Comments and observations on social and political trends and events.

Tuesday, September 30, 2008

The Fannie Mae Implosion: A bolt out of the blue? Don’t think so!

Robert Bidinotto has posted a link to a damning video showing Congressmen including Barney Frank chastising Armando Falcon, director of the Office of Federal Housing Oversight, who blew the whistle on Fannie Mae in 2004. If you’re interested here are links to the web site and to the most recent (2006) report. The report runs 348 pages but reading the 13 page executive summary gives the lowlights of this appalling story. I have provided some quotes below.

What is even more sickening is the fact that the same web page lists reports going back to 2003. All of them share the same theme: Fannie Mae violated standard accounting rules and engaged in dubious (to put it mildly) practices to accomplish the goals of senior management.

When Franklin Raines became Chairman and Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of Fannie Mae in 1999, he sought to lead the Enterprise into a new era of growth in business volumes and profits by challenging senior management and employees to double EPS in five years. Mr. Raines also made changes in Fannie Mae’s compensation programs that enhanced incentives to achieve that goal.

A combination of factors led Fannie Mae senior management, through their actions and inactions, to commit or tolerate a wide variety of unsafe and unsound practices and conditions. Those factors included the Enterprise’s enormous financial resources and political influence, the expectation that senior management could write the rules that applied to Fannie Mae, financial rewards tied to a measure of profits that management could easily manipulate, and the relative disinterest of senior executives in adhering to standards of prudent business operations.

Fannie Mae’s Board of Directors contributed to those problems by failing to be sufficiently informed and to act independently of its chairman, Franklin Raines, and senior management, and by failing to exercise the requisite oversight over the Enterprise’s operations.

That misconduct ultimately led to the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) directing Fannie Mae to restate its financial results for 2002 through mid-2004, the departure of Mr. Raines and the Enterprise’s Chief Financial Officer (CFO), Timothy Howard, losses of tens of billions of dollars in market capitalization for Fannie Mae shareholders, and expenses for the restatement process, regulatory examinations, investigations, and litigation that the Enterprise has recently estimated will exceed $1.3 billion in 2005 and 2006 alone.

Improper earnings management at Fannie Mae increased the annual bonuses and other compensation linked to EPS that senior management received. Compensation for senior executives that was driven by or linked to EPS dwarfed basic salary and benefits. For CEO Franklin Raines, for example, two compensation components directly tied to meeting EPS goals accounted for more than $20 million for the six years from 1998 through 2003. Three-year EPS goals also played a crucial role in determining the size of the approximately $32 million awarded to Mr. Raines during that six-year period under a long-term executive compensation program. In total, over $52 million of Mr. Raines’ compensation of $90 million during the period was directly tied to achieving EPS targets.

The image of Fannie Mae communicated by Mr. Raines and his inner circle and promoted by the Enterprise’s corporate culture was false. In the words of one current member of Fannie Mae’s Board of Directors, the picture of the Enterprise as a “best-in-class” financial institution was a “façade.” To maintain that façade, senior executives worked strenuously to hide Fannie Mae’s operational deficiencies and significant risk exposures from outside observers—the Board of Directors, its external auditor, OFHEO, the Congress, and the public. The illusory nature of the Enterprise’s public image and senior management’s efforts at concealment were the two essential features of the Enterprise’s corporate culture. Those features, which were both supported by repeated improper manipulation of earnings, are a major theme of the report.

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