The Feds Are Counting on Fannie and Freddie to End the Nation’s Housing Misery

“Hedge Fund Manager Describes Rock Bottom,” says a New York Times headline.

Poor Mr. John Devaney. He had to sell his Renoir. His Gulfstream. One of his mansions. And his yacht. Ouch. He says he’s personally lost $150 million trying to keep his funds alive. Alas, in vain!

“Devaney funds wiped out,” Bloomberg reports.

Now, the sad victim of the credit crunch is reduced to living in his remaining mansion in Aspen…and flying first class in commercial aircraft.

But is Mr. Devaney beaten? Not at all. “Do I retire?” (Even in his straightened circumstances, he allows himself a rhetorical flourish…) “No,” he replies, as if there were any doubt about it.

And why should he? He may have wiped out a handful of unlucky investors, but there are still plenty more.

Yes, dear reader…the battle between inflation and deflation…between truth and malarkey…between comeuppance and postponement continues.

Elizabeth’s stockbroker kindly wrote her a letter, explaining why her account had lost money:

“On the one hand, fixed income markets were signaling a weak economy and even deflationary conditions as interest rates were below the rate of inflation. On the other hand, commodity markets were signaling a strengthening economy and even highly inflationary conditions as the prices of almost all raw materials rose sharply…housing problems were getting worse, not stabilizing…[leading to] fears that the banks might be in worse shape than had been thought…this prompted analysts to predict continuing losses at financial institutions in what seemed like a competition to see who could generate the most frightening numbers…”

(We would say Bridgewater Associates won the competition with last week’s prediction that $1.6 trillion would be lost directly…and $12 trillion of credit would be withdrawn from the economy…)

“To top off the anxiety,” the broker continued, “oil prices spiked dramatically to more than double the level they had reached only months earlier, stoking inflation worries.”

Sound familiar? Inflation and deflation…both hitting hard.

What’s he doing about this situation? He’s “taking profits” and holding cash.

What happened yesterday on Wall Street? The Dow rose 81 points. The euro rose slightly.

Most of the headlines this week told of deflation’s hearty counter-offensive, which began only about a week ago. Foreclosures rose 53% in June, from a year ago. Bank seizures have almost tripled, according to Bloomberg.

And poor Freddie and Fannie.

He that did ride so high doth lie so low, as Marc Antony said of Caesar, after the latter was stabbed to death. Freddie and Fannie were the darlings of Wall Street…the leaders of the house price bubble…with nearly half the nation’s $12 trillion worth of mortgages. A couple of years ago, they could do no wrong.

Now, they can do no right.

The government-chartered mortgage lenders are “in turmoil,” says the Financial Times.

They should be in Chapter 11, says former St. Louis Fed chief, William Poole. Fannie has $5.2 billion more in liabilities than in assets, he says. Both lenders are insolvent, he maintains. Like a racehorse in the Kentucky Derby, they should be given the coup de grace as quickly as possible, he believes.

That is not likely to happen. The feds are counting on Fannie and Freddie to end the nation’s housing misery, not make it worse. They’re not going to let the twins go under. Instead, they’re going to give them more rope…and show them the steps to the scaffold.

Yes, dear reader…this is what it has come to. It’s not just a war between inflation and deflation. It’s also a fight between the forces of delusion…and the forces of reality. The delusion is that you can make the problems caused by too much credit go away – by giving more credit! A related delusion: that you can make people richer by printing up more money for them. Yet another: that you can spend your way out of a slump caused by too much spending. And here’s another: the federal bureaucrats can manage the economy better than it can manage itself. And how’s this: that hedge fund hustlers such as Mr. Devaney can make you rich by making huge gambles with your money. Or this: that if you just allow capitalism to work, we’ll all get rich.

The reality is that you can’t get something for nothing. Asians are gaining wealth because they work for peanuts and save their money. Americans are losing wealth because they spend too much and don’t save at all. And when a bubble is ready to pop, it will pop…no matter what you do. Sometimes you can delay it…or push the damage onto to someone who doesn’t deserve it – such as the taxpayer. But all interventions just make the situation worse…causing more, and bigger problems elsewhere.

Fannie’s shares fell 13% yesterday. The whole financial sector went down too…and now is at a loss of about 46% for the year.

Bill Bonner
Markets and Money

Bill Bonner

Bill Bonner

Since founding Agora Inc. in 1979, Bill Bonner has found success and garnered camaraderie in numerous communities and industries. A man of many talents, his entrepreneurial savvy, unique writings, philanthropic undertakings, and preservationist activities have all been recognized and awarded by some of America’s most respected authorities. Along with Addison Wiggin, his friend and colleague, Bill has written two New York Times best-selling books, Financial Reckoning Day and Empire of Debt. Both works have been critically acclaimed internationally. With political journalist Lila Rajiva, he wrote his third New York Times best-selling book, Mobs, Messiahs and Markets, which offers concrete advice on how to avoid the public spectacle of modern finance. Since 1999, Bill has been a daily contributor and the driving force behind Markets and Money.
Bill Bonner

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