Special purpose entities, those nasty little financing vehicles that helped Enron fool the world, have now surfaced as a point of concern with mortgage giant Fannie Mae.
With nondescriptive names such as 'LJM2' and 'Raptor', Enron executives used SPEs -- which under certain circumstances do not fall under the same audit scrutiny as a company's assets and liabilities -- to slip past investment safeguards and manufacture assets.
While nobody is accusing Fannie of operating any such schemes with its own SPEs, the Wall Street Journal reported today that Fannie's regulator, the Office of Federal Housing Enterprise Oversight, has confirmed it is looking at the accounting for thousands of mortgage backed securities managed by the Washington, D.C.-based company.
Armando Falcon Jr., OFHEOs director, reportedly told the Journal the agency is trying to quantify the potential problem.
The concern appears to revolve around FAS 140 and whether or not loans securitized by Fannie should remain on its balance sheet -- potentially impacting its capital position which it is already trying to shore up, according to the article. Fannie will likely have to move at least some of the loans to its balance sheet regardless of the outcome of OFHEOs inquiry.
The government sponsored housing enterprise reported it had $1.4 trillion in MBS outstanding as of February. Fannie's position is reportedly that it has no real control over the assets as it moves them into the trusts.
At the end of 2003, the FDIC reports there was $5.3 trillion outstanding in total MBS from all U.S. issuers.