The long-awaited release of a proposed risk-based capital regulation for Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac is imminent, Washington sources said.
The rule, intended to assure that the government is insulated from potential losses by the government-sponsored enterprises, would impose a capital requirement that would fluctuate quarterly based on a computer calculation of how well the mortgage companies manage their risks.
"I haven't worried about their capital levels in this environment," said Ken Posner, an analyst at Morgan Stanley Dean Witter & Co. "Investors may be cautious about buying the stock until they can see a resolution to the risk-based capital requirements."
For more than four months, the Office of Management and Budget has held on to its report, requesting numerous extensions. That has sparked letters from Congress, banking groups, and the mortgage industry to OMB Director Jacob Lew urging that the proposed rule be released. On Feb. 26, Rep. Richard H. Baker, R-La., said he would consider calling hearings if the OMB did not clear the proposal "in a timely manner."
The rule crafted by the Office of Federal Housing Enterprise Oversight has turned into a "political football," said Thomas O'Donnell, an analyst at Salomon Smith Barney, a unit of Citigroup.
Washington sources said that the departments of Treasury and Housing and Urban Development, the Office of Thrift Supervision, and the Council of Economic Advisers have all given the regulation a green light.
And now sources say that the process has taken an unusual course, with the proposed rule landing on the desk of White House Chief of Staff John Podesta. The OMB did not immediately return calls seeking comment on this assertion.
Some sources said that the delay at the OMB has been largely due to pressure from Fannie Mae, a charge the company denies.
"We've been very open about what our concerns are, and we've shared that with OMB," largely through letters, a spokesman for Fannie said. "We get the strong impression that OMB is working with all deliberate speed," he added.
Some industry observers said the enterprises risk further isolating themselves politically if they wage a battle over the capital rule in the current climate. Fannie and Freddie already face resistance from mortgage lenders and insurers over their reduced mortgage insurance initiatives.
The stress test proposed by the housing oversight office requires the enterprises to hold enough capital to remain solvent during a 10-year period of credit and interest rate stresses. The test will be the first major capital rule using a models-based approach, said Mark A. Kinsey, acting director of the office.
"It discloses what the risks are and how they manage risks," without revealing proprietary information, Mr. Kinsey said.
The capital requirement will fluctuate, depending on how well the enterprises manage their risks. The better they manage risk, the lower the capital requirement, Mr. Kinsey said.
Commenting on rumors that the draft regulation is a 600- to 700-page tome, Mr. Kinsey said it takes up about one-third that many pages, with the majority of the publication devoted to an "attempt to help people understand how the rule works."
Fannie Mae has argued that it and Freddie Mac should each have risk- based capital standards based on internal models already in use.