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Fannie Mae Posts Another Loss, to Cut Dividend

Fannie Mae on Tuesday cut its dividend and set plans to raise $6 billion in fresh funds to weather the severe U.S. housing market slump, driving its shares and the broader U.S. stock market lower.

CNBC.com

The company, the largest provider of U.S. home financing, also posted a deeper-than-expected quarterly loss, its third in a row, and said it expected more trouble ahead.

House prices, by some measures already 15 percent below their peak in mid-2006, likely will drop as much as another 9 percent this year and related credit losses will keep rising into 2009.

"I'm not sure if I'm more disappointed about the earnings for this quarter or for the (housing) outlook for next year," said Charles Lieberman, chief investment officer of Advisors Capital Management in Paramus, New Jersey.

"They are clearly still having repercussions from the subprime and market valuation problems." Home price declines and rising foreclosures that started in the subprime market have spread to higher-quality loans that make up the bulk of business at Fannie Mae and its sister company, Freddie Mac .

Freddie Mac, too, is expected to post a big loss when it reports its first-quarter results next week.

Fannie Mae posted a net loss, after payment of preferred dividends, of $2.51 billion, or $2.57 per share, for the first quarter, according to a regulatory filing.

Before preferred dividends, it posted a loss of $2.19 billion.

The loss was greater than even the most pessimistic forecast and came on the heels of a record $3.6 billion loss in the fourth quarter of 2007.

In last year's first quarter, just before the slump in the housing market torpedoed mortgage and credit markets, Fannie posted a profit, after preferred dividend payments, of $826 million, or 85 cents per share.

Fannie Mae's loss and need to raise capital reflect the plight of financial services companies worldwide, which have written off more than $330 billion in soured mortgage securities and raised more than $200 billion to shore up depleted balance sheets.

"During the first quarter we saw heightened volatility in the secondary mortgage market, credit spreads that widened out to 22-year highs and home prices that fell faster than expected," Daniel Mudd, Fannie Mae's chief executive, said in a release.

New Capital

In one measure to preserve cash, Fannie Mae will cut its common stock dividend by 29 percent to 25 cents per share from 35 cents per share, starting with its third-quarter payout.

That will free up $390 million a year, it said.

The company also plans to raise $6 billion in new capital through common and preferred stock offerings, it said.

To initiate that fund-raising, Fannie Mae said starting Tuesday it will offer two issues totaling $4 billion of common stock and noncumulative mandatory convertible preferred shares.

The company needs to retain capital and raise more funds to fight its way through what has been called the worst housing market since the Great Depression.

Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac provide capital to U.S. mortgage markets by buying loans originated by banks and other lenders.

Its regulator said it planned to ease limits on the amount of capital it must maintain and lifted a consent order that had restricted some of its activities after an accounting scandal.

Through February, U.S. home prices had fallen nearly 15 percent from their peak in July 2006, according to the Standard & Poor's/Case Shiller index of 20 metropolitan areas.

In February alone, the latest month for which data is available, prices slid 2.6 percent from the previous month and 12.7 percent from a year earlier.

Fannie Mae Tuesday said it expects home prices to fall another 7 percent to 9 percent on a national basis this year.

Foreclosure filings surged 23 percent in the first quarter, and were more than double a year earlier, according to RealtyTrac.

Some Improvement

For all the red ink, the results showed some improvement from the previous quarter.

The company's mortgage market share, total book of business and revenues from its guarantee and investment activities grew in the quarter.

"Our revenues grew and our net loss narrowed in the first quarter, but our results were driven overwhelmingly by market-valuation losses on derivatives and trading securities and our increase in charge-offs and the provision for credit losses," Chief Financial Officer Stephen Swad said.

The housing and credit market crisis has hit financial shares hard, and Fannie Mae suffered more than most.

Its stock is off nearly 60 percent in the last year -- more than twice the S&P 500 financial index's drop in the same period.

Shortly after the New York Stock Exchange open on Tuesday, Fannie Mae shares were down 3 percent at $27.50.

Freddie Mac slid 4.6 percent to $24.35.

Fannie Mae has raised fees and tightened standards on loans it purchases to better compensate for added mortgage market risk.

After years of treating the two companies as outcasts for a series of accounting scandals, officials in Washington now want Fannie and Freddie to play pivotal roles in stabilizing the housing market.

The Office of Federal Housing Enterprise Oversight, which oversees both Fannie and Freddie, in mid-March loosened restrictions on how much capital the two companies must hold.

This frees Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac to expand their mortgage purchases by up to a combined $200 billion, in an effort to help stabilize the housing turmoil.

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