FHFA Not Focusing on GSE Wind Down; Wholesale Inflation Sees Uptick in April

The new director of the Federal Housing Finance Agency, Melvin Watt, does not intend to focus on GSE wind down. Volatility in the food and energy sector led to some wholesale-price increases in April.

The new director of the Federal Housing Finance Agency, Melvin Watt, used his first major speech on Wednesday at the Brookings Institution to emphasize a change in focus for his agency, which is the conservator of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, currently the linchpins of the nation’s residential property finance. Acting director Ed DeMarco, who preceded Watt, had been preparing the GSEs for their eventually “winding down,” even though no outline or timetable for the process exists. The new director has no such intention.

“One topic that is not on FHFA’s agenda, because it’s not part of our statutory mandate, is housing finance reform legislation,” Watt noted in the speech. “My guess is that there were many people who expected that I would start talking about reform legislation the minute I got to FHFA. I am well aware, and regularly express my belief, that conservatorship should never be viewed as permanent or as a desirable end state and that housing finance reform is necessary.

“However, Congress and the Administration have the important job of deciding on housing finance reform legislation, not FHFA,” he added. “Instead, our task is to continue to fulfill our statutory mandates, to execute our Strategic Plan and to manage the present status of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac.” In other words, he sees his job as making the GSEs as stable and efficient as possible in their current role, not making long-term policy.

Wholesale Inflation Sees Uptick in April 

Wholesale inflation has some legs to it, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics—at least for now. The BLS said on Wednesday that its Producer Price Index for final demand (that is, finished goods and services) advanced 0.6 percent in April. The increase followed a rise of 0.5 percent in March and a decline of 0.1 percent in February. Also, the index for final demand moved up 2.1 percent for the 12 months ended in April, the largest 12-month advance since March 2012.

Volatility in the food and energy sector led to some of the wholesale-price increases. Prices for final demand less foods, energy, and trade services rose 0.3 percent in April, the same as in March. The index for final demand less foods, energy, and trade services represents about two-thirds of final demand.

Among other categories of final demand in April, a 2.7 percent increase in prices for machinery and equipment wholesaling led the overall advance in wholesale prices. The price indexes for apparel, footwear, and accessories retailing; airline passenger services; guestroom rental; and food and alcohol wholesaling also increased. By contrast, wholesale prices for chemicals fell 4.2 percent. The indexes for securities brokerage, and for fuels and lubricants, also moved down in April.

Wall Street dropped away from its record highs on Wednesday, with the Dow Jones Industrial Average off 101.5 points, or 0.6 percent. The S&P 500 was down 0.47 percent and the Nasdaq declined 0.72 percent.