Friday, August 22, 2008

Economist: The Fannie and Freddie Bailout Will Cost At Least $1.3 Trllion

Economist Don Rich cranks out the numbers and writes:

Between 2001 and 2007, Fannie and Freddie purchased or guaranteed $700 billion of Alt-A and subprime loans. Given the default rates on these loans — and the fact that the price of the housing that is the ultimate security of the loans will, for reasons demonstrated below, fall by at least thirty percent — this alone implies a loss for Fannie and Freddie on the order of $210 billion.

Fannie and Freddie acknowledge already-impaired loans on the balance sheet of $19 billion, which they have used creative accounting to avoid deleting from the shareholder equity account. This means that Fannie and Freddie have a maximum of $64 billion in capital remaining.

Given the inevitable losses on the Alt-A/subprime portion of their portfolio, it must be the case that if the federal government, as it is doing, guarantees Fannie and Freddie's solvency, the difference between the loss and the capital to be made up by the government (i.e., the taxpayers) must equal, not $25 billion but $147 billion...

the Case-Shiller Index in its entire 110-year history had never crossed 140 until the recent bubble. In 2006, it reached 210. Every single real-estate bubble in the past has at best been followed by a fall back to at least the 110 level in the postwar era, although the bubble preceding the Great Depression witnessed a fall to 60.

What this means is that in the best-case scenario, real-estate prices have to fall in the medium to long run by almost half.

Now consider Fannie and Freddie. Just looking at their portfolios on the balance sheet without the guarantees, let us accept (for no particular reason other than a desire that the reader sleep better at night) that real-estate prices only fall by thirty percent.

Well, since Uncle Sam is now committed to "doing whatever it takes," that is a loss right there of $1 trillion. This committment to keep financial markets open as usual is made in spite of the overwhelming evidence that what we have been taught is usual is in fact delusional, given that Fannie and Freddie own $3 trillion and change of mortgages...

The more realistic scenario is actually worse. Fannie and Freddie own and guarantee a total of more than $5 trillion in mortgages.

Given the long-run historically plausible equilibrium values of residential real estate as embodied in the Case-Shiller Index, that means that the taxpayer loss definitely reaches $1.3 trillion, easily ranging up to $1.6 trillion.

Unfortunately, that is the good news. The bad news is that if real-estate prices were to replicate the Great Depression (as would surely occur in the case that hedging instruments of Fannie and Freddie were to catastrophically fail due to counterparty failure — and given the absurdly low risk premiums on credit-default swaps at the height of the bubble, such an event cannot be considered unlikely) the Case-Shiller Index tells us that the loss to the taxpayers could exceed $2.5 trillion dollars.

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