preferreds. He also said that his firm does not support Berkowitz’s plan.

Cleveland Fed leads in measuring stress

By Matthew Goldstein

 When you think of Cleveland, finance isn’t the first thing that comes to mind.

 If you’re old enough or a rock-and-roll historian, you might say DJ Alan Freed (and i don’t mean DJ as in electronic dance music).1 Or maybe, the old adage  “mistake by the Lake” comes to mind.

But the Cleveland Fed is breaking some new ground with its new and improved financial stress index. In time, I wouldn’t be surprised if the Cleveland Financial Stress Index becomes a regular go to index for traders–especially macro and volatility types. And it probably won’t be long before someone is modeling some algo to track the CFSI performance if it hasn’t already been done.

The amazing shrinking pile of non-agency mortgage debt

By Matthew Goldstein

Many cash-strapped, unemployed or underemployed people are still struggling with too much consumer and household debt. But there is one kind of debt that is getting smaller and smaller–mortgage bonds issued during the U.S. housing bubble by Wall Street banks and finance firms that isn’t guaranteed by either Fannie Mae of Freddie Mac.

The outstanding dollar value of  so-called private label residential mortgage bonds, or non-agency mortgage debt, is $909 million, according to stats compiled by CoreLogic and mutual fund firm Doubleline Capital. At its peak in July 2007, the total of private label mortgage debt was $2.2 trillion.

In July 2007, the financial crisis began in earnest as ever-so-late-to-game rating agencies began downgrading en massse a whole range of private label mortgage debt, much of which was backed by mortgages taken out by borrowers with either iffy credit histories or who put almost no money down for a home. As we all know the market for private mortgage debt shut-down and only now is beginning to show the first signs of coming to life–or green shoots as some might say.

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