The Trump administration on Monday took a critical step toward releasing Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac from government control, agreeing to allow the mortgage giants to hold on to more of their profits.

The allowance is a move toward independence for the mortgage companies more than a decade after taxpayers bailed them out. It comes a month after the Trump administration unveiled a sweeping plan to remake the housing market that includes allowing Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac to operate as private companies again.

With this step, Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac will be allowed to hold onto more capital, $25 billion and $20 billion respectively. That is still far less capital than the $100 billion the Trump administration estimates both companies and Congress still must sign off on to fulfill other measures envisioned by the Trump administration to remake the companies.

AD
AD

It “is an important milestone on the path to reform,” said Mark Calabria, director of the companies’ regulator, the Federal Housing Finance Agency. “The status quo is not an option. Now is the time to act.”

Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac play a critical part in the housing market, buying mortgages from lenders, then packaging them into securities to sell to investors. The government seized control of both companies in 2008 as the housing market unraveled and the firms’ losses piled up.

They currently back half of the United States’ mortgages, and housing experts have warned that allowing them too much freedom again could lead to higher mortgage costs for consumers while enriching Wall Street investors.

AD

The Trump administration’s plan for ending government conservatorship includes a once-unthinkable concession: Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac are here to stay, and taxpayers could be called on to bail them out again. Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac would pay taxpayers a fee in return for government protection and would potentially face competition for the first time under the Trump administration’s plan.

AD

As Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac begin to retain capital, another feature of post-financial crisis life is also closer to coming to an end. Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac have been sending most of their profits to the Treasury Department for years, but that could stop once the companies begin building their capital buffers.

Over the past decade, Fannie Mae received $119.8 billion in taxpayer bailouts, with Freddie Mac receiving $71.6 billion. Since returning to profitability, the companies have sent a combined $300 billion in dividends to the Treasury Department.

“These modifications are an important step toward implementing Treasury’s recommended reforms that will define a limited role for the Federal Government in the housing finance system and protect taxpayers against future bailouts,” Treasury Secretary Steven T. Mnuchin said in a statement.

AD
AD