The U.S. government and its regulators want a lot of money from Jamie Dimon’s bank because they think the institutions it owns did some really bad things when selling mortgage backed securities to every tom, dick and harry on The Street. This is a story I’ve done original reporting on for three years now starting at The Atlantic, then DealFlow Media, and have made multiple appearances on RT’s Keiser Report warning their RMBS fraud settlement will be huge. In fact, I told Max Keiser viewers in early 2011 it would be around $10 billion and then watched traders on the street shake their heads at me because they just couldn’t imagine it.
This wasn’t because I had a crystal ball and guessed right. It was because I knew the amount of documented evidence and whistleblowers against JP Morgan / Bear Stearns was so strong that the number would have to appear big to the general public; so our Too Slow To Do Anything regulators might appear like financial crime cops and say they got a big number out of JPM. Of course if the SEC, DOJ or NYAG had done something when the mortgage insurers first started to complain about Tom Marano’s (Bear Stearns Head of Mortgages) rmbs team not buying back faulty loans, like their contract said they would in 2007, just think of all the actual bond losses, and jobs, and individuals net worth that might not have been wiped out.
Now we see my peers in the financial press are just starting to wake up to the fact that JP Morgan is going to have to pay mega billions (like $10 billion plus) to settle fraud claims for the role of Bear Stearns mortgage traders during the housing boom and few other illegal things they did related to mortgages. That’s about two quarters of net profit for JP Morgan.
JP Morgan doesn’t want to make this settlement; especially if they have to admit guilt or wrong doing because that could cement more civil fraud settlements by all the investors who bought the bank’s RMBS. According to JPM’s quarterly filings, those investors equal at least $160 billion of private rmbs litigation these days. And while JPM is a very profitable bank ($2.4 trillion in assets) making money hand over fist it doesn’t have enough cash to payoff all those private rmbs suits at the dollar amount they could likely legally win if they ever went to trial.
Last month we saw JPM settle its first RMBS fraud suit with one of the monolines, Assured Guarantee. This suit, filed by top lawyers at Patterson Belknap, was key in finding over 30 whistleblowers to detail a mafia like level of deceit/cover up and out right stealing from their own damn clients. It also showed that in mid 2008 when JP Morgan found out about the really bad stuff Bear was doing they created a plan to : delay contractual payouts agreed upon and just up and change the calculations on mortgage loan defaults/payouts that Bear/EMC had been using so they didn’t have to pay the monolines around $1 billion of rmbs putbacks in 2008. Yep you heard me right. The monoline lawyers at PBWT found buckets of emails from JPM executives spelling out this nifty little plan. That’s why a NY State judge, Ramos, allowed JP Morgan to be sued for fraudulent conveyance in the Assured case. Because JPM flat out knew Bear committed fraud and in 2008 didn’t want ( or couldn’t afford) to pay it.
The Assured settlement was confidential of course but people close to the settlement told me Assured was ‘thrilled with the settlement number’ and it was close to the near $100 million of putbacks they were suing for. JPM didn’t admit wrong doing in this case but they sure spoke with their wallet by paying Assured once the monoline had secured most of their claims through beating JPM’s motion to dismiss.
So now we have the DOJ, NYAG, & FHFA wanting to see Jamie Dimon admit his bank owes RMBS investors a lot of money. The FHFA has been leaking settlement numbers to Kara Scannell at the FT for a few weeks now. The first number she reported was they were asking JPM for $6bn for the crap rmbs sold to Fannie and Freddie (the GSEs). Then we watched the DOJ, who always calls the WSJ went they want to get a message out, report the DOJ wanted $3bn and JPM said no way. When we see settlement numbers get reported like this it means the government is desperate to push a bank into a deal. They use press embarrassment and ‘lets scare the shareholders’ to get the bank to settle and my peers blindly print whatever the government tells them. The only journalist (besides me) I’ve seen continually follow the evidence/litigation against JPM with detailed, insightful analysis is Alison Frankel – a Reuters legal columnist.
Don’t let press reports of JPM adding to its litigation reserves fool you into thinking they’ve been properly setting aside money to pay this hefty bill. Unfortunately most of my peers in the financial press don’t know how to read the tricky accounting language JP Morgan uses to hide their problems and JPM doesn’t tell shareholders how the litigation reserves will be used. Heck, for all we know it could all be set aside to sue Max Keiser because they are sick of his ‘Buy Silver crash JP Morgan’ campaign. The amount of money JPM has set aside and the amount of money they have paid out in rmbs putbacks and litigation is often inaccurately reported or not reported at all because no one can figure it out.
The story these days isn’t really the number JP Morgan will pay, but the payout number compared to the legal reserves they have been booking. This is something I was first to highlight in May 2012 and now we see Bloomberg commentator Josh Rosner calling JPM out on the same issue–which is a good start but everyone of my fellow reporters covering this story should be writing about this at the top of their stories.
You see JPM’s legal reserves hit their bottom line (and their regulatory capital levels) so they don’t want to admit they will have to pay this money until the very last minute. But that’s not really fair to shareholders. In fact we don’t ever get see what is the current amount JPM is holding in their legal reserves. What we see is a reasonable estimate of what COULD be added to their legal reserves and it’s hidden in a footnote. Last quarter that footnote estimated it was ‘reasonably possible’ that around $6.8 billion could be added to legal reserves; but this number doesn’t effect their balance sheet it’s a just an estimate the auditors make them write.
We do see litigation expense, which comes right off the income statement and effects net profit, but that has been really small number this year ($400mn in Q2 and $300mn in Q1). And they don’t break down what is in this litigation expense. It could be taken from their legal reserves bucket or just be Sullivan & Cromwell’s legal bill. We never really know what is being credited and debited.
Robert Christensen of Natoma Partners has been warning his clients about this for over a year now in his very insightful quarterly newsletter.
He told me in an interview today, “It’s been increasingly clear in the last few days that JP Morgan has egregiously been under reserving.” Christensen goes on to point out that their is NO information publicly available in which you can count the current litigation reserves they hold on the balance sheet. That’s because he says the bank reports what is going into the legal reserves but not what is coming out. And the estimates we see in footnotes is not what hits the income statement or capital levels.
“We are seeing very big numbers coming out of the press on what JPM will likely pay the Government for rmbs suits but that’s just the government. What about the $100 billion plus of private rmbs suits that expect a settlement also?” warns Christensen.
And on top of all that the OCC, their bank regulator, and the SEC, their securities regulator, have been allowing JP Morgan to under reserved for RMBS lawsuits and putbacks for years now. It’s like the regulator is now part of the scheme to defraud JP Morgan shareholders.
Christensen wrote in his June newsletter:
Litigation expense recorded in Q1 2013 was $0.3 billion. There was no disclosure of how much of this amount was for litigation reserves or
how much was mortgage related… all such current and future claims are not included in the mortgage repurchase liability, but rather in litigation reserves. However, those amounts have not specifically been broken out and the total legal reserve for private label loan sales has never been disclosed.
Which basically means America’s largest bank thinks a main street shareholder doesn’t deserve to know what it’s doing to payback the clients it’s accused of defrauding.