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Powerball Investing: Federal National Mortgage Association (FNMA) and Federal Home Loan Mortgage Corp (FMCC)

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Admit it: You’ve dreamed of winning the lottery at some point in your life. Everyone knows, or at least everyone should know, that the statistical odds are against lottery players since the lottery itself wants to see a profit. For the 174.999999 million out of 175 million of us who don’t have that winning powerball ticket, there are alternative ways to play a market of chance where the odds are not necessarily rigged against you. For this edition of Powerball Investing, we will take a look at two stocks that were once, ironically, considered among the safest in the entire market: Government sponsored entities Federal National Mortgage Association (OTCBB:FNMA) and Federal Home Loan Mortgage Corp (OTCBB:FMCC).

Giant profits, giant losses, and giant profits again
Federal National Mortgage Association (OTCBB:FNMA) and Federal Home Loan Mortgage Corp (OTCBB:FMCC) were once highly profitable Wall Street darlings that conservative investors were told to park their spare cash in. Banks loaded up on GSE preferred stock since it paid reasonable dividends, and after all, everyone said it was the safe thing to do. Everything was running along smoothly until the mortgage market began to collapse and the government stepped in to rescue Federal National Mortgage Association (OTCBB:FNMA) and Federal Home Loan Mortgage Corp (OTCBB:FMCC) from financial catastrophe.

Federal National Mortgage Association (OTCBB:FNMA) and Federal Home Loan Mortgage Corp (OTCBB:FMCC) were delisted from the NYSE, fell to around $0.30 per share, and lived up to the title of zombie stocks as they issued more and more preferred stock to the Treasury. But even a zombie isn’t completely dead. When the GSEs began to post profits again (even though the Treasury was getting them all because of the Sweep amendment), Federal National Mortgage Association (OTCBB:FNMA) and Federal Home Loan Mortgage Corp (OTCBB:FMCC) rose back into the $1 range. Now both GSEs are reporting several billion in profits per quarter, yet still trade in the $1 range on the over-the-counter exchange.

Investing in the living dead
Financial institutions met various outcomes throughout the crisis, and some shareholders saw immense profits from buying at the bottom, while others were wiped out completely. American International Group Inc (NYSE:AIG) was one of the survivors providing seven-bagger returns for investors who bought at the bottom. Today, American International Group Inc (NYSE:AIG) has repaid its government loan (with over $20 billion in profit to the Treasury), launched major share buybacks, and even reinstated a tiny dividend. American International Group Inc (NYSE:AIG) investors from before the crash are almost certain to never see those pre-crash highs again thanks to massive share dilution, but these investors will get something, and the bottom-buying investors have already gotten a lot. The same cannot be said for every institution, though.

Lehman Brothers represents the opposite side of the financial turmoil. When Lehman collapsed, everyone was hurt, be it bondholders, preferred stockholders, or common stockholders. Stockholders are not expected to receive anything — a common theme of corporate bankruptcy.

But Federal National Mortgage Association (OTCBB:FNMA) and Federal Home Loan Mortgage Corp (OTCBB:FMCC) exist in a kind of middle area. They are making billions in profits like AIG and received a bailout in a similar manner to AIG, but the stock has not recovered like AIG’s. The GSEs are in this situation because of the Sweep amendment, which takes all of their profits (with the exception of those needed to maintain necessary capital levels) and transfers them to the Treasury. With none of the profits retained by the GSEs, both trade for a fraction of one quarter’s profits.

High risk, high potential return
Shares of Fannie and Freddie would be worth quite a bit more than they are now if they were allowed to retain their profits. With the amount the GSEs are earning, it would only be a few years before they’d be able to completely repay the Treasury. Even after factoring in dilution from the Treasury’s common stock warrants, Fannie and Freddie would be worth significantly more based on earnings alone. 

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