Fannie and Freddie Bet Paying Off

An article in The Wall Street Journal reports that increased government rhetoric regarding the possible privatization of mortgage-finance giants Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac has led to a surge in paper profits for some hedge fund investors.

Lawmakers have tried (and failed) to revamp the firms–which buy mortgages from lender and package them for issuance as securities–since they were placed in conservatorship during the 2008 financial crisis. The article reports that recent statements indicating the government plans to move in this direction have led to a surge in the price of common shares by more than 170% this year.

“There is no guarantee a deal to end conservatorship will come to fruition,” the article states, adding that the issue is “politically fraught” and that a change in the status of these firms could harm mortgage pricing and availability for many Americans. That said, “should the plan go forward,” it explains, “it would conclude the biggest unresolved legacy from the financial crisis—what to do with the failed mortgage-finance companies—and partly determine whether hedge funds wind up profiting from their wagers.”

According to the article, hedge funds, which primarily own preferred shares of the firms, have been banking on recouping close to 100 cents on the dollar (the total face value of preferred shares is estimated at more than $30 billion). They believe that a restructuring of the firms would boost a sluggish housing market and “move liability from taxpayers to private shareholders,” the article says.

“To help their bet,” the article reports, “fund managers and analysts have made regular visits to Treasury and Congress, kept investment staffers in Washington and hired specialist public relations firms.”