Bank of America’s Sweet Deal on Fannie and Freddie

The Washington Post got the best quote on the Bank of America settlement with Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac and puts it up high in the fourth paragraph:

“This is a gift” from the government to the bank, said Christopher Whalen of Institutional Risk Analytics. “We’re all paying for this because it will show up in the losses from Fannie and Freddie,” he said.

How do we know Whalen is correct, at least in the eyes of Mr. Market? The bank’s shareholders thought this was a downright bargain. As the Post notes, Bank of America stock rose 6.4 percent on the news yesterday on a day when the Dow was up 1 percent.

BofA had to pay the government wards $2.8 billion to get out from under these enormous potential liabilities. But the bank’s market capitalization jumped by nearly $9 billion to $143 billion.

Why did the market think this was such a great deal for Bank of America?

For Bank of America, the settlements eliminate “a doomsday scenario,” said analyst Paul Miller of FBR Capital Markets.

What’s odd here and what nobody explains is why the settlement absolves BofA from all future claims by Freddie Mac, but not by Fannie Mae. The The New York Times and Wall Street Journal miss here by not mentioning that part of the deal.

Here’s how the Post puts it:

Bank of America said its $1.3 billion payment to Freddie Mac extinguishes all outstanding and potential repurchase claims on 787,000 mortgages that had total unpaid principal balances of $127 billion.

The bank’s $1.5 billion settlement with Fannie Mae was more complicated. It resolved claims involving 12,045 loans with unpaid balances of $2.7 billion. It partially resolves an additional 5,760 loans with unpaid balances of $1.3 billion.

That still leaves Fannie Mae holding a mountain of loans from Bank of America: the total unpaid balance before the settlement was $397 billion. But Bank of America said that, after making the Dec. 31 payments and reserving $3 billion in the fourth quarter, it has covered any remaining liability to Fannie Mae unless its assumptions about home prices and other factors prove incorrect.

And here’s all we get on that from Bloomberg:

Although the deal caps Bank of America’s exposure at Freddie Mac, it doesn’t do the same at Fannie Mae, leaving it vulnerable if the U.S. housing market continues to fall, Miller said.

Okay, but why doesn’t it cap the exposure at Fannie, too? That may not have been gettable on deadline, but it would be nice to see some further reporting on that.

And how much of the losses caused by Bank of America’s (Countrywide’s) awful practices will taxpayers now have to absorb? Nobody really tries to tell us that number.

We can back into about a $4 billion number via this paragraph from the Journal:

Total new mortgage repurchase claims amounted to $12.8 billion at the end of the third quarter, and about $6.8 billion of that amount was from Fannie and Freddie.

And the same from the Financial Times:

BofA faced $12.9bn in such claims at the end of the third quarter, about half from the GSEs and the rest from private investors. Barring further declines in home prices, the settlement largely resolves the GSE repurchase requests, but does not cover claims brought by private investors.

But assuming that home prices aren’t going to fall further, after all we’ve seen, isn’t the best idea.

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Ryan Chittum is a former Wall Street Journal reporter, and deputy editor of The Audit, CJR's business section. If you see notable business journalism, give him a heads-up at Follow him on Twitter at @ryanchittum. Tags: , , ,