- The Washington Times - Thursday, December 24, 2009

NEW YORK (AP) — The two chief executives of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac could get paid as much as $6 million for 2009, despite the companies’ dismal performances this year which cost taxpayers more than $100 billion. The Obama administration, meanwhile, says it is removing the $400 billion financial cap it will provide to Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac to keep the mortgage giants from failing.

Fannie’s CEO, Michael Williams, and Freddie CEO Charles “Ed” Haldeman Jr. each will receive $900,000 in salary, $3.1 million in deferred payments next year and another $2 million if they meet certain performance goals, according to filings with the Securities and Exchange Commission on Thursday.

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The pay packages were approved by the Treasury Department and the Federal Housing Finance Agency, which regulates Fannie and Freddie.

That pay is far less than what their predecessors earned. Former Fannie CEO Daniel Mudd received $10.2 million in 2008, and former Freddie CEO Richard Syron pocketed $13.1 million. Both executives were ousted when federal regulators seized the companies in September 2008. The federal government blocked exit packages for the pair worth up to $24 million.

Since then, Fannie and Freddie have needed $111 billion in taxpayer money to stay afloat, one of the most expensive aftershocks of the financial crisis.

News of the chief executives’ pay could spark new criticism about the government’s numerous bailouts, but that may be unfounded, said Mark Borges, principal with management consulting firm Compensia.

Mr. Haldeman and Mr. Williams each could command between $5 million and $10 million in a similar position in the private sector, Mr. Borges estimated, and without the notable challenges and public scrutiny they face at these companies.

“I doubt too many people would look at these jobs and say, ‘Gosh, I would love to go there for my next career move,’” Mr. Borges said. “The government is getting top-notch executives to solve problems that are not easy to solve.”

The bulk of their pay is also not guaranteed, Mr. Borges said, so these executives can’t pocket and run and must meet certain long-term goals or risk giving some of it back.

Freddie Mac’s board sets the performance goals for the chief executive, which won’t be disclosed until next year. Fannie Mae’s filing outlined its corporate goals including “being a recognized leader in the housing recovery,” ”protecting taxpayers,” and “managing risk more effectively.”

Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac declined to offer further details on CEO performance goals.

Public anger over Wall Street pay boiled over earlier this year. In response, the Obama administration imposed pay curbs on banks that received government bailouts. All the major banks have since repaid their federal money, largely to escape caps on executive pay.

Former Bank of America Corp. CEO Ken Lewis, for example, agreed to forgo his salary and bonus this year under pressure from the government. Last year, he pocketed more than $9 million in total compensation. Bank of America received $45 billion in government assistance, which it has since repaid.

Freddie Mac hired Mr. Haldeman, a former mutual fund executive, in July. At the time, the company disclosed his annual salary of $900,000 but did not disclose other incentive payments. In September, the company hired a new chief financial officer, Ross Kari, and said his pay package would be worth up to $5.5 million.

Mr. Williams, formerly Fannie Mae’s chief operating officer, took over as CEO in April after the first government-appointed CEO, Herbert Allison, took a job at the Treasury Department. Mr. Williams earned a base salary of $676,000 last year, plus a retention award of $260,000.

Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac provide vital liquidity to the mortgage industry by purchasing home loans from lenders and selling them to investors. Together, they own or guarantee almost 31 million home loans worth about $5.5 trillion. That’s about half of all mortgages.

Without government aid, the firms could have gone broke, leaving millions of people unable to get a mortgage. Most experts say the price tag for the bailouts will rise and complicate the government’s exit strategy.

Though the Obama administration has yet to divulge its long-term plans for the two companies, they are unlikely to return to their former power and influence.

Barclays Capital predicts the companies will need anywhere from $230 billion to $300 billion as a lifeline, which the Obama administration expanded to $400 billion from the original $200 billion set last fall.

Treasury Department officials said the $400 billion financial cap will be replaced with a flexible formula to ensure the companies will have all the government support needed to stand behind the billions of dollars in mortgage-backed securities they sell to investors.

Most analysts don’t expect the money to be returned any time soon, if ever.

Washington-based Fannie Mae was created in 1938 in the aftermath of the Great Depression. It was privatized 30 years later to limit budget deficits during the Vietnam War. In 1970, the government formed its sibling and competitor McLean-based Freddie Mac.

AP reporter Alan Zibel and writer Martin Crutsinger in Washington contributed to this report.

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