Regulators took an important step toward finding out in August, when they announced that they had directed Freddie Mac and its sister enterprise, Fannie Mae, to increase guarantee fees, which are generally expressed as an annual rate on outstanding principal balances, by an average of about 10 basis points.

The move had long been telegraphed by the Federal Housing Finance Agency (FHFA), Fannie and Freddie's overseer and conservator since their failure in 2008, and tracked with the FHFA's objective to reactivate private lending and reduce the amount of risk being borne by its wards. It was also consonant with the vision set out by the Obama administration in a paper in February 2011, which called for such price increases to draw private investors back into the sector, and instructions from Congress, which had mandated a 10-basis-point increase to offset the cost of extending a cut in payroll taxes.

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