Feature

Issue of the week: Is JPMorgan’s fine unfair?

The CEO of JPMorgan Chase helped to “save the financial system five years ago,” yet the bank now has to pay a $13 billion settlement.

Is this the thanks Jamie Dimon gets? asked Jonathon Trugman in the New York Post. The CEO of JPMorgan Chase helped to “save the financial system five years ago,” yet the bank now has to pay a $13 billion settlement “to the same government that asked for its help.” The feds seem to have forgotten that the executives of the biggest bank in the U.S. were “doing right by their country” when they acquiesced in 2008 to the government’s pleas that the bank acquire Bear Stearns and Washington Mutual—both then mired in bad-mortgage debt—in the midst of the nation’s economic meltdown. Now the government is retroactively punishing JPMorgan at least in part for the bad mortgage-backed securities issued by those failing banks. In other words, said The Wall Street Journal in an editorial, the feds are confiscating half of JPMorgan’s earnings “for having done them a favor.’’

Please, spare me your tears, said Katrina vanden Heuvel in The Washington Post. Let us review JPMorgan’s recent rap sheet. This is a bank that manipulated world markets in the “London Whale’’ trading debacle, rigged energy prices in California and the Midwest, foreclosed on homeowners in an illegal “robo-signing’’ scheme, fixed interest rates on credit cards, rigged municipal bond operations in 31 states, and “gouged approximately 6,000 active-duty service members on mortgages.’’ Yet Wall Street wants the rest of us to see Dimon as a victim? As for its acquisition of Bear Stearns and Washington Mutual, JPMorgan bought them “at fire-sale prices with full knowledge of the potential liabilities,’’ and has actually “profited immensely from the deal.’’ For Dimon, this is a mere slap on the wrist.

Whether they’re just or not, big-ticket penalties like this do more harm than good, said Mark Hendrickson in Forbes.com. Now all our big banks “are setting aside billions of dollars of capital in anticipation of settlements and legal expenses.” That leaves them with less money to lend out to entrepreneurs and small businesses, and leaves our economy with fewer jobs and less credit for homebuyers and consumers. Big fines might make headlines and give politicians something to brag about, but “the feds are playing a dangerous game by bleeding the megabanks of capital.” Funds that should be working to create American wealth and jobs are instead being flushed “down the proverbial drain.”

Welcome to the new era of financial regulation, said John Cassidy in -NewYorker.com. “Given the immense profits that big multinational corporations make these days, and the pressure on politicians to punish them for their sins,” it’s no surprise that regulators are out for blood. But hefty fines only penalize stockholders; to really change behavior, the government should indict some executives for malfeasance. Let’s consider this “a teaching moment,” said Gretchen Morgenson in The New York Times. Bankers—-including Dimon—are “eager to move past the mortgage crisis,” and this settlement helps them do that. Its record-breaking size is entirely commensurate with the damage “mortgage miscreants” have wrought. But this $13 billion should also “stand as a reminder that not enough has been done to fix” our flawed financial system. Despite Dodd-Frank and other financial reforms, regulators are still doomed to chase Wall Street’s miscreants after the fact, rather than prevent reckless and predatory behavior.

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