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Fannie Mae Before the Meltdown: The View from August 2002
Comments () | Published July 15, 2008
year have lost money. Fannie Mae's stock, after going up in late 2000 and early 2001, has traded mostly in the $70-to-$80 range.

You'd never know it from the way Wall Street pushes Fannie Mae as a strong buy.

"We speak with one voice," the analyst claims, "because we're spoon-fed" by Fannie's investor-relations department. He adds that because many analysts work for banks that clamor for Fannie's underwriting business, "a lot of cheerleading goes on in public but not behind closed doors." He says he wishes Fannie would sever its government ties and end the debate.

Fannie denies any such change is in order. Asked about the various proposals, Raines says, "You can't hurt Fannie Mae without hurting homeowners."

Having hoped that Raines would draw on his government experience to broker a solution, some officials are disappointed to see him take such a hard line. They say meaningful discussion is impossible because Raines takes every concern personally and the company politicizes every dispute.

One government official complains: "It's not enough for them to disagree--they have to question your judgment and attack your motives, even imply you're just stupid."

When Fannie is criticized, Raines concedes, "it's like they're attacking one of our children. We're protective to a fault of our mission."

As the Bush administration talks reform, Fannie is likely to fight back by be turning to the public and to Capitol Hill. No one is picketing over Fannie Mae's debt load or demanding that the government stop subsidizing loans for the middle class.

Many policymakers--among them Democratic Representative Paul Kanjorski of Pennsylvania--think the zeal to reform Fannie and Freddie is misguided.

"People marvel at what we've been able to do with homeownership in this country," Kanjorski says. He says he'd like to use the companies' public-private partnership as a model, say, for providing economic aid to distressed areas.

Fannie Mae couldn't agree more. Critics say that reaction--what one calls "their smugness that they're doing the Lord's work"--is typical of Fannie Mae: talking a good populist game while living like kings.

Despite all the noise, Raines says, "the ratio of action to criticism is very low. If something were really wrong, wouldn't someone in the government do something?"

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Posted at 12:00 AM/ET, 07/15/2008 RSS | Print | Permalink | Washingtonian.com Articles