JPMorgan Escapes Energy Probe With Cheap Slap on Wrist (Update 1)

Updated from 8:55 a.m. ET with morning market action and a statement from JPMorgan Chase.

NEW YORK ( TheStreet) -- JPMorgan Chase ( JPM) agreed to settle energy market manipulation charges.

The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) on Tuesday announced the bank's energy trading subsidiary, JP Morgan Ventures Energy Corp. (JPMVEC), had agreed to "pay $410 million in penalties and disgorgement to ratepayers for allegations of market manipulation stemming from the company's bidding activities in electricity markets in California and the Midwest from September 2010 through November 2012."

JPMorgan's shares were down slightly in morning trading to $55.56, giving up earlier gains that may have reflected investors' relief that the company was able to move beyond one of the many regulatory investigations it is undergoing, without admitting fault, at a relatively cheap price.

JPMorgan's energy subsidiary will pay a $285 million civil penalty to the U.S. Treasury and return "$125 million in unjust profits" -- in the words of the FERC -- with $124 million going to ratepayers in the California Independent System Operator and $1 million to the ratepayers in the Midcontinent Independent System Operator.

FERC on Monday had released a letter listing preliminary findings that JPMVEC had "engaged in five manipulative bidding strategies designed to improperly obtain payments at above-market rates from the California Independent System Operator" between September 2010 and June 2011. The agency also said in the letter that JPMVEC had engaged in three "manipulative strategies" to obtain "excessive payments" from the Midwest Independent System Operator.

JPMorgan Chase said last Friday it was exploring " strategic alternatives " for its physical commodities business, including energy trading.

According to FERC's statement announcing the settlement, JP Morgan Ventures Energy Corp. "admits the facts set forth in the agreement, but neither admits nor denies the violations."

FERC said its "investigators determined that JPMVEC engaged in 12 manipulative bidding strategies designed to make profits from power plants that were usually out of the money in the marketplace. In each of them, the company made bids designed to create artificial conditions that forced the ISOs to pay JPMVEC outside the market at premium rates."

The agency went further, saying JPMorgan's energy subsidiary "knew that the California ISO and MISO received no benefit from making inflated payments to the company, thereby defrauding the ISOs by obtaining payments for benefits that the company did not deliver beyond the routine provision of energy."

Here's part of JPMorgan's statement on the settlement released later Tuesday morning:

"The J.P. Morgan employees identified in today's Federal Energy Regulatory Commission settlement order, Francis Dunleavy, Andrew Kittell and John Bartholomew, are gratified that the Commission's investigation has concluded with no charges, penalties or sanctions against them."

"After Messrs. Dunleavy, Kittell and Bartholomew explained to the Commission that their conduct was fully lawful and that they would not agree to any settlement that suggested otherwise, the Commission decided not to pursue any charges, penalties or sanctions against them. The Individuals did not agree to any settlement with the Commission. Separately, the Commission and J.P. Morgan entered into a voluntarily settlement to resolve their dispute."

-- Written by Philip van Doorn in Jupiter, Fla.

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Philip W. van Doorn is a member of TheStreet's banking and finance team, commenting on industry and regulatory trends. He previously served as the senior analyst for TheStreet.com Ratings, responsible for assigning financial strength ratings to banks and savings and loan institutions. Mr. van Doorn previously served as a loan operations officer at Riverside National Bank in Fort Pierce, Fla., and as a credit analyst at the Federal Home Loan Bank of New York, where he monitored banks in New York, New Jersey and Puerto Rico. Mr. van Doorn has additional experience in the mutual fund and computer software industries. He holds a bachelor of science in business administration from Long Island University.

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