Moments ago, the stocks of the nationalized GSEs – Fannies and Freddie – tumbled by over 30%, after a federal appeals court upheld a ruling that barred hedge funds from suing to overturn the U.S. government’s 2012 decision to capture billions of dollars in the profits generated by the mortgage guarantors Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac after their bailout.
According to Bloomberg, which first reported the ruling, some Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac investors still have a shot at money damages, based on when they acquired their shares and whether they did so before or after the Federal Housing Finance Agency was created and then imposed its control over Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. They can pursue breach of contract claims, the appeals panel said in a split 2-1 decision Tuesday.
“It’s a little too early for me to announce what our response will be other than to say what these breach of contract claims were always the central claims in this case,” said Hamish Hume, a Washington-based attorney with Boies Schiller Flexner LLP, who represented some of the prevailing shareholders.
In place since January 2013, the controversial net worth sweep allowed the U.S. to recapture all of the $187 billion in taxpayer money it spent to stave off the companies’ collapse during the global fiscal crisis and as of 2016, at least $56 billion more. All of that without reducing Treasury’s liquidation stake in either firm.
As Bloomberg adds, the court, which included two judges selected by Republican presidents and one picked by a Democrat, heard arguments on April 15. It later allowed additional friend-of-the-court briefs to be filed by allies on each side, solicited still more submissions concerning a jurisdictional question and permitted the investors’ filing of evidence produced in sweep-related cases pending before other courts. Their ruling may yet be subject to U.S. Supreme Court review.
The U.S. Treasury Department press office did not immediately reply to an e-mailed request for comment. David Thompson, an attorney for the suing Fairholme Funds Inc. did not immediately respond to a voice-mail message seeking comment.
The appellate decision follows Fannie Mae’s Nov. 3 report in which it said it made a $3.2 billion profit in the third quarter of 2016, the company’s 19th straight quarterly profit. Those profits were more than the $1.96 billion earned in the same quarter a year earlier. The company had said it would send $3 billion to the Treasury in December, bringing its total payments to $154.4 billion.
Two days earlier, the smaller Freddie Mac said it made a $2.3 billion profit during the third quarter of this year and would send the same amount to the U.S.
Sweep terms let the companies retain an annually diminishing capital buffer that phases out in 2018, meaning any losses later sustained will require one or both to draw on taxpayer funds.
Meanwhile, some prominent hedge funds investors – most notably Bill Ackman and Richard Perry – have been actively pushing the government to revert to the GSE status quo, as existed prior to the 2008 bailouts, convinced it would unlock substantial stakeholder value. Today, however, that won’t be the case.