Fannie, Freddie shares hit 18-year low on bailout fears

NEW YORK - Shares of Fannie Mae FNM.N and Freddie Mac FRE.N dove to their lowest levels in more than 18 years on mounting fears of a government bailout that would wipe out shareholders of the two U.S. housing finance giants.

By (Reuters)

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Published: Wed 20 Aug 2008, 9:49 PM

Last updated: Sun 5 Apr 2015, 11:55 AM

Freddie Mac executives are due to meet Treasury officials on Wednesday, possibly to get clarity about how the government will support the company and to reassure investors, according to The Wall Street Journal.

A Treasury spokeswoman, however, said that while it is in regular contact with the government-sponsored enterprises, it declined to confirm whether it was meeting with Freddie officials on Wednesday.

Anxiety about the companies has risen in recent days following a weekend report in Barron's that government officials may have no choice but to effectively nationalize Fannie and Freddie.

Fears the companies will need to be bailed out forced Freddie Mac to pay record high yield premiums on a $3 billion debt sale on Tuesday.

Freddie Mac's share slumped more than 24 percent to $3.15, the lowest since 1990, and Fannie Mae shares slid more than 21 percent to $4.74, the lowest since 1989.

"As you would expect, we have been in communication with the companies for months to receive updates and we've been communicating with their regulator and the Federal Reserve," Treasury spokeswoman Jennifer Zuccarelli said.

The Treasury was recently given new powers to backstop the mortgage finance companies by buying equity in them or providing loans.

Earlier this year Freddie Mac committed to raising $5.5 billion in fresh capital to bolster their balance sheet, but investors are unlikely to buy new shares if they fear a government rescue might wipe out the equity.

The two federally chartered companies own or guarantee almost half of all outstanding U.S. mortgages. The government is relying heavily on them to step up mortgage purchases and help stabilize the worst U.S. housing market since the Great Depression.

Freddie Mac representatives were not immediately available to comment on the reported Treasury meeting.

Fannie Mae Chief Executive Daniel Mudd, speaking Wednesday on public radio, reiterated that the company has more capital than it has ever had and that it has not asked nor been offered help from the Treasury.

Early Wednesday, Fannie Mae sold $2 billion of bills at higher interest rates than it did for similar securities a week ago.

Foreign investment is being keenly monitored, as ebbing demand means higher funding costs for Fannie and Freddie and thus rising home loan rates, analysts have said.

Overseas central banks dumped nearly $11 billion of agency-related securities over in the past month.

Russia, for one, is not planning to rapidly raise or cut exposure to debt issued by Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, Russia's deputy finance minister said on Wednesday.

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