The financial problems facing Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac are already having a ripple effect on the pace of recovery in the multifamily and single-family markets.
Stock prices for the government-sponsored enterprises (GSEs), which hold or guarantee half of the country's mortgages, lost almost half their value this week on fears that a government bailout would wipe out shareholder value.
Fannie Mae stock was trading at $3.74, while Freddie Mac was trading at $3.37 early Thursday. A year ago, Fannie was trading at around $70, and Freddie at around $67.
Both GSEs continue to insist that they are adequately capitalized, and that any government intervention is not imminent. But a continuing collapse in stock prices will make it more difficult for the GSEs to raise the capital they need to shore up their finances and avoid a bailout.
The GSEs had been a bright spot for the multifamily sector this year, providing liquidity during a capital crunch and bolstering a slow but steady transaction market. But the GSEs significantly raised their prices for both long- and short-term multifamily mortgages this month, making the price of debt less affordable and, ultimately, making fewer potential deals feasible.
In short, the cost of capital has grown more expensive for the GSEs, and they are passing that cost on. A standard Fannie Mae 10-year multifamily loan is now priced at about 6.4%, compared with 5.6% in February.
"The price increases will potentially further slow down acquisitions," said Phil Melton, senior vice president at multifamily agency lender Grandbridge Real Estate Capital. "We've got some time before this market starts to come back."
The GSEs' woes are also delaying the recovery of the single-family market. Access to reasonably priced credit is a critical step in restoring the single-family market, but the rates charged for a standard 30-year fixed-rate mortgage spiked to 6.37% this week.
A big factor behind that increase is a sharp drop in the price of mortgage bonds backed by the GSEs, as investors demand higher yields to buy those bonds. Yields for Fannie Mae's 30-year fixed-rate mortgage securities had increased 2 percentage points this week, to their highest levels in more than 20 years.
The ripple effect of the GSEs' woes on the nation's residential real estate markets both underscores their importance to the nation's housing markets, while bolstering arguments by critics that such large institutions pose a systemic risk to the overall U.S. economy.
Last month, the Bush administration inserted provisions into the Housing and Economic Recovery Act of 2008 that gave the government authority to provide unlimited loans and purchase equity stakes in the GSEs to avoid a possible collapse.