Movies like “Margin Call” and “The Big Short” make the financial crisis look like a total surprise … to them. Well, it wasn’t a surprise to GSEs Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. Their common stock prices (green line) began plummeting in December 2007. Lehman Bros stock price didn’t start plummeting until February 2008.
Why? National home prices had peaked in 2006 and had slowly begun to retreat. But as of December 2007, the Case-Shiller national home price index had fallen 17.4% from the peak in 2016. Subprime delinquencies had risen 46.5% over the same period. U-3 unemployment started rising in a big way in 2008.
But as home prices nosedived in 2008, subprime delinquencies skyrocketed. You can see Fannie Mae’s large drop in price in November 2008 (while they didn’t purchase subprime loans in high volume, they did invest in subprime ABS and ALT-A loan deals). While ALT-A turned out to suffer big losses, they performed better than subprime after the intial subprime spike.
On September 6, 2008, Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac were placed into conservatorship with their regulator, FHFA and remain there ever since. Also in September, Lehman Bros declared bankruptcy … afer Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac were placed into conservatorship.
*There was other lenders that failed or had to be absorbed elsewhere, like Countrywide, and Wachovia.
But Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac and Lehman Bros demise came AFTER Bear Stearns demise in March 2008, owing to subprime deal failures. In fact, you could see trouble brewing shortly after home prices started to fall. By 2007, both Bear and Lehman were showing distress, but not Fannie Mae. Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac’s regulator, FHFA saw the warning signs with subprime and took action on September 8th (maybe prematurely since they could have continued).
Congress bailed out the banks and Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac and swept the financial dust away (aka, dust their brooms).
Just look at the above chart. Starting in 2016, risk managment at all financial firms should have been on yellow alert. By Q4 2007, it should have been upgraded to red alert. How is it possible that Lehman Bros or Bear Stearns (or Goldman Sachs) were taken by surprise as Margin Call implied.