In February 2012, the caretakers of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac were absolutely sure that the federal government would never recoup the $188 billion it spent to take them over. "The Enterprises’ losses are of such magnitude that the companies cannot repay taxpayers in any foreseeable scenario," asserted the Federal Housing Finance Agency's strategic plan.

But then, the housing market came roaring back, and Fannie Mae was able to reverse a write-down of a pile of tax assets, sending money pouring into the Treasury. Now, Hamilton Place Strategies predicts that the agencies will be all paid up by the end of next year, before starting to generate surpluses.

"We think it's a pretty big deal," says HPS' director of research Patrick Sims, "and that Treasury would want to announce it." Like it did with the Troubled Asset Relief Program (though those calculations are disputed).

Maybe by 2014, we'll even have found a better housing system to replace them.