Internal Warnings Sounded on Loans At Fannie, Freddie

Former chief executive Daniel Mudd of Fannie Mae.
Former chief executive Daniel Mudd of Fannie Mae. (Mark Wilson - Getty Images)
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By Zachary A. Goldfarb
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Internal Freddie Mac documents show that senior executives at the company were warned years ago that they were offering mortgages that could pose dangers to the firm, hurt borrowers and generate more risky loans throughout the industry.

At Fannie Mae, top executives were told it was necessary to develop "underground" efforts to buy subprime mortgages because of competitive pressures, although there were growing risks and borrowers often didn't understand the terms of the loans, documents show.

The House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, which has the documents, is holding a hearing today to discuss Fannie and Freddie's downfall. The companies were seized by the government three months ago after nearly collapsing in the wake of billions of dollars of losses on mortgages.

In a memo to former Freddie chief executive Richard F. Syron and other top executives, former Freddie chief enterprise risk officer David Andrukonis wrote that the company was buying mortgages that appear "to target borrowers who would have trouble qualifying for a mortgage if their financial position were adequately disclosed."

Andrukonis warned that these mortgages could be particularly harmful for Hispanic borrowers, and they could lead to loans being made to people who would be unlikely to pay them off. "The potential for the perception and the reality of predatory lending with this product is great," Andrukonis wrote.

The documents, which the committee has not yet released but were obtained by The Washington Post, show that Fannie and Freddie, two linchpins of the nation's mortgage market, continued to push into new, risky markets despite internal debate over whether the efforts were prudent.

Fannie and Freddie declined to comment, as did Andrukonis. Syron's lawyer did not respond to messages left with his secretary and an e-mail message sent to him. Daniel H. Mudd, Fannie's former chief executive, declined to comment as well.

Syron and Mudd -- as well as their predecessors, Leland Brendsel at Freddie and Franklin D. Raines of Fannie -- are scheduled to testify today before the House panel, as will a number of other outside analysts.

When the government took over the mortgage finance giants, it announced it was installing new management and creating a $200 billion fund to support the companies in case they faltered further.

Fannie and Freddie's distress has its roots in the new, risky mortgages the companies bought and guaranteed in increasing numbers, largely from 2004 through 2007. These new products included home loans made to people with blemished credit histories, called subprime loans, and mortgages made without verification of income, assets or employment, often called Alt-A.

As Mudd's and Syron's decisions have been called into question, they have described their push into these new areas of the mortgage business as an inevitable consequence of dueling mandates to support affordable housing and maximize profit for shareholders. And they've said that the collapse of the housing market was unforeseeable and the primary reason behind the company's fall.

But the documents show how top executives at both companies were told that the new subprime and Alt-A loans were dangerous both to the companies and to the borrowers they were charted by Congress to help.

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