Financial Markets in Crisis: Details of Federal Reserve MBS Purchase Program

January 5, 2009

The Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher Financial Markets Crisis Group is tracking closely government responses to the turmoil that has catalyzed dramatic and rapid reshaping of our capital and credit markets.

We are providing updates on key regulatory and legislative issues, as well as information on legal issues that we believe could prove useful as firms and other entities navigate these challenging times.

This update focuses on the Federal Reserve Board’s announcement that it expects to begin purchasing mortgage-backed securities (MBS) in early January 2009.[1]

On November 25, 2008, the Federal Reserve announced three major new initiatives as follows: 

  • The Term Asset-Backed Securities Loan Facility (TALF) — under which the Federal Reserve Bank of New York, with Treasury credit protection in form of $20 billion in TARP funds, will make up to $200 billion in loans to finance the issuance of asset-backed securities with underlying credit exposures consisting of auto loans, student loans, credit card loans, or SBA-guaranteed small business loans;
  • The GSE Direct Obligation Purchase Program — a program to purchase up to $100 billion in direct obligations of government-sponsored enterprises; and
  • The MBS Purchase Program — a program to purchase up to $500 billion in mortgage-backed securities backed by Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac, or Ginnie Mae.

Certain details of the TALF and the GSE Direct Obligation Purchase Program were announced by the Fed in early- and mid-December.  This past week, the Fed announced details of the MBS Purchase Program.  The Federal Open Market Committee (FOMC) will manage the program under the direction of the New York Fed. 

The New York Fed plans to coordinate purchases of MBS through four private investment managers, BlackRock Inc., Goldman Sachs Asset Management, PIMCO, and Wellington Management Company, LLP.  According to the New York Fed, these managers were chosen through a competitive Request for Proposals (RFP) process.  The Federal Reserve also plans to choose a custodian in the coming days.

The roles of the private investment managers have been revealed only in part.  It is clear that the managers will purchase MBS outright on behalf of the Federal Reserve and that they will do so quickly.  Fed guidance indicates that the managers will "initially" trade only with primary dealers eligible to transact directly with the New York Fed.  In addition, to prevent investment managers from acquiring an unfair market advantage in their advisory and trading activities, the Fed will require that the investment managers establish screens between the investment management team and the rest of the firm. 

But many details of the private investment managers’ roles are not known.  For example, the Federal Reserve has not indicated the extent to which it will empower the managers to purchase MBS without requiring transaction-specific approval.  In addition, it is not clear what roles the private asset managers will play in terms of determining how long to hold and when and how to dispose of MBS.

Under the program, the only securities eligible for purchase will be fixed rate MBS guaranteed by Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac, and Ginnie Mae, including 30-year, 20-year, and 15-year securities.  It does not include other mortgage derivatives or cash equivalents.  Eligible securities are fully guaranteed by the GSEs, so the Fed largely will be insulated from the risk of the underlying mortgages provided that the GSEs remain healthy. 

The Federal Reserve had originally set a goal of beginning MBS purchases by the end of 2008.  Though that goal slipped, the Fed announced today that it has begun purchasing securities under the program.  The Fed has indicated that it intends to purchase (through its investment managers) up to $500 billion in agency MBS by the end of the second quarter of 2009.

Commentators have noted that this will be an aggressive purchasing program and if it is successful, will reduce primary mortgage rates and increase home prices, which have dropped rapidly over the last few months.[2]

 [1]  For additional details about the program, see

 [2]  See, e.g., Mark Felsenthal, Fed Aims to Buy $500 Billion in MBS by Mid-Year, Reuters, Dec. 31, 2008; Craig Torres & Jody Shenn, Fed Selects Four Firms to Manage MBS Purchase Plan, Bloomberg, Dec. 30, 2008. 

Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher LLP

Gibson Dunn has assembled a team of experts who are prepared to meet client needs as they arise in conjunction with the issues discussed above.  Please contact Michael Bopp (202-955-8256, [email protected]) in the firm’s Washington, D.C. office or any of the following members of the Financial Markets Crisis Group:

Public Policy Expertise
Mel Levine – Century City (310-557-8098, [email protected])
John F. Olson – Washington, D.C. (202-955-8522, [email protected])
Amy L. Goodman
– Washington, D.C. (202-955-8653, [email protected])
Alan Platt – Washington, D.C. (202- 887-3660, [email protected])
Michael Bopp – Washington, D.C. (202-955-8256, [email protected])

Securities Law and Corporate Governance Expertise
Ronald O. Mueller
– Washington, D.C. (202-955-8671, [email protected])
K. Susan Grafton – Washington, D.C. (202- 887-3554, [email protected])
Brian Lane – Washington, D.C. (202-887-3646, [email protected])
Lewis Ferguson – Washington, D.C. (202- 955-8249, [email protected])
Barry Goldsmith – Washington, D.C. (202- 955-8580, [email protected])
John H. Sturc
– Washington, D.C. (202-955-8243, [email protected])
Dorothee Fischer-Appelt – London (+44 20 7071 4224, [email protected])
Alan Bannister – New York (212-351-2310, [email protected])
Adam H. Offenhartz – New York (212-351-3808, [email protected])
Mark K. Schonfeld – New York (212-351-2433, [email protected])

Financial Institutions Law Expertise
Chuck Muckenfuss – Washington, D.C. (202- 955-8514, [email protected])
Christopher Bellini – Washington, D.C. (202- 887-3693, [email protected])
Amy Rudnick – Washington, D.C. (202-955-8210, [email protected])
Rachel Couter – London (+44 20 7071 4217, [email protected])

Corporate Expertise
Howard Adler – Washington, D.C. (202- 955-8589, [email protected])
Richard Russo – Denver (303- 298-5715, [email protected])
Dennis Friedman – New York (212- 351-3900, [email protected])
Stephanie Tsacoumis – Washington, D.C. (202-955-8277, [email protected])
Robert Cunningham – New York (212-351-2308, [email protected])
Joerg Esdorn – New York (212-351-3851, [email protected])
Wayne P.J. McArdle – London (+44 20 7071 4237, [email protected])
Stewart McDowell – San Francisco (415-393-8322, [email protected])
C. William Thomas, Jr.
– Washington, D.C. (202-887-3735, [email protected])

Private Equity Expertise
E. Michael Greaney – New York (212-351-4065, [email protected])

Private Investment Funds Expertise
Edward Sopher – New York (212-351-3918, [email protected])

Real Estate Expertise
Jesse Sharf – Century City (310-552-8512, [email protected])
Alan Samson – London (+44 20 7071 4222, [email protected])
Andrew Levy – New York (212-351-4037, [email protected])
Fred Pillon – San Francisco (415-393-8241, [email protected])
Dennis Arnold – Los Angeles (213-229-7864, [email protected])
Michael F. Sfregola – Los Angeles (213-229-7558, [email protected])
Andrew Lance – New York (212-351-3871, [email protected])
Eric M. Feuerstein – New York (212-351-2323, [email protected])
David J. Furman – New York (212-351-3992, [email protected])

Crisis Management Expertise
Theodore J. Boutrous, Jr. – Los Angeles (213-229-7804, [email protected])

Bankruptcy Law Expertise
Michael Rosenthal – New York (212-351-3969, [email protected])
David M. Feldman – New York (212-351-2366, [email protected])

Oscar Garza – Orange County (949-451-3849, [email protected])
Craig H. Millet – Orange County (949-451-3986, [email protected])
Thomas M. Budd – London (+44 20 7071 4234, [email protected])
Gregory A. Campbell – London (+44 20 7071 4236, [email protected])
Janet M. Weiss – New York (212-351-3988, [email protected])
Matthew J. Williams – New York (212-351-2322, [email protected])
J. Eric Wise – New York (212-351-2620, [email protected])

Tax Law Expertise
Arthur D. Pasternak – Washington, D.C. (202-955-8582, [email protected])
Paul Issler – Los Angeles (213-229-7763, [email protected])

Executive and Incentive Compensation Expertise
Stephen W. Fackler – Palo Alto (650-849-5385, [email protected])
Charles F. Feldman – New York (212-351-3908, [email protected])
Michael J. Collins – Washington, D.C. (202-887-3551, [email protected])
Sean C. Feller – Los Angeles (213-229-7579, [email protected])
Amber Busuttil Mullen – Los Angeles (213-229-7023, [email protected]

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