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JPMorgan's FHFA Settlement Pleases Analysts

NEW YORK ( TheStreet) -- Investors seem pleased with JPMorgan's FHFA settlement, judging from a slight rise in the bank's share price in early trading Monday, and analysts are pleased as well.

The biggest industry story this earnings season has been the $387 million net loss reported by JPMorgan Chase (JPM - Get Report), as the company set aside $9.15 billion for litigation reserves during the third quarter. The company also surprised investors by actually reporting it had $23 billion in litigation reserves on its "fortress balance sheet," the term repeatedly used by JPMorgan CEO James Dimon.

JPMorgan is expected to enter settlements with the Justice Department and regulators covering criminal and civil investigations of the company's securitization of mortgage loans, as well as other mortgage-related areas. The total settlement cost to the company could be as high as $13 billion, according to various media reports.

The first part of the big round of settlements was announced Friday, with the Federal Housing Finance Agency (FHFA) -- which regulates Fannie Mae (FNMA) and Freddie Mac (FMCC) -- announcing a $5.1 billion agreement.

The agreement announced on Friday covers losses on purchases of private label mortgage-backed securities packaged by JPMorgan, or Bear Stearns or Washington Mutual, that were sold to Fannie and Freddie. JPMorgan acquired Bear Stearns in March 2008, after the investment bank went through a liquidity crisis that threatened bankruptcy. JPMorgan bought the failed Washington Mutual from the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp., after the nation's largest savings and loan institution was shut down by regulators in September 2008.

Friday's total settlements exceeded the $4 billion that was widely reported in the media over the past week; however, the language of the settlement agreements was favorable for JPMorgan. The FHFA settlement indeed totaled $4 billion, but JPMorgan's main banking subsidiary, JPMorgan Chase Bank, NA, agreed to pay about $670 million to Fannie Mae and $480 million to Freddie Mac.

A key element of the agreement with the FHFA was that JPMorgan admitted no wrongdoing. However, JPMorgan continues to battle the FDIC over how much of Washington Mutual's actions it is liable for.

Analysts reacted favorably, as JPMorgan having avoided the huge risk of an admittance of wrongdoing in the FHFA settlement. Admitting wrongdoing related to the sale of private label MBS to Fannie and Freddie could have opened the floodgates for lawsuits by other institutional investors, since their burden of proof would be made lower, and the could avoid some of the drudgery of analyzing loan-level data to identify misrepresentation by JPM, Bear Stearns or Washington Mutual.
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