The U.S. regulator overseeing Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac and the Federal Home Loan Banks has hired a consulting firm to create contingency plans for taking the mortgage-finance firms into receivership, according to contract documents.
The plan is part of "ordinary regulatory activities" and does not indicate that the Federal Housing Finance intends to take the companies or the banks into receivership, agency spokeswoman Denise Dunckel said. Receivership would involve winding down the companies and selling off their assets.
"This planning activity is routine and does not indicate any condition of the current status of the regulated entities," Dunckel said.
Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac have been operating under U.S. conservatorship since September 2008, when investments in risky loans pushed them to the brink of insolvency. Under conservatorship, as opposed to receivership, the two taxpayer-owned companies continue to operate while having drawn almost $190 billion in aid from the U.S. Treasury.
The FHFA in May signed a contract with New York-based PricewaterhouseCoopers LLP to "recommend guidelines, procedures and other protocols the FHFA should have in place prior to placing any regulated entity into receivership," according to the document.
The document said PricewaterhouseCoopers will "develop a framework for the FHFA to use in building the capacity" to liquidate Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac, or any of the 12 regional U.S. Home Loan Banks.
The fate of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac is in limbo. Private financing for mortgages evaporated in the aftermath of the 2008 financial crisis, and the two companies now own or guarantee about 60 percent of residential mortgages. President Barack Obama's administration and members of Congress called for shrinking the government role in the housing market, but have not taken action.
Edward J. DeMarco, acting director of the FHFA, has said the agency will do what it can to prepare for the future of the government-sponsored enterprises in the absence of a plan from Congress and the White House to wind them down or otherwise reorganize them. The FHFA is working on plans to build a single platform for securitizing home loans and to set standards for how those loans are managed.
The FHFA released the PricewaterhouseCoopers contract to Vern McKinley, a financial consultant working with the Washington-based legal organization Judicial Watch, in response to a Freedom of Information Act request.
"Conservatorship is kind of this limbo they've been in since 2008 and receivership would be more aggressive toward liquidating Fannie and Freddie and putting them out of business," said McKinley, who has filed other FOIA requests with the FHFA seeking to find out why Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac weren't dissolved in 2008. "They've never taken any steps in that direction."
Staff from the FHFA and PricewaterhouseCoopers have met since May with staff from Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac to discuss the receivership plans, the documents show.
PricewaterhouseCoopers will deliver the receivership plans by Oct. 1 and will be paid $757,000, the contract says.