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updated: 2/24/2010 10:28 AM

Freddie Mac loses $7.8 billion in 4Q

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WASHINGTON -- Freddie Mac lost $7.8 billion in the final three months of last year, but the mortgage finance company didn't need a federal cash infusion for the third quarter in a row.

Freddie Mac, which has been controlled by federal regulators since September 2008, lost $2.39 a share, the company said Wednesday. The loss included $1.3 billion in dividends paid to the Treasury Department, which has an almost 80 percent stake in the McLean, Virginia, company.

The results were a marked improvement over the fourth quarter 2008 when Freddie lost $23.9 billion, or $7.37 a share.

During the most recent quarter, Freddie suffered $7.1 billion in credit losses and a $3.4 billion write-down in low income tax credit investments. That move "increases the likelihood" that the company will require more cash from the Treasury Department, the company warned in a regulatory filing.

Freddie Mac and its sister company Fannie Mae play a vital role in the mortgage market by purchasing mortgages from lenders and selling them to investors. Freddie Mac, for example, purchased or guaranteed about one in four home loans made last year and helped almost 2 million borrowers refinance.

For taxpayers, stabilizing the two companies has been one of the costliest consequences of the financial meltdown. Freddie Mac has received about $51 billion from taxpayers to date, and the Obama administration has pledged to cover unlimited losses through 2012.

The government projects the pair will tap a combined $188 billion by the fall of 2011, up from the current level of $111 billion.

Together, Fannie and Freddie own or guarantee almost 31 million home loans worth about $5.5 trillion. That's about half of all mortgages.

The two companies, however, loosened their lending standards for borrowers during the real estate boom and are reeling from the consequences. Nearly 4 percent of Freddie's borrowers have missed at least three payments.

"The housing recovery remains fragile," CEO Charles "Ed" Haldeman said in a statement. He noted the risks posed by high unemployment could lead to even more foreclosures.

For all of 2009, Freddie Mac lost $25.7 billion, or $7.89 a share, including $4.1 billion in dividends paid to the Treasury Department.