An annual audit set for release Friday projects that the federal agency that insures millions of home loans across the country could face losses of $16.3 billion, a figure that far exceeds earlier estimates and one that raises the specter that the Federal Housing Administration could need taxpayer aid for the first time in its 78-year existence.

In announcing the estimate, FHA officials were quick to point out that the dismal numbers do not mean the agency has a current operating deficit or "insufficient cash" to pay its insurance claims.

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