The Untouchable Profits of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac
Would you buy stock in a company that barred you from sharing in its future earnings? Of course not. Participating in the upside is what stock ownership is all about.
And yet, as of December 2010, holders of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac common stock were subject to such a restriction by the United States government. They didn’t know it at the time, though, because the policy was not disclosed.
This month, an internal United States Treasury memo that outlined this restriction came up at a forum in Washington.
The memo was addressed to Timothy F. Geithner, then the Treasury secretary, from Jeffrey A. Goldstein, then the under secretary for domestic finance. In discussing Fannie and Freddie, the beleaguered government-sponsored enterprises rescued by taxpayers in September 2008, the memo referred to “the administration’s commitment to ensure existing common equity holders will not have access to any positive earnings from the G.S.E.’s in the future.”
The memo, which was produced in a lawsuit filed by Fannie and Freddie shareholders, was dated Dec. 20, 2010. Securities laws require material information — that is, information that might affect an investor’s view of a company — to be disclosed. That the government would deny a company’s shareholders all its profits certainly seems material, but the existence of this policy cannot be found in the financial filings of Fannie Mae. Neither have the Treasury’s discussions about the future of the two finance giants mentioned the administration’s commitment to shut common stockholders out of future earnings....