U.S. makes $25 billion on sale of mortgage-backed securities

The Obama administration announced Monday that taxpayers made $25 billion in profit on a program to keep mortgage interest rates down in the wake of the 2008 meltdown in financial markets.

Building on efforts that began under President Bush, the Obama administration took a number of steps to keep the mortgage market operating after the real estate market crashed, including providing unlimited financial support to mortgage-finance giants Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac and buying $225 billion in securities backed by mortgage loans.

The $25 billion profit came from the sale of these mortgage-backed securities and underscores the administration’s success in winding down some of the emergency government programs undertaken during the financial crisis. The vast majority of banks that received aid from taxpayers, for instance, have paid back the investments with interest, while the auto industry is continuing to show strength after it was bailed out.

Although government efforts helped make sure borrowers could continue to get affordable financing to buy homes during the recession, other elements of the administration’s response to the housing crisis have proven less favorable for taxpayers and existing homeowners.

Fannie and Freddie, for example, are expected to cost taxpayers more than $100 billion in the end, with little hope of that money being paid back. And the administration’s efforts to help homeowners have fallen far short of its expectations. Only $3.44 billion of the $50 billion the administration pledged to spend to help homeowners has been disbursed over the past three years.

In supporting the housing market, the Treasury Department bought $225 billion of mortgage-backed securities in 2008 and 2009. The purchases channeled money into the mortgage markets, helping to reduce the interest rates of home loans.

The program came after interest rates on home loans spiked in the wake of the 2008 crisis and doubts arose over whether investors around the world would continue to invest in U.S. mortgages.

The Federal Reserve launched a much larger and significant program, and now owns about $846 billion in mortgage-backed securities.

Treasury began to wind down its portfolio in March 2011 after concluding its mortgage purchase program was no long necessary.

“The successful sale of these securities marks another important milestone in the wind down of the government’s emergency financial crisis response efforts,” said Mary Miller, assistant Treasury secretary for financial markets.

“This program helped support the housing market during a critical moment for our nation’s economy and delivered a substantial profit for taxpayers,” she said.

Zachary A. Goldfarb is policy editor at The Washington Post.
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