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Tuesday, May 6, 2008

Fannie Mae gags on it

NEW YORK ( -- Fannie Mae posted a far worse-than-expected loss in the first quarter, as the mortgage finance giant announced plans Tuesday to slash its dividend and raise additional capital.

Fannie Mae reported it lost $2.2 billion, or $2.57 a share, in the first quarter, compared to earnings of $961 million, or 85 cents a share a year earlier. Analysts surveyed by earnings tracker Thomson First Call had been forecasting a loss of 81 cents a share.

The loss was larger than even the most pessimistic forecast, which was for a loss of $2.40 a share.

The result marked the third straight quarter of losses at the government-sponsored mortgage financier, although it is an improvement from the $3.6 billion net loss in the fourth quarter of last year.

While Fannie (FNM, Fortune 500) and the other government sponsored firm, Freddie Mac (FRE, Fortune 500), have only limited exposure to the troubled subprime mortgage sector, both have been nonetheless hit by rising mortgage defaults and turmoil in the credit markets.

The company said it plans to raise $6 billion in additional capital through the new issue of stock. It also intends to preserve capital by slashing its dividend 28% to 25 cents a quarter, starting in the third quarter.

Shares of Fannie plunged 7% to $26.30 in pre-market trading after the report, although that was up from earlier lows immediately after the report.

Fannie also announced that the Office of Federal Housing Enterprise Oversight (OFHEO), the federal regulator that monitors its activity, has loosened some of the regulatory restraints on it.

It let Fannie out of a May 2006 consent decree, imposed at a time the firm was working to clean up problems with its accounting.

It also said that once it completes its efforts to raise the $6 billion in capital, it would loosen the excess capital it is required to keep on hand down to 15% from its current requirement of 20%. It will be able to drop that to 10% in September. OFHEO had been requiring both Fannie and Freddie to keep 30% excess capital on hand until lowering the requirement in March.

The latest move on capital requirements could make tens of billions of additional dollars available for home loans.

Still, Fannie is struggling with rising loan losses caused by problems in the housing market. It raised its loan loss reserves to $5.2 billion from $3.4 billion three months earlier. At the end of the quarter about 1.15% of single family homes it backs are now seriously delinquent. That's up 17% from the 0.98% that were that far behind at the end of 2007.

It also announced that the fair value of its net assets plunged to $12.2 billion at the end of the quarter from $35.8 billion at the start of the period. It blamed market volatility and home price declines for that fall. Its mark-to-market losses, which comes about when it has to adjust the value of its holdings, rose to $4.4 billion in the quarter from $3.4 billion in the fourth quarter.

As part of its turnaround plans, Fannie announced a new refinancing option for homeowners whose loans are owned by Fannie who are up-to-date in their payments but now owe more than their home is now worth. It would allow those homeowners to refinance at up to 120% of the home's current value.

Previously Fannie would only purchase loans in which homeowners held considerable equity in the property.

Fannie CEO Daniel Mudd said that despite the problems faced by the firm, it is benefiting from the current housing and credit woes, as it has been able to grow its book of business. Net revenue rose to $3.8 billion from $3.1 billion, while its market share new mortgage-backed securities issued that were backed by single family home loans rose to 50.1% from 48.5% three months earlier.

"This is likely to be the story for the months ahead -- a painful cure from the housing correction -- and incredibly healthy opportunities from our resurgent role at the center of the recovery," said Mudd in the company's statement. "Both are happening at the same time." To top of page


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