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The 5 Dumbest Things on Wall Street This Week: Oct. 18

3. Bank Earnings Brouhaha

Wait a second! Wasn't the financial crisis was supposed to be a once-in-a-lifetime event?

Judging by this week's earnings, America's biggest banks may spend the rest of their days accounting -- and atoning -- for their credit bubble sins.

Citigroup (C), for example, said on Tuesday it utilized approximately $500 million of deferred tax assets (DTA) during the third quarter, and lowered its total income tax bill by nearly 50% to $1.08 billion as a result. The DTA, which are tax benefits left over from the company's massive 2008 and 2009 mortgage losses, made a big difference in Citi's bottom-line earnings of $3.23 billion, or a dollar a share. As of Sept. 30, Citi reported $44.5 billion in DTA in excess of the amount allowed to be included in the company's Basel III Tier 1 common capital.

That's right, folks. Because our good friends at Citi screwed up so royally during the bubble, they have $44.5 billion in tax credits to play with now that it's popped.

Put another way, while John Q. Taxpayer celebrates his meager $3,000 in capital loss carry forwards to lower his tax bill, these brainiac bankers have billions in tax credits to lower their tab to Uncle Sam.

No fooling. Because of its pre-crisis stupidity, Citigroup can enjoy low taxes for years to come. In fact, it almost makes you wonder how America will be able to fund its future obligations if mega-banks like Citigroup continue to use old losses to avoid paying new taxes.

Not to fear. Our intrepid public servants have found themselves a big fat piggy bank named Jamie they can crack open when they need to pay their bills.

Yep, you guessed it, Jamie as in JPMorgan Chase (JPM) CEO Jamie Dimon.

Dimon's bank reported an unexpected third quarter loss last Friday on the back of higher-than-expected legal expenses as the bank faced "escalating demands and charges from multiple government agencies" over its behavior during the mortgage crisis. The New York-based bank lost $380 million or 17 cents a share in the quarter, the first loss the bank has ever reported since Jamie Dimon took over as CEO in 2006. The third-quarter results were thrown into the red by $7.2 billion in after-tax legal expenses, which amounted to a $1.85 per share hit to earnings after-taxes.

And like Citi's tax losses, Dimon's legal bills will likely last for a very long time.

JPMorgan has set aside $23 billion toward litigation reserves, a healthy war chest indeed, to cover a settlement that reportedly could end up as high as $11 billion. For his part, Dimon is holding out for a lower settlement since it was Uncle Sam in the first place who prodded him to purchase the toxic mortgage ridden carcasses of Bear Stearns and Washington Mutual in order to save the global financial system.

Yep, the whole thing never seems to end. And hilariously, that's not even the kicker.

Ironically, Dimon's negotiations with the government have been held back as a result of the government shutdown.

Forget about a Catch 22. That's a Catch $23 billion.

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