The $13 billion settlement JPMorgan Chase is reportedly set to pay would be the largest imposed on a single company by U.S. regulators. News of the settlement, which broke this weekend, reaffirmed a view commonly held on Wall Street: JPMorgan (JPM) is being singled out because Jamie Dimon dared criticize the Dodd-Frank legislation and the Obama Administration used the bank’s London Whale fiasco as an excuse to exact revenge on the man previously described as “Obama’s favorite banker.”
The size of the settlement would seemingly lend credence to that view but “JPMorgan Chase is just the first domino in what’s going to be a series of large civil settlements with large payments from Wall Street,” says William Cohan, a former investment banker, BloombergView contributor and best-selling author.
“There’s going to be more of this to come,” Cohan says, suggesting the JPMorgan settlement will be the “template for other banks” that were big players in the mortgage-backed securities market, including Citigroup (C), Deutsche Bank (DB) and Royal Bank of Scotland (RBS).
Indeed, The Financial Times reports Monday that Bank of America (BAC) is in talks to pay a $6 billion settlement to the Federal Housing Finance Agency, which oversees Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. As Cohan notes, that’s even larger than the $4 billion JPMorgan is earmarked to pay the FHFA, according to numerous reports. (Note: The irony of big banks being sued for allegedly misleading Fannie and Freddie is not lost on me and will be addressed in forthcoming coverage.)
Another conventional view Cohan challenges is the idea that JPMorgan is now being punished for having acquired Bear Stearns and Washington Mutual at the government’s request in 2008.
“JPM Chase got a great deal on Bear Stearns – they got a great deal on Washington Mutual,” he says. “They bought the equity of these companies; that means they also bought the liabilities. They had to anticipate this – they’re not idiots.”
JPMorgan executives, led of course by Jamie Dimon, “had to know there would be some additional costs” to buying Bear and WAMU “and now they’re coming home to roost,” Cohan concludes.
Cohan also challenges the conventional thinking – this one encouraged by JPMorgan – that the vast majority of issues being settled relate to those crisis-era acquisitions.
“We still don’t know how much of the wrongdoing came from Bear Stearns and Washington Mutual,” he says, noting the settlement is not yet final. “JPMorgan executives would have you believe the bulk came from Bear and WAMU; I’m not so sure it’s that simple.”
Indeed, if this case was only about “legacy” issues, Cohan wonders why JPMorgan would settle for such a huge sum – and one that has risen from a reported $11 billion just a few weeks ago.