Not satisfied with wasting close to $200 billion of taxpayer dollars bailing out holders of Fannie and Freddie Bonds (notably PIMCO and China), Geithner is back at it with another proposal sure to cost US taxpayers plenty if adopted.

The proposal this time is for taxpayers to pick up 63% of the cost of mortgage principal reductions. Geithner made the offer to Edward J. DeMarco, Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac’s overseer.

Bloomberg reports Geithner’s Math Puzzle Beyond Numbers for DeMarco

Geithner, the U.S. Treasury secretary, is offering new incentive payments to the two government-supported mortgage financiers if DeMarco drops his opposition to principal reductions for homeowners whose loans are backed by the companies.

It’s not just a question of whether the numbers add up, DeMarco said in an interview at Bloomberg’s headquarters in New York yesterday.

“We’ve got to consider all of the ramifications of principal forgiveness relative to other tools.”

Proponents from Martin Feldstein, a chief economic adviser to the late President Ronald Reagan, to activist groups such as have called on DeMarco to allow writedowns. Congressional Democrats including Rep. Elijah Cummings of Maryland have accused him of blocking a recovery and called on him to resign.

FHFA is not yet convinced principal reductions are the best answer, DeMarco said, in part because the agency still must examine how offering loan writedowns would affect the behavior of underwater borrowers who are still making their payments on time. Until now, the agency hasn’t specifically focused on the issue of whether loan forgiveness would create a moral hazard by providing an incentive for borrowers to default. That’s because without the extra incentives offered by the government this year, debt forgiveness was more costly than forbearance as most underwater borrowers would stay in their homes if given a low enough payment, according to its analysis.

Violating Legal Responsibility

The U.S. government has spent $190 billion to shore up the companies since they were taken into federal conservatorship in 2008 after their investments in risky loans soured. DeMarco said adding to the firms’ costs would be a violation of his legal responsibility to restore them to financial health.

Using principal forbearance instead of forgiveness so far has been better for taxpayers, DeMarco said. Forbearance reduces monthly payments while requiring borrowers to pay back the full amount of the loan when they sell the house.

“If the borrower is successful on the modification, allows them to stay in their house and they stay in their house and start making mortgage payments, the taxpayer gets to share in the upside of that borrower’s success,” DeMarco said in the Bloomberg Television interview. “If we forgive the principal up front and the borrower is successful, that upside all goes to the borrower and is not shared with the taxpayer.”

Vote Buying

This is not about doing what’s right for taxpayers. It’s about doing what’s right to help Obama’s reelection chances. Of course Hedge Funds and PIMCO like the buyback idea because it immediately puts a bid in for Fannie and Freddie bonds they hold.

Mike “Mish” Shedlock
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