JPMorgan Admits Wrongdoing In London Whale Scandal
In a not unexpected turn of events, banking heavy weight JPMorgan Chase & Co (NYSE: JPM) has agreed to pay $800 million to a laundry list of government agencies in London and Washington. The financial firm has also agreed to admit wrongdoing to settle allegations of in reference to a multi-billion dollar trading loss. The settlements are expected this week.
The nation’s largest bank is hoping to get beyond the debacle of the $6 billion blunder and mend tattered relationships with regulators. Executives have managed to avoid charges in the case despite questions as to whether they misled investors about the risk of the trades. The losses in the case came about from enormous derivatives wagers made by traders at JPMorgan’s principal investment office in London. The traders in London violated the bank’s risk limits to make their credit derivative trades. As their bets worsened, the traders underestimated the losses; this according to JPMorgan’s own assessment of the trade. The traders then attempted to cover up their losses. Under federal rules, traders have leeway to value their losses, but an investigation of the incident showed that the traders moved from marking the value in a middle range to some of the most optimistic figures they could come up with.
The admission of wrongdoing with the SEC not only tarnishes the bank’s reputation, it leaves JPM open to private litigation. The bank will garner fines from the SEC, the Federal Reserve, the Office of the Comptroller of Currency, and British regulator the Financial Conduct Authority. While hardly record breaking, the fines are still rather substantial. And even with the settlements, JPM’s regulatory problems are far from resolved.
The bank is facing inquiries from a minimum of seven federal agencies and two European countries. Authorities are examining everything from the bank’s hiring practices to mortgage loans it sold to investors during the financial crisis. Even Bernie Madoff and his Ponzi scheme has landed in the mix. The issue is whether or not JPMorgan alerted authorities to suspicions they may have had regarding the matter. It seems that since becoming a magnet for federal attention, the bank can’t catch a break.
This isn’t the first time the bank has admitted to wrongdoing. In 2011 JPMorgan paid $211 million to settle accusations that it frequently manipulated a bidding process in order to win investment business from municipalities. The accusations involved the municipal investment market in which cities, counties and states invest the proceeds of bond sales before they are used to pay for municipal projects. The grievances claimed that between 1997 and 2006 JPM employees covertly schemed with competitors to win business from municipalities looking to invest bond proceeds.
In the end, JPMorgan will choose its battles and fight the good fight or settle and move on. Litigation woes and investigations are de trop for the company these days. But one has to wonder about the hiring practices of the company and how it manages to garner so many employees who seem to think they can put on a cloak of invisibility a la Harry Potter when it comes to accountability. Honesty really is the best policy. Just ask JPMorgan.
Disclosure: The author has no positions in any stocks mentioned, and no plans to initiate any positions within the next 72 hours.
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