WASHINGTON - In a bid to strengthen the prices of its mortgage-backed securities, Freddie Mac has hired money managers for a portfolio of $1 billion or more of its securities.

The aim is to widen the spread between securities of the Federal Home Loan Mortgage Corp., or Freddie Mac, and those of the Federal National Mortgage Association, or Fannie Mae, and to wrest market share from Fannie Mae, Freddie executives said.

Freddie Mac securities usually trade at 2/32 above Fannie Mae securities. Freddie Mac believes that spread should be about four times as large because investors in Freddie Mac securities get their monthly payments 10 days before those who hold Fannie Mae securities.

The mortgage agency said this week that it would assign $1 billion in cash to BlackRock Financial Management Inc. and to Goldman Sachs Asset Management to create and trade the new securities portfolio.

The agency is likely to expand the portfolio if its strategy shows signs of working.

Bob Ryan, Freddie Mac vice president, mortgage securities marketing, said the agency believes its securities are undervalued because of "lingering misconceptions" among investors.

Freddie Mac securities prepaid at higher rates during the refinancing boom in 1993, and investors appear to remain wary.

The agency addressed this problem by changing the mix of loans backing its securities to resemble Fannie's securities, Mr. Ryan said.

Now Freddie hopes that by creating a more liquid market and stepping up its marketing efforts, it will draw investor attention away from Fannie's securities and strengthen the price of its own, he said.

Michael Conway, executive vice president of secondary marketing at North American Mortgage Co., said Freddie Mac would definitely grab market share from Fannie Mae if Freddie's securities gain significant ground.

Currently, Fannie Mae charges a lower guarantee fee than Freddie Mac to make up for the slight spread at which Freddie securities trade, Mr. Conway said.

But Fannie Mae might have to reduce its fees further if Freddie's strategy works, Mr. Conway said.

In the vast mortgage securities market, he added, however, Freddie's $1 billion portfolio is unlikely to have much effect unless it's highly leveraged.

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