The myriad legal settlements paid out by investment banker JP Morgan Chase and Co. (JPM) have consistently filled financial news headlines for some time now. Not just for the scope of the company’s malfeasances, but for the sheer size of the payouts — a few hundred million here, a couple billion there, and $27 billion by the time the dust had settled.
What is often lost in all the talk of JP Morgan’s monstrous government settlements is how they didn’t really affect the bank’s profits. JP Morgan factored in the expected losses and set aside a giant wear chest for settlements prior to their maturation. The market in turn looked past the payouts to JPMorgan’s bottom line, and liked what it saw.
Indeed, despite the size of the payouts JP Morgan remained solidly in the black three out of four quarters of 2013. The banking giant outpaced the S&P 500’s already robust return, notching a 30.94 percent gain in stock price over the year versus a 29.6 percent uptick for the famous index.
The company’s investors breathed a sigh of relief after the largest of the payouts closed late last year: the one due to the Department of Justice over knowingly selling toxic mortgage securities during the Great Recession. After initially throwing out $3 billion, JP Morgan finally settled to the tune of $13 billion. While sizable, it still fit within JPMorgan’s settlement budget, and business resumed as normal.
However, the size, scope, and lack of oversight concerning what became the largest government settlement in history are all facing closer scrutiny in light of a lawsuit filed by a government watchdog group. And if the lawsuit were to prove fruitful, JP Morgan could be on the hook for a settlement they might not so easily absorb.
The watchdog group in question, Better Markets, asserts that the DOJ violated the separation clause of the Constitution when they approved the $13 billion settlement unilaterally. In the lawsuit, Better Markets states that “This (settlement agreement) was the product of negotiations conducted entirely in secret behind closed doors… No one other than those involved in those secret negotiations has any idea what JP Morgan Chase really did or got for its $13 billion because there was no judicial review or proceeding at all regarding this historic and unprecedented settlement.”
If the lawsuit is found to have merit, it could not only ratchet up JPMorgan’s government tab considerably, but change to precedent for other major banks still due to shell out their own settlements, notably Bank of America (BAC) , who are still on hold for their own rumored $8.5 billion payout.