Senators Warn Against Suspending Fannie, Freddie DividendsBy
Bipartisan group says an action would hurt legislative efforts
FHFA official says dividend payment will be made on Friday
Letting the U.S.-controlled mortgage giants build capital buffers would hurt legislative efforts to overhaul the housing-finance system, the senators said in a letter Wednesday.
The letter to Watt, who is director of the Federal Housing Finance Agency, was signed by Republicans Bob Corker of Tennessee and Thom Tillis of North Carolina, as well as Democrats Mark Warner of Virginia, Heidi Heitkamp of North Dakota and Jon Tester of Montana.
The lawmakers said they wrote to “express our concern regarding any administrative action that would adversely impact” legislative efforts underway in Congress.
Some housing-finance watchers have warned that Fannie or Freddie could require taxpayer funds if a corporate tax cut, supported by Donald Trump’s administration, passed Congress. Such a cut could lower the value of assets the companies have to offset taxes.
Fannie and Freddie were bailed out in 2008 and have been under FHFA control since then. Under the current terms of their bailout agreement, they pay nearly all of their profits as dividends to the Treasury and have a declining capital buffer. That buffer fell to $600 million this year and is slated to fall to zero next year, meaning any losses the companies experience would necessitate a draw from taxpayers.
A move to suspend dividends would be sure to cheer investors in Fannie and Freddie stock, who view capital retention as an initial step to realizing value on their shares. Retaining capital has also been urged for years by some small lenders, civil rights groups and affordable-housing advocates who say Fannie and Freddie provide their best chance at broad access to the mortgage-finance system. Those groups sent Watt a letter calling for a dividend suspension earlier this month.
An FHFA spokeswoman said the companies would make their expected dividend payments of about $10 billion on Friday.