Don’t let press reports of JPM adding to its litigation reserves fool you into thinking they’ve been properly setting aside money to pay this hefty bill. Unfortunately most of my peers in the financial press don’t know how to read the tricky accounting language JP Morgan uses to hide their problems and JPM doesn’t tell shareholders how the litigation reserves will be used. Heck, for all we know it could all be set aside to sue Max Keiser because they are sick of his ‘Buy Silver crash JP Morgan’ campaign. The amount of money JPM has set aside and the amount of money they have paid out in rmbs putbacks and litigation is often inaccurately reported or not reported at all because no one can figure it out.
The story these days isn’t really the number JP Morgan will pay, but the payout number compared to the legal reserves they have been booking. This is something I was first to highlight in May 2012 and now we see Bloomberg commentator Josh Rosner calling JPM out on the same issue–which is a good start but everyone of my fellow reporters covering this story should be writing about this at the top of their stories.
You see JPM’s legal reserves hit their bottom line (and their regulatory capital levels) so they don’t want to admit they will have to pay this money until the very last minute. But that’s not really fair to shareholders. In fact we don’t ever get see what is the current amount JPM is holding in their legal reserves. What we see is a reasonable estimate of what COULD be added to their legal reserves and it’s hidden in a footnote. Last quarter that footnote estimated it was ‘reasonably possible’ that around $6.8 billion could be added to legal reserves; but this number doesn’t effect their balance sheet it’s a just an estimate the auditors make them write.
We do see litigation expense, which comes right off the income statement and effects net profit, but that has been really small number this year ($400mn in Q2 and $300mn in Q1). And they don’t break down what is in this litigation expense. It could be taken from their legal reserves bucket or just be Sullivan & Cromwell’s legal bill. We never really know what is being credited and debited.
Robert Christensen of Natoma Partners has been warning his clients about this for over a year now in his very insightful quarterly newsletter.
He told me in an interview today, “It’s been increasingly clear in the last few days that JP Morgan has egregiously been under reserving.” Christensen goes on to point out that their is NO information publicly available in which you can count the current litigation reserves they hold on the balance sheet. That’s because he says the bank reports what is going into the legal reserves but not what is coming out. And the estimates we see in footnotes is not what hits the income statement or capital levels.
“We are seeing very big numbers coming out of the press on what JPM will likely pay the Government for rmbs suits but that’s just the government. What about the $100 billion plus of private rmbs suits that expect a settlement also?” warns Christensen.
And on top of all that the OCC, their bank regulator, and the SEC, their securities regulator, have been allowing JP Morgan to under reserved for RMBS lawsuits and putbacks for years now. It’s like the regulator is now part of the scheme to defraud JP Morgan shareholders.
Christensen wrote in his June newsletter:
Litigation expense recorded in Q1 2013 was $0.3 billion. There was no disclosure of how much of this amount was for litigation reserves or
how much was mortgage related… all such current and future claims are not included in the mortgage repurchase liability, but rather in litigation reserves. However, those amounts have not specifically been broken out and the total legal reserve for private label loan sales has never been disclosed.