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[DMV-Like Executives] Placing All Our Housing Hopes On Institutions Losing Billions

Every quarter for more than a year, we have seen losses in the neighborhood of $10B – $20B for each of the former GSEs Fannie and Freddie. However, with the Stim and bailouts in the multi-trillion range, the current losses seem like chicken feed (no offense meant to hard working chickens).

My kids remind me often of the Austin Powers quote:

Why make trillions,
…when you can make…billions?

Modified version “why lose trillions, when you can lose billions?”

FHFA, the federal oversight agency that was created after the meltdown began (don’t get excited, it is essentially the former OFHEO [1] and appears to be run per the same executives that were in charge of oversight before the meltdown) reported that both Fannie and Freddie are facing “critical” problems [2].

Ok, this is nothing new. We know these agencies will be losing money for many years until we undergo extensive de-leveraging.

What continues to be a concern for me is the ability of these agencies to attract talented people to steer them. Even though the GSEs are essentially federal agencies, they are dealing with enormous and complex problems. Their predecessors were highly compensated but, like everyone else, didn’t see it coming.

Images of the government issued gray painted rooms and bulky metal desks come to mind – ie, your local DMV. One could argue that the “talented” executives were the ones that got us in trouble. However, I think this is an over simplification and short sighted.

One hurdle to putting Fannie and Freddie back on firm financial footing is the many vacancies in their executive ranks. Hiring has been slowed by compensation concerns, the agency said.

That’s why salary caps in most company situations are probably short-sighted. Ben & Jerry’s took several years to find a CFO because of their 5x salary cap from lowest to highest paid employees kept away good talent. [3]

Yes some Wall Streeters got crazy compensation packages, but do we get even with them and apply it to all executives connected with this financial morass that take Fed dollars or work in Fed agencies? Is this a case where the exception makes the rule?

How will “toxic mortgages” be sold off if the company purchasing them feels even a hint of salary cap talk, even retroactive salary caps? Senior executives are not likely to jump in the pool, if their bathing suit might be taken away without warning – ok, bad visual but hopefully you get my point.

Although when I renewed my driver’s license [4] last year, it only took 10 minutes.