WASHINGTON - Two securities analysts have put out reports to calm investors who fear that Republicans will impose user fees on Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac.
"User fees are likely to receive some attention simply because Congress and the administration are heading toward a systematic review of federal budget issues," wrote analyst Eric I. Hemel of Morgan Stanley, New York.
"In our opinion, however, the likelihood of such fees actually being imposed is small," Mr. Hemel added.
The source of the worry is a budget proposal put out this spring by House Republicans that called for such fees.
The argument for the fees is that the Federal National Mortgage Association and the Federal Home Loan Corp. are privately owned companies that enjoy favorable debt and security costs because of their government sponsorship, giving them an edge over their private competitors.
The Republican budget proposed leveling the playing field by assessing a fee on new securities.
With Republicans in control of the House, the proposal, which has come up frequently over the years, carries new weight, and stock prices have suffered.
Fannie's stock fell from $ 75.25 Nov. 1 to $72 Friday.
Freddie's stock fell from $53.63 Nov. 1 to $51.25 Friday. Already battered by high interest rates and fears of the next recession, the stocks have slipped further because of new perceptions of political risk, according to Gary Gordon, an analyst with Paine Webber Inc., New York.
"It's just another weight for [the stocks] to carry," said analyst Thomas O'Donnell of Smith Barney, who added that the stocks are "silly cheap" at this price.
But user fees are unlikely to be imposed, because they will be politically unpalatable to middle-class voters, said Mr. Gordon, who sent a report to his clients on the subject.
In an interview, he explained that the agencies would inevitably pass the fees on to consumers, and mortgage rates would have to rise.
Lawmakers would have to tell voters, "This is basically a tax, [and] second, we're creating a more level playing field" for banks and thrifts, Mr. Gordon said. "Something tells me that is not a major vote-getter."
Still, he conceded, "there could be all kinds of subtleties" that could make user fees more likely.
Meanwhile, both agencies say they do not expect user fees to be imposed.
"User fees have been proposed many times in the past, and Congress has been opposed to [them]," said a Freddie Mac spokesman.
"Investors know that new taxes on homeownership are a bad idea and unlikely," said Libby Snyder, senior vice president of investor relations at Fannie Mae. "It has not hurt our stock."
Both Mr. Hemel and Mr. Gordon believe that the agencies would retain their competitive edge, even if user fees of about 10 basis points were to be imposed on the securities.