Fannie Mae is hopping mad about a risk-based capital rule being pitched by its regulator, the Office of Federal Housing Enterprise Oversight.

The draft proposal is being held virtually under lock and key by the Office of Management and Budget, which has until late January to review it. Fannie officials said they have yet to see a copy.

But based on snippets of information that have leaked out, Fannie is calling the draft rule onerous, intrusive, and even slanderous.

The government-sponsored provider of mortgage funding is particularly worried about initial reports that the proposal would judge it to be undercapitalized, a description company officials vehemently reject.

Fannie spokesman John Buckley cited the company's AA "risk-to- government" rating from Standard & Poor's and its $16 billion of capital as proof of its vitality.

"It would be unconscionable" for its regulator "to actually create a perception of capital inadequacy where none occurs," Fannie Mae vice chairwoman Jamie S. Gorelick wrote in an Oct. 27 letter to the oversight agency.

Moreover, Ms. Gorelick wrote, a premature public revelation could cause misinformed investors to dump Fannie's stock.

Like Fannie, Freddie Mac would be subject to the risk-based capital requirement. But the company is as calm as Fannie is frantic.

Freddie said the regulator has no choice but to publish capital shortfall and surplus estimates in its proposal because shareholders would demand such information anyway.

But Freddie, which competes with Fannie, may stand to gain from the publicity. The leaked report of capital shortfall at Fannie pegged Freddie with a surplus, a company spokesman said.

Officials at the Office of Federal House Enterprise Oversight declined to comment. But in a June report to Congress, the agency said its risk- based capital plan is superior to the one applied to banks and thrifts because it is more sensitive to capital and interest rate risk and would let Fannie and Freddie comply by either increasing capital or reducing risk.

Still, Fannie's strong opposition to the risk-based capital proposal could be bad news for the regulatory agency, which is already four years late in delivering a final rule.

Even if the OMB approves the draft without major rewriting, the rule must be put before Congress and then published for public comment. This could easily extend through late 1999.

Fannie Mae is doing what it can to derail the proposal. In the first week of December, Ms. Gorelick met with OMB staff members to press her case. She followed up with a letter charging that Fannie had been excluded from drafting of the rule and that a loss of market faith could slash the supply of funding for housing.

Fannie Mae officials reportedly are also trying to drum up support from housing trade groups. Robert M. O'Toole, a senior vice president at the Mortgage Bankers Association, said the regulatory agency should not publish capital estimates now. Such disclosure would be "premature," he said.

Fannie is preparing for the worst, warning Wall Street about the proposed rule and disputed capital shortfall.

The strategy may be working. In a Dec. 9 letter to clients, Salomon Smith Barney analyst Thomas O'Donnell called Fannie and Freddie "very sound companies" with proven methods for managing credit and interest risks.

Mr. O'Donnell also speculated that the regulator may be trying to compensate for the lateness of its risk rule by arriving with a bang. It may also be deliberately putting Fannie on the defensive to create a visible need for its own existence, he said.

"The key for investors," he wrote, "is not to overreact."

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