No matter how exasperating it may be at times for Freddie Mac to have alliances with large mortgage lenders such as Wells Fargo Home Mortgage and Bank of America, analysts say Freddie would be making a big mistake if it broke them.
Since 1999 the government-sponsored enterprise has had arrangements with Wells and Bank of America in which the banks have pledged virtually all of their loan production in return for lower guarantee fees and the chance to participate in Freddies technology initiatives. But at a meeting of the Exchequer Club, Freddie Mac chairman Leland Brendsel made remarks that caused some to speculate that his company may want to cease or rework these partnerships.
Frankly, there have been some wins in those strategic alliances and theres been disappointment, Mr. Brendsel said at the meeting. I would have liked it to move faster. (A spokesman for Freddie said it works with other lenders but that the terms of each deal vary and are not publicized.)
Some have tied Mr. Brendsels comments to industry leaders public criticism of his company and of Fannie Mae. They have also taken his statements as a signal that Freddie would move further toward courting smaller lenders and brokers as a source for loans.
But several observers say the upside of these deals far outweighs any payback or loan expansion Freddie could get from reorganizing of terminating them.
Jonathan E. Gray, a senior research analyst at Sanford C. Bernstein & Co., said Freddies deals with Wells and Bank of America helped it raise its market share considerably and keep pace with its larger, older brother, Fannie Mae.
Those two alliances came very close to eliminating any market advantage that Fannie Mae had, bringing Freddie close to parity, if not at parity, Mr. Gray said.
The alliances also have helped reduce the guarantee fees of lenders in the programs pay, Mr. Gray said. In 1998 Freddies fees averaged 21.4 basis points; last year they were 19.3 basis points, down almost 10%.
Some say technology most notably lenders shift to Internet loan production could redefine Freddies relationships.
Joy D. Palmer, Merrill Lynchs director of equity research for the mortgage industry, said the deals main contribution to Freddies long-term success will be the resources they provide to the GSEs technology efforts.
Long-term, these alliances have been great to help Freddie develop these technologies, Ms. Palmer said. Fannie and Freddie, she said, are positioning themselves to dominate the mortgage processing technology market, and that domination will provide additional purchase opportunities and revenues through fee income.
Ken Posner, an analyst at Morgan Stanley Dean Witter, added: The strategic alliances are incredibly important in terms of using technology to drive down costs. To the extent the GSEs can help use technology to automate the lending process, they can help lenders drive down origination costs.
Merrill Lynchs Ms. Palmer said one of Freddies major goals is to develop a system to give lenders access to its services in every step of the mortgage process. That would enable it to invade smaller lenders territory, she said. When they get this mortgage solution complete, it will finally give them access to small lenders who dont have tons of money to develop tech.
A spokeswoman for Freddie acknowledged that its alliances with Wells and Bank of America are essential to the companys technology projects and that Mr. Brendsels comments should not be construed as indicating that any wholesale strategic change is on the way at Freddie.
The frustration that Mr. Brendsel was expressing was around the fact that he wished things could move even more quickly, the spokeswoman said. All in all, they are working very, very well.
Wells Fargo officials declined comment on the issue. This is simply not a subject we are discussing in the public forum at this stage, a Wells spokesman said. Bank of America officials had not returned requests for comment by press time.