US$11 bil. eyed in JPMorgan settlement talks

By Michael Virtanen, AP

ALBANY, New York–An US$11 billion national settlement is under discussion to resolve claims over JPMorgan’s handling of mortgage-backed securities in the run-up to the recession, said a government official familiar with ongoing negotiations among bank, federal and New York state officials.

The Department of Justice is taking the lead on the settlement, which would include US$7 billion in cash and US$4 billion in consumer relief, said the official, who spoke Wednesday with The Associated Press on the condition of anonymity because a settlement hasn’t been reached and the official wasn’t authorized to discuss it publicly.

The government has continued investigating JPMorgan over mortgage-backed securities, which lost value after a bubble in the housing market burst and helped spur the financial crisis.

The company declined to comment Wednesday.

In Jan. 2012, a task force of federal and state law enforcement officials was established to pursue wrongdoing with regard to mortgage securities.

New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman is a co-chairman of that working group created by U.S. President Barack Obama. His office declined to comment on the JPMorgan talks.

The Department of Justice last month accused Bank of America Corp. of civil fraud in failing to disclose risks and misleading investors in its sale of US$850 million of mortgage bonds in 2008. The Securities and Exchange Commission filed a related lawsuit. The government estimates that investors lost more than US$100 million on the deal. Bank of America is disputing the allegations.

Last week, JPMorgan agreed to pay US$920 million and admitted that it failed to oversee trading that led to a US$6 billion loss last year. That combined amount, in settlements with three U.S. regulators and a British one, is one of the largest fines ever levied against a financial institution.

JPMorgan came through the financial crisis in better shape than most of its rivals, and CEO Jamie Dimon had charmed lawmakers and commanded the attention of regulators in Washington.

A number of big banks, including JPMorgan, Goldman Sachs and Citigroup, previously have been accused of abuses in sales of securities linked to mortgages in the run-up to the crisis. Together they have paid hundreds of millions of dollars in penalties to settle civil charges brought by the SEC, which accused them of deceiving investors about the quality of the bonds they sold.

JPMorgan settled SEC charges in June 2011 by agreeing to pay US$153.6 million and reached another such agreement for US$296.9 million in November.

The banks in all the SEC cases were allowed to neither admit nor deny wrongdoing, a practice that brought criticism of the agency from judges and investor advocates.