David Moffett's departure from Freddie Mac only six months after being installed as its chief executive could reflect frustration with an increasing lack of autonomy for the government-sponsored enterprise, observers said.
Freddie and Fannie Mae, which were put in conservatorship in September, "are just increasingly arms of the federal government," said Bert Ely, an industry analyst in Alexandria, Va. The position may have been unappealing, because "he and the board also just don't have that much managerial latitude and strategy latitude, because of the very prominent role" of the GSEs in housing policy, he said.
Freddie said Monday that Moffett had "indicated that he wants to return to a role in the financial services sector." The GSE would not make him available for an interview.
Moffett will leave no later than two weeks after he submitted his resignation Friday, Freddie said. It expects to name an interim CEO before his departure, but it said there was no timetable for a successor.
Some observers speculated that the departure reflects the Obama administration's desire to put its own people in charge at the GSEs.
"In the wake of conservatorship, the CEOs of Fannie and Freddie are effectively political appointments," Howard Glaser, a mortgage industry consultant, wrote in a note to clients Monday. "Handpicked by the prior administration, and with Fannie and Freddie returning from exile to play a central role in the Obama administration's plan to stabilize the housing market, one would expect that Team Obama might like to have its own leadership at the companies."
Karen Shaw Petrou, managing partner of Federal Financial Analytics Inc., said President Obama's "housing plan makes clear that Fannie and Freddie … are wards of the state."
"All CEOs, in my view of corporate governance, should be reporting to their boards," she said. In this case, "the chairman of the board, despite the nominal independent chairman," is the head of the Federal Housing Finance Agency, the GSEs' regulator and conservator.
The FHFA would not discuss Moffett's departure beyond issuing a press release thanking him for his service.
The Wall Street Journal reported last week that Herbert Allison, Fannie's CEO, was "said to be the lead candidate" to take over the Treasury Department's Troubled Asset Relief Program. Fannie would not discuss the report.
Robert Voth, a partner at the executive recruiting firm CTPartners, said Freddie should look for a successor who has "accomplished their personal and career goals, and would have no individual agenda, either monetarily or professionally, tied to the outcome" of the post. Technical qualifications and experience through business cycles are still essential, he said.
In announcing Moffett's resignation, Freddie said it stood by a projection issued in January that it would have to draw $30 billion to $35 billion from a backstop arrangement with the government to restore a positive net worth after a fourth-quarter loss.
Moffett retired from U.S. Bancorp in 2007, where he had been the chief financial officer for 14 years.
Before taking the reins at Freddie, he had been a senior adviser at the Washington private-equity firm Carlyle Group.
During a speech in December at American Banker's Banker of the Year dinner, Jerry Grundhofer, the former U.S. Bancorp CEO who received the Lifetime Achievement award, said Moffett "is the best CFO in the business, though when he and I were together, he didn't like the mortgage business so much."
At Freddie, Moffett has a base salary of $900,000.