Post-financial meltdown, there has been very little support for GSEs Fannie Mae (OTC:FNMA) and Freddie Mac (OTC:FMCC). While there is still considerable debate surrounding how much the GSEs are to blame for the crisis itself, friends of Fannie and Freddie are few and far between. But a motley group of individuals is forming to protect the GSEs and their shareholders for a wide assortment of reasons.
Seeing potential for big gains, several large hedge funds have been acquiring shares of Fannie and Freddie. Among them are The Fairholme Fund managed by Bruce Berkowitz, Perry Capital managed by Richard Perry, and Pershing Square managed by Bill Ackman. The motivation to fight for Fannie and Freddie is clear here: All three hedge funds stand to benefit from gains in GSE preferred or common stock.
The hedge funds have done much of the heavy lifting so far. Both Fairholme and Perry Capital have filed lawsuits challenging the legality of the term change to the preferred stock purchase agreement. If successful in their lawsuits, the government would be unable to continue claiming all the profits of the GSEs and the ruling could clear the way for an eventual full reprivatization.
Fannie and Freddie have managed to bring together two unlikely parties: Big money hedge funds and consumer advocate Ralph Nader. Although Nader does own some GSE shares himself, the motivation for him primarily centers around the GSEs' ability to provide affordable housing. Besides being a consumer advocate, Nader is also an advocate for average investors and fights for their right to influence corporations whether they are being run by restrictive management or the U.S. government.
Nader has helped to put a more appealing face on the preservation of the GSEs by emphasizing their benefits for affordable housing instead of hedge fund profits. He has brought attention to the issue through newspaper op-eds and meetings with community housing groups.
Although neither party has adopted the survival of the GSEs as a party issue, Senator Pat Toomey (R-Pennsylvania) has taken a unique stance in supporting the shareholders of Fannie and Freddie. As the Johnson-Crapo proposal was making its rounds, Toomey submitted a series of written question to Treasury Secretary Jack Lew questioning the government's approach to the GSE bailout and the taking of all their profits.
With most Democrats and Republicans supporting a wind down of Fannie and Freddie, Toomey's position is a rare one. Toomey backed his position with an example of a pension fund that supposedly stood to lose value if the GSE shares were wiped out. Later it was revealed the Toomey was mistaken and the pension fund reference actually owned shares of a different GSE completely separate from Fannie and Freddie. Still, they are other pension funds and community banks that do own Fannie and Freddie shares and would lose if shares are wiped out.
Toomey's support has so far failed to shift the position of the Republican party but the fact that any politicians support Fannie and Freddie is a positive sign for the two GSEs.
Until now, special interest groups have not made a major advertising push on the GSE issue but that is changing. A conservative seniors group called the 60 Plus Association is airing a $1.6 million ad campaign opposing legislation to wind down Fannie and Freddie. Presumably, the association's members stand to benefit as many retirees own Fannie and Freddie shares from before the collapse.
The ad campaign takes a clear political tone relating the housing reform legislation to Obamacare which the association claims in the ad has cancelled millions of Americans' health care. Other ads from the association target both Democrats and Republicans that have been particularly active in their efforts to wind down the GSEs. It's unclear what effect these ads will have on the public but they do help draw attention to the GSE issue and show retirees as the victims; a group more sympathetic than big hedge funds.
An unlikely coalition
The protection of the interests of Fannie and Freddie shareholders has brought together individuals that rarely collaborate on anything. Looking at actions so far, these groups do not appear to be forming a single effort but are instead taking four different approaches on the same issue.
Even with these groups still being in the public and political minority, this unlikely coalition is helping to push an issue otherwise missing out on public attention. Through their unique approaches, each group provides a unique way to push for the interest of GSE shareholders. As the lawsuits go to trial and legislation is debated in Congress, it will be important to see who else will join the side of Fannie and Freddie's non-government investors.