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Markets Shake with GSE, Home Loan Bank Downgrades

""Standard & Poor's"":http://www.standardandpoors.com/about-sp/corporate-announcements/en/us sent markets into a tailspin Monday when it downgraded credit ratings on debt for mortgage giants ""Fannie Mae"":http://www.fanniemae.com/kb/index?page=home and ""Freddie Mac"":http://www.freddiemac.com/, citing majority ownership by the federal government, whose own ratings the agency pulled down to AA+. Showing no remorse, the ratings agency also downgraded debt ratings for 10 Federal Home Loan Banks across the country.

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Chad Wandler, a spokesperson for Freddie Mac, declined to comment for the story. Representatives for neither S&P nor Fannie Mae could be immediately reached for comment.

Declines in credit ratings for Fannie and Freddie rolled forward as a result of S&P's decision to place U.S. Treasury debt on negative review. Any decision on sovereign debt immediately impacts the GSEs, which have functioned under federal conservatorship since the government spent $170 million to bailout the companies in September 2008.

The GSE downgrades could offer up a new wave of concerns for mortgage markets, with a ""_Wall Street Journal_"":http://online.wsj.com/home-page story saying the mortgage giants back about nine in 10 loans around the country.

Public officials offered mixed reactions to both news about the U.S. debt and GSE downgrades.

President Barack Obama appeared at a press conference Monday to reassure jittery Americans, investors, and market watchers. ""The markets continue to reaffirm our credit as among the world's safest,"" he said. ""Our problems are imminently solvable. And we know what we have to do to solve them.""

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Reacting to the news, Sen. Jim DeMint ""tweeted"":http://thehill.com/blogs/twitter-room/other-news/175927-demint-downgrades-of-fannie-and-freddie-mean-its-time-to-privatize that the ""Fannie & Freddie downgrade isn't surprising, they've relied on over $160 billion in endless taxpayer bailouts,"" according to ""_The Hill_"":http://thehill.com/.

""Time to break up the mortgage giants & privatize them,"" he added. ""Forcing taxpayers to prop them up hasn't solved crisis; it has prolonged it.""

Celia Chen, senior research director and housing specialist with fellow ratings agency ""Moody's Analytics"":http://www.moodys.com/Pages/atc003.aspx, downplayed the GSE downgrade by calling it a ""downside risk to the outlook.""

""The downgrade of U.S. Treasurys [sic] could result in a downgrade of debt institutions that rely on the federal government as a backstop,"" she says. ""This would raise the cost of borrowing for the GSEs, but the increase would be small, a few basis points at most.""

After issuing downgrades for the GSEs, S&P went after 10 Federal Home Loan Banks (FHLBs), institutions with reportedly over $809 billion in assets and $551 billion in outstanding bonds, according to ""_Bloomberg News_"":http://www.bloomberg.com/news/2011-08-08/fannie-mae-freddie-mac-ratings-cut-by-s-p-amid-reliance-on-u-s-backing.html.

""The FHLB system is classified as being almost certain to receive government support if necessary,"" the news service reported S&P as saying.

Other economists revealed that the stress is more likely to sweep the markets as a result of the debt downgrades in general.

""The downgrade comes at a time when the financial markets and advanced economies are already very fragile,"" says Paul Dales, a senior U.S. economist with ""Capital Economics"":http://www.capitaleconomics.com/. ""A lower credit rating is likely to mean higher borrowing costs and a lower dollar only if other things are equal.""

The dual downgrades represented a vote of no confidence by S&P that helped create selloff frenzy on Wall Street and sent the Dow Jones Industrial Average into a 630-point downward spiral on Monday - the worst since the 2008 financial crisis, according to ""CNNMoney"":http://money.cnn.com/2011/08/08/markets/bondcenter/treasuries_downgrade/.

About Author: Ryan Schuette

Ryan Schuette is a journalist, cartoonist, and social entrepreneur with several years of experience in real-estate news, international reporting, and business management. He currently lives in the Washington, D.C., area, where he freelances for DS News and MReport.
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