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JPMorgan Leads Banks After Moving Closer to Clean Slate

NEW YORK (TheStreet) -- JPMorgan Chase (JPM) led the banking sector, with shares rising 1.6% to close at 55.74, on an otherwise weak day for most financial names.

The broad indices ended mixed and the KBW Banking Index (I:BKX) pulled back slightly to 66.24, after the National Association for Homebuilders/Wells Fargo Housing Market Index reading for November came in at 54, which matched the downwardly revised number for October. A reading above 50 indicates that a majority of homebuilders are confident about market prospects.

JPMorgan has had a very busy fourth quarter so far, after the company saw its third-quarter earnings wiped out by provisions for litigation expenses of $9.15 billion. The company on Friday announced it had agreed to pay $4.5 billion to a group institutional investors to settle loss claims on residential mortgage-backed securities (RMBS) issued by the JPMorgan, Chase and Bear Stearns between 2005 and 2008.

JPMorgan Chase acquired Bear Stearns in March 2008, as Bear faced bankruptcy amid a liquidity crisis. The agreement announced Friday didn't cover RMBS issued by Washington Mutual before the nation's largest savings and loan institution was shuttered by regulators in September 2008 and sold by the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. to JPMorgan Chase.

JPMorgan reported having $23 billion in litigation reserves as of Sept. 30. The company on Friday soothed investors by saying it was "appropriately reserved for this and any remaining RMBS litigation matters," meaning the agreement on Friday wouldn't affect fourth-quarter earnings.

The agreement on Friday followed a settlement with the Federal Housing Finance Agency (FHFA) late last month, under which JPMorgan and subsidiaries agreed to pay a total of $5.1 billion to Fannie Mae (FNMA) and Freddie Mac (FMCC), to settle the government sponsored enterprises' RMBS claims against the bank. JPMorgan didn't admit any fault under the FHFA settlement, although the settlement did cover RMBS sales by Washington Mutual.

JPMorgan Chase continues to negotiate an even larger agreement with the Department of Justice, federal regulators and states' attorneys general, to settle multiple civil and criminal investigations of its mortgage lending and sales activities, as well as those of Bear Stearns and Washington Mutual. Various media reports have pegged the bank's tab for this settlement at $13 billion, which would include the FHFA settlement.

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