September 15th is the day many people use to mark the start of the financial crisis — it’s the day Lehman Brothers went under. You could argue — and many do — that the real point of no return was 10 days earlier, when the Treasury Department took over the two big government-backed mortgage companies, Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, in an effort to calm the markets.
The cost of the takeover? Around $188 billion.
“It was stunning, there’s no question. There was nothing in the history of the company to suggest that that was a likely probability,” says Douglas Duncan, chief economist at Fannie Mae. He started work there just before Hank Paulson, then Treasury Secretary, announced the government was taking over both Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. Duncan says there were signs that problems were brewing at Fannie earlier in the year but he didn’t expect the Treasury’s actions would be so sweeping.
Fannie Mae remains under the Treasury’s conservatorship.
Duncan says the economy today is “improving but it’s not robust.” He says he doesn’t expect a full recovery for another three years or so, in the beginning of 2016.