At the height of the recession, President George W. Bush and the congress authorized a bail-out of banks and investment companies headed for failure.
In a similar plan to bail out Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, the government authorized the Treasury moved forward with the plan to stabilize the financial industry, and to an extent the economy. The Treasury purchased $225 billion in mortgage-backed securities insured by Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac.
These securities were considered toxic because investors believed that the underlying mortgages were risky, and the price on the open market did not reflect that risk. When investment banks couldn’t get rid of these bad products on the open market, the Treasury stepped in and paid a discount to acquire the assets. This helped the investment banks pad their balance sheet with more cash, improving their financial conditions, avoiding bankruptcy or failure, alleviating to some degree panic in the market that could have led to a more damaging recession or economic depression.
One year ago, the Treasury began selling these mortgage-backed securities, and as of today, the government no longer has any of the assets purchased under this bailout plan. Not only that, but the Treasury earned $25 billion on its $225 billion investment. That works out to a total return of about 11 percent over about three and a half years (the purchases began in October 2008), though that doesn’t take into account the timing of the buying and selling transactions. The good news is that the Treasury did not lose money on toxic assets, a legitimate concern at the time.
The concern is not over, however. The quality of the underlying mortgages is still in question. The investments could still fail.
… [I]f the mortgages behind those securities fail, taxpayers will still be on the hook, since federal housing giants guarantee the loans and taxpayers have been propping up Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac.
The $25 billion earned through the bail-out of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac will go to paying down government debt.
Published or updated March 19, 2012.