Breakout

$11 Billion Fine? Just a Cost of Doing Business for JPMorgan: Ritholtz

Jeff Macke
Breakout

JPMorgan (JPM) CEO Jamie Dimon met with Attorney General Eric Holder on Thursday morning as rumors swirled about a possible $11 billion settlement to end criminal and civil charges against the bank. The Justice Department has a minimum of seven different probes into JPM and they're reportedly trying to settle as many as possible in rapid fashion.

According to several reports JPM made a $3 billion settlement offer connected to alleged abuses in residential mortgage backed securities. Mr. Holder is said to have rejected the offer. Last week JPM paid $920 million and "admitted to some wrongdoing" to settle regulatory charges connected to the "London Whale" losses.

Related: Is JPMorgan Stuck in Perpetual Defense Mode?

Once JPM and Eric Holder finish horse trading over the size of JPM's kickback... er... settlement, the bank will move on to addressing federal probes into its debt collection practices and its role in rigging Libor rates.

Regarding JPMorgan's settlements and charges and degrees to which the bank is willing to concede guilt, two things are clear. One, JPM has a ton of money. Earnings estimates are pegged around $22 billion for 2013 and the company has a market cap of about $200 billion. The other is that it will always be politically expedient for young prosecutors on the make to attack Wall Street banks. JPM is going to be in a constant state of legal defense for the foreseeable future.

Ritholtz Wealth Managment CIO and Big Picture editor Barry Ritholtz says JPMorgan has shelled out about $11 billion in fines and spent around $16 billion in legal fees in the last few years. "This is just the cost of doing business for these mega banks."

There's the rub. Paying off regulators and settling criminal charges is only supposed to be the "cost of doing business" for criminals. When the FBI goes after the Mafia the stated goal was putting them out of business. There is no specific goal when it comes to cracking down on Wall Street. Only a portion of the settlements collected go to the actual victims. For the most part the money is used to fund more investigations.

As long as JPM's income exceeds its legal fees they have no economic incentive to stop pushing the law at every opportunity. The relationship between banks and DC is the same as that between PED users and big-time athletics. There's so much money in breaking the rules and only a moral incentive to not cheat.

Ritholtz offers a related explanation for the lack of prosecutorial zeal. "The single greatest innovation of the banking sector has been to convince the Justice Department and Treasury that if you prosecute us for our crimes we'll send the economy back into the abyss." He thinks its "a bunch of hooey" but there's something holding the government back when it comes to pursuing an end game with the mega banks and it's obviously not an absence of violations.

The banks are making enough money to pay off the regulators and satisfy shareholders. It's a good business. The regulators seem to be bringing in enough in fines to allow them to afford to make more charges. That's a pretty good business as well.

Main Street funds all of this but apparently our outrage is limited to protest groups and Matt Tiabbi. JPMorgan has added a legal division to its existing mega bank. If anyone really cared about stopping the mutual parasitism between Wall Street, Washington, and investors, charges would be brought against the executives heading the criminal organizations.

There is no justice being served. All we have are huge payoffs, beaming AG's and Jamie Dimon trotting between his office and the Justice Department. It's all just theater serving to prove what Main Street has suspected all along: they're getting screwed by bankers and politicians.

We'd be better off with no regulations at all.

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