Entering the year 2012, JPMorgan Chase CEO Jamie Dimon seemed somewhat like the world's most confident banker.
While other big banks remained plagued by legacy mortgage issues, rumors of excessive risk and extensive litigation, Dimon seemed to be sitting on a loftier – if not perfect – perch in the banking world.
But Monday, Dimon received a taste of the massive residential mortgage-backed securities litigation that has kept most big banks, especially Bank of America, in the headlines over the past few years.
New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman hit JPMorgan with a lawsuit, alleging Bear Stearns – a firm JPMorgan acquired during the mortgage mess – had caused $22.5 billion in investor losses by packaging and selling residential mortgage-backed securities supported by weak underlying collateral.
Reactions to the JPMorgan Chase suit ranged from "it's about time" type of statements to words of concern for bank investors.
Christopher Whalen with Tangent Capital Partners released a reaction piece saying, "Now this mess is amusing and troubling. It is amusing that JPM did not seem to anticipate that the unliquidated claims against Bear Stearns from creating bad residential mortgage backed securities would eventually come back to haunt the bank."
Whalen added, "Dimon and his bankers thought they were so cute stuffing the New York Fed with the accumulated detritus in Bear's mortgage conduit – what later became known as the Maiden Lane vehicles."
But Whalen calling the MBS detritus was relatively nice considering the lawsuit cites internal e-mails from Bear Stearns in which one executive wonders if a 2007 second-lien trust securitization pool is a "going out of business sale" and refers to the deal as a "dog." Other terminology allegedly used by internal staff members to describe the securitized deals includes the phrases "s... breather" and "sack of ... ," both of which are cited in Schneiderman's suit.
But not everyone is happy with Schneiderman firing off multibillion-dollar RMBS lawsuits while the banks continue to face constant streams of litigation, Basel III requirements and the need to shore-up capital.
Banking analyst Dick Bove is even quoted by CNBC as saying the banks should escape New York for friendlier parts of the country where they won't face 'constant hostility' in the form of lawsuits.
Thomas Gorman, a partner at the Dorsey Whitney law firm and a pre-eminent expert in SEC enforcement, said “This suit is significant for two reasons: Initially, it is the first to be brought by the president’s new working group. Perhaps more importantly, it is the first regulatory suit that focuses on the MBS market which was central to the market crisis and attempts to hold a major player in that market accountable for its action."
Gorman says whether the New York AG can effectively litigate the case to trial or settlement will give the market an indication of the potential for future RMBS actions.