The Dow Jones Industrial Average (DJINDICES: ^DJI) continues its wild ride today, slumping by 30 points after a series of ups and downs since the opening bell. A downward spiral occurred midmorning, not long after the September existing home sales report came out, showing a drop to 5.29 million units sold compared to 5.39 million in August. Expecting 5.30 million, the market was apparently a bit disappointed.
Fewer homes sold means fewer mortgages written, not good news for banks battling an ongoing mortgage slowdown. But other problems are plaguing bank stocks today, particularly JPMorgan Chase (NYSE: JPM) and former Dow company Bank of America (NYSE: BAC) -- namely, billions of dollars in legal fines tied to self-destructing mortgage-backed securities sold back in the day.
Billions more flowing out the door
The announcement that JPMorgan Chase has agreed to pay a whopping $13 billion in fines to the Department of Justice at first seemed to please investors, but the news has quickly lost its luster. While $13 billion is a huge chunk of change, shareholders may have at least felt more secure in knowing that the enormous settlement meant that the hemorrhaging would begin to slow.
Alas, that may not be true. The settlement does not preclude future criminal charges against the bank for its part in selling crummy mortgage bonds, putting to rest only the civil liability in these cases. If JPMorgan Chase admits fault, as well, that admission could very well add fuel to any plans to bring criminal charges against the bank or any of its employees. Though this scenario seems unlikely -- experts note that a bank with criminal convictions would not be a viable one -- investors don't seem impressed.
As JPMorgan Chase continues to squirm on the hot seat, Bank of America has now been pinpointed by the Federal Housing Finance Agency, as well. The regulator representing the interests of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac wants $6 billion from Bank of America, the same amount it originally demanded from JPMorgan Chase. The latter bank wound up paying $4 billion on that score, an amount that is part of the $13 billion tab.
That means that Bank of America investors can expect at least that amount, maybe more -- since more than 25% of the mortgage bonds at issue were created and sold by Countrywide. B of A is down today, right along with JPMorgan Chase -- as both big banks' stockholders continue to wonder when the flow of money will finally be directed toward them.
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