As the Federal Reserve ends its purchases of MBS, Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac could become buyers if private investors don't return to the market, a Freddie executive said.

"There is room for Fannie and Freddie to buy some of these securities and hold them in their portfolios for the near term," said Freddie economist Amy Crews Cutts.

The Fed is currently tapering off its MBS purchases so the market can adjust as it exits at the end of the quarter. "The idea is to attract private capital back into the market place," Cutts told a HomeFree-USA homeownership conference.

Freddie Mac economists expect the Fed's exit will have modest impact on mortgage rates. The Freddie deputy chief economist said she would not be concerned if mortgage rates rise to 5.5% or 6% — as long as it happens in an orderly fashion. "A little bit each week," she said.

Cutts also noted that lenders might relax their underwriting standards to compensate for the rise in rates. But she would be worried if rates rise "violently and sharply." In that case, she expects the Fed will move back into the market and start buying MBS again.

Minutes from the Fed's last Federal Open Market Committee (FOMC) meeting reinforce this view. "The committee will continue to evaluate its purchases of securities in light of the evolving economic outlook and conditions in financial markets," according to the minutes of the Jan. 27 FOMC meeting.

The minutes also indicate the FOMC members considered, but rejected, changing that language to reflect "the possibility that the committee might decide either to sell securities or to purchase additional securities" in the future.

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