Treasury Announces Plan to Back Fannie and Freddie

The WSJ reports:

The U.S. Treasury and Federal Reserve, capping a weekend of high-stakes maneuvering, attempted to shore up confidence in Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac by announcing a plan that placed the federal government firmly behind the battered mortgage giants.

In a statement timed to precede the opening of Asian markets Monday, as well as a closely watched auction of debt by Freddie, the Treasury said it plans to seek approval from Congress for a temporary increase in a longstanding Treasury line of credit for the two companies.

The Treasury also said it would seek temporary authority so that it could buy equity in either company “if needed” to ensure they have “sufficient capital to continue to serve their mission” of providing a steady flow of money into home mortgages. The plan, which requires congressional approval, also calls for a provision to give the Federal Reserve a “consultative role” in the process of setting capital requirements and other “prudential standards” for Fannie and Freddie.

The Fed’s Board of Governors met Sunday in Washington and voted to grant the New York Fed authority to lend to Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac “should such lending prove necessary,” the central bank said in a statement. The move would effectively give the two companies access to the Fed’s discount window if necessary, providing a backstop in case the firms were to face a short-term funding crisis down the road.

Officials are hoping that, by promising bold action if needed, they can instill enough confidence in the battered companies that such intervention will ultimately prove unnecessary.

Meanwhile, James Hamilton has written an excellent post on how we got to this point.

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