Why Did The Treasury Hire Morgan Stanley?

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Last week we learned that the Treasury Department, shortly after receiving authority to help shore up Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, hired Morgan Stanley to advise it on the rescue plan. While the Treasury is only paying Morgan Stanley a $94,000 fee for the transaction, Morgan's role here still raises serious questions. First and foremost: why was Morgan Stanley hired?
We hear that Treasury Department spoke with a variety of Wall Street firms to discuss the advisory role. Presumably, Morgan Stanley got the mandate because it was willing to give up certain market positions that would have created conflicts of interest with its advisory role. (Goldman, which thrives at the nexus of conflicted interest, probably wanted nothing to do with this.)
But the very idea of hiring a Wall Street firm to provide "market analysis and financial expertise" in connection with Fannie and Freddie is strange. No one on Wall Street has the requisite experience for reforming or rescuing government sponsored entities that are now explicitly backed by a bailout package. What's more, the small size of the advisory fee and its structure provides no incentives for Morgan Stanley to provide advice that will keep Fannie and Freddie out of trouble in the future. Indeed, their client relationships and ties to the securitization and mortgage market may well create incentives for them to push Fannie and Freddie right back into the mortgage bubble inflating business.
We're sure the people at Morgan Stanley, however, are bright enough and perhaps even honest enough to resist these incentives. But the first thing this deal obviously does is remove accountability for a future failure of Fannie or Freddie. Morgan Stanley's low fee means that they probably can't be penalized for giving bad advice. Politicians and regulators, the folks who ordinarily would be held accountable for the collapse of government sponsored entities, will be able to point to Morgan Stanley . In other words, everyone's ass is covered.
This looks, in short, like a way to free Fannie and Freddie from oversight rather than to provide it. Government guarantees already have freed the companies from market oversight--they simply cannot fail. Now outsourcing the reform has largely freed them from political oversight. Fannie and Freddie may be more autonomous after all this is done than they ever have been before. And once Hank Paulson and his crew--who are genuinely pro-market skeptics with an appetite for reigning in Fannie and Freddie--have passed from the scene, the checks on them may well be removed.

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