What To Know About The Tentative JPMorgan Deal

JPMorgan has reached a tentative $13 billion settlement with the Department of Justice over its questionable mortgage practices leading up to the U.S. financial crisis. Renee Montagne talks to NPR business correspondent Chris Arnold about what's known so far about the terms of the deal.

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RENEE MONTAGNE, HOST:

And I'm Renee Montagne. The Justice Department is on the verge of a $13 billion settlement with JPMorgan Chase. That would make it the biggest government fine involving a single company. It involves the allegedly improper sale of mortgage securities that led to the financial crisis of 2008. NPR's Chris Arnold has been following this and he joins us now. Good morning.

CHRIS ARNOLD, BYLINE: Good morning, Renee.

MONTAGNE: So tell us more about this settlement.

ARNOLD: OK. Well, the deal would clear JPMorgan of civil charges related to mortgage securities that the bank sold back during the housing bubble. It turned out those were full of bad home loans. But the deal does not protect the bank from criminal prosecution, and that's key. That's being considered a win for the government.

The Justice Department has faced some criticism for not more aggressively prosecuting the major U.S. banks or their more senior executives who were involved in the financial crisis. So here it gets a big settlement from JPMorgan and the Justice Department will continue an ongoing criminal probe as well.

MONTAGNE: Well, this deal seems like a big deal but tentative, I gather. How do we even know that this is actually coming together?

ARNOLD: Well, we know that for a while the two sides were talking. You probably remember a few weeks ago when JPMorgan CEO Jamie Dimon flew down to Washington and he got out of an SUV and walked right into the front door of the Justice Department and he met with Attorney General Eric Holder. There were TV cameras everywhere. That got a lot of attention. So certainly discussions were underway.

But then things came to a head going into this past weekend. And a source tells NPR that the broad terms of the deal were agreed to on Friday night in a phone call that included Jamie Dimon and Attorney General Eric Holder. That was described as a handshake deal, basically, on the major issues and the lawyers for both sides now are apparently hammering out the details. Of course, we really won't know for sure until it's actually announced.

MONTAGNE: All right. So you mentioned at the very top that this involved mortgage securities. What exactly was JPMorgan being investigated for here?

ARNOLD: Right. In a word or two it's about bad mortgages. And, again, back during the housing bubble there was a lot of shady lending and fraud in a whole class of mortgages that were referred to as liar's loans where you could just write in any amount you wanted for your income. And these investigations into JPMorgan involved the bank's role in wrapping up those loans into securities, bundling them up, and then selling them off.

Allegedly, the bank told investors, hey, look. This is a pretty good investment here. These are solid. We've done some diligence. When, in fact, allegedly, the bank knew that a lot of those loans were garbage. So the Justice Department was going after the bank for that. So was one state attorney general. And this settlement resolves those civil charges.

MONTAGNE: Let's talk some more about that $13 billion. It is, as we've just said, the largest settlement the Justice Department has ever reached with a single company. What would all - where, rather, would all that money go?

ARNOLD: That's right. And of course the $13 billion is the biggest in some perspective. British BP after the oil spill in the Gulf paid $4.5 billion. The bank HSBC agreed to pay about $2 billion in penalties over money laundering last year. In the JPMorgan settlement, reportedly $4 billion would go towards consumer relief and we're not sure exactly what that would mean.

Four billion would go towards Fannie and Freddie. They bought a lot of this stuff. And finally, there's $5 billion in other penalties.

MONTAGNE: Well, just briefly, let's talk about JPMorgan's other problems. It seems like we're hearing about some kind of settlement or allegations all the time with this bank.

ARNOLD: Yeah. There's the London Whale. There's energy trading. There's all kinds of problems. I think key here, the bank for the first time in nearly 10 years did not have a quarterly profit; it had a loss. So that might mark a turning point where all this starts to engulf the bank. We won't really know. We have to see what happens.

MONTAGNE: Chris, thanks very much.

ARNOLD: Thanks, Renee.

MONTAGNE: That's NPR's Chris Arnold.

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