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Mortgage giant Fannie Mae posts $6.5B profit in 4Q; repaying full federal bailout

WASHINGTON - Fannie Mae posted net income of $6.5 billion from October through December, its eighth straight profitable quarter. Fannie will have repaid its full government bailout after paying its fourth-quarter dividend.

Fannie said Friday that its full-year profit of $84 billion for 2013 was boosted by rising home prices and an accounting move capitalizing on tax benefits it had accumulated from losses on mortgages during the financial crisis.

The fourth-quarter profit slipped from earnings of $7.6 billion in the same period of 2012.

Washington-based Fannie will pay a dividend of $7.2 billion to the U.S. Treasury next month. With its previous payments totalling about $114 billion, it will have more than fully repaid the $116 billion it received from taxpayers.

The government rescued Fannie and smaller sibling Freddie Mac at the height of the financial crisis in September 2008 when both veered toward collapse under the weight of losses on risky mortgages. Together the companies received taxpayer aid totalling $187 billion. Freddie also has repaid its bailout.

The gradual recovery of the housing market has made Fannie and Freddie profitable again. Their repayments of the government loans helped make last year's federal budget deficit the smallest in five years.

Fannie's $84 billion net income for 2013 compared with earnings of $17.2 billion in 2012. Fannie affirmed Friday that it expects to be profitable "for the foreseeable future." However, the company said it doesn't expect to repeat its 2013 results, since they were bolstered by the tax accounting move and a significant increase in home prices during the year. Fannie also gained billions of dollars last year from a number of settlements it reached with major banks over soured mortgage securities it purchased from them before the financial crisis.

Fannie said its 2013 earnings also were bolstered by a decline in mortgage delinquency rates.

Fannie and Freddie, which is based in McLean, Va., own or guarantee about half of all U.S. mortgages, worth about $5 trillion. Along with other federal agencies, they back roughly 90 per cent of new mortgages.

The two companies don't directly make loans to borrowers. They buy mortgages from lenders, package them as bonds, guarantee them against default and sell them to investors. That helps make loans available.

President Barack Obama has proposed a broad overhaul of the U.S. mortgage finance system — including winding down Fannie and Freddie.

The goal is to replace them with a system that would put the private sector, not the government, primarily at risk for the loans. The government would still be involved, both in oversight and as a last-resort loan guarantor. Obama also wants a guarantee that private lenders will make sure homeowners have access to 30-year fixed mortgages.

A fix to the housing finance system is unlikely to be easy, however. The Obama plan is in line with bipartisan Senate legislation. But most Republicans in the House of Representatives want the market almost completely privatized, while many Democrats insist on government having a larger role.

The Canadian Press


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