Government-chartered mortgage funders Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac said contracts to buy mortgages were up sharply in March after regulators reduced the companies’ minimum capital requirements, increasing their purchasing power by $200 billion.

Freddie Mac said retained portfolio mortgage purchase and sales agreements hit $43.5 billion, up from $14.8 billion in February. Fannie Mae reported that mortgage commitments rose to $31 billion in March, up from $25 billion in February.

In loosening the companies’ capital requirements in March, the Office of Federal Housing Enterprise Oversight said Fannie and Freddie should be able to purchase or guarantee $2 trillion in mortgages this year (see story).

In February, OFHEO lifted a $1.5 trillion cap on loans and mortgage-backed securities the government-sponsored entities (GSEs) were allowed to buy and hold as investments

Freddie Mac said Friday its retained portfolio grew at an annualized rate of 5 percent in March, to $712.5 billion. Fannie Mae finished the month with a $722.8 billion portfolio, with annualized growth of 2 percent.

The percentage of all loans 90 days or more delinquent backed by Freddie Mac grew to 0.74 percent in February, up from 0.4 percent in March 2007. Fannie Mae saw delinquency rates on loans it backs rise to 1.1 percent, up from 0.66 percent a year ago.

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