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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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At Fannie, chief credit officer Adolfo Marzol wrote to chief executive Mudd in March 2005 to warn that entering new areas of the mortgage market represented significant risks. The industry was pushing new types of loans, he wrote, including those that required little documentation and those that carried rates that would adjust in a few years.

"The combination of these risks may be difficult for subprime borrowers to understand," Marzol wrote.

Marzol also warned that securities backed by these loans might not be as safe as they seemed. Fannie reported them as carrying the top grade given by credit-rating agencies, AAA, but Marzol cast doubt on that. "Although we invest almost exclusively in AAA rated securities, there is concern that rating agencies may not be properly assessing the risk in these securities," he wrote.

Despite these concerns, Fannie continued to push into this new market. A business presentation in 2005 expressed concern that unless it didn't, Fannie could be relegated to a "niche" player in the industry. Mudd later reported in a presentation that Fannie moved into this market "to maintain relevance" with big customers who wanted to do more business with Fannie, including Countrywide, Lehman Brothers, IndyMac and Washington Mutual.

The documents suggest than Fannie and Freddie knew they were playing a role in shaping the market for some types of risky mortgages. An e-mail to Mudd in September 2007 from a top deputy reported that banks were modeling their subprime mortgages to what Fannie was buying.

At Freddie, risk officer Andrukonis expressed concern about a new mortgage product called stated-income, stated-asset that the company was considering buying. The loans required borrowers to state their incomes and assets, but not prove them.

In a memo to Syron and others, Andrukonis warned that in 1990 Freddie called this product "dangerous" and stopped offering it. "I'm not convinced we aren't leading the market into this product," Andrukonis wrote.

Freddie offered to buy the stated-income, stated-asset loans anyway.

Andrukonis and others expressed concern about another type of mortgage Freddie was buying, where neither income nor assets were stated on the loan application. Andrukonis said these were popular with Hispanic borrowers, but the delinquency rates of 8 to 13 percent were much higher than on conventional loans. People familiar with the matter said Freddie was being pushed by advocacy groups to come up with new loan products to offer to low-income and minority borrowers.

Andrukonis acknowledged that getting out of this business could cost $50 million annually and draw criticism. "On the other hand, what better way to highlight our sense of mission than to walk away from profitable business because it hurts the borrowers we are trying to serve," he wrote.

At times, Andrukonis grew frustrated with the response he got from Freddie leadership about his concerns as he registered worries about low-documentation loans.

In a message to colleagues, Andrukonis wrote that while he and others "make the case for sound credit, it's not the theme coming from the top of the company and inevitably people down the line will play follow the leader."

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