Government Takes Control of Fannie, Freddie
The Treasury Department said the plan to shore up the finances of the two government-sponsored enterprises, which have $1.6 trillion in debt outstanding, should not cost U.S. taxpayers money in the long run and could even return cash to the government coffers eventually.
The companies have suffered combined losses of nearly $14 billion in the last four quarters and large holders of their debt, including overseas central banks, have begun to show signs of increasing nervousness over their financial health.
Worries over their shrinking capital position led their regulator, the Federal Housing Finance Agency, to place them in conservatorship.
"As house prices, earnings and capital have continued to deteriorate, their ability to fulfill their mission has deteriorated," FHFA Director James Lockhart told the news conference. "They have been unable to provide needed stability to the market."
He said the companies lacked sufficient capital to continue taking losses while supporting the housing market at the same time.
Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke said in a statement that he "strongly" endorsed the action. "These necessary steps will help to strengthen the U.S. housing market and promote stability in our financial markets," he said.
As part of the plan, FHFA will operate the companies until they are stabilized and the Treasury will extend financing to the companies, as well as to the Federal Home Loan Banks, through a new lending facility until Dec. 31, 2009, if needed.
In addition to the senior preferred stake Treasury is taking in the companies, it will immediately receive warrants for the purchase of some common stock.
The stock of the two companies has fallen more than 90 percent in the past year and in recent months foreign investors have pared their holdings of the companies' securities.
Paulson had briefed both Democratic presidential nominee Sen. Barack Obama and Republican contender Sen. John McCain earlier in the weekend. Both candidates indicated they would support the plan, but wanted to ensure taxpayers were safeguarded and shareholders and management took a hit.
-- CNBC.com contributed to this report