The Big Banks Should Thank Big Ben This Week

The banking sector was basically a shock-free zone this week thanks to policy decisions from the FOMC that were entirely expected, and a follow-up statement that was almost positive. Bank of America might be in some trouble with the Feds, though, while JPMorgan Chase's Jamie Dimon could be getting paid even more and both Wells Fargo and Citigroup prepare to pay out -- to shareholders.

Jan 31, 2014 at 7:00PM

Bernanke

Source: Medill DC

This past week was a relatively smooth one for banks and other financials dependent on the moves of the Federal Reserve. The central bank's Federal Open Market Committee held its monthly meeting --its last with Ben Bernanke as Chairman -- and it produced little that shocked or stunned the financial world. As expected, the FOMC decided to continue the tapering of its current round of quantitative easing by $10 billion in February. Very little in its follow-up statement rang alarm bells; in fact, when compared to the December statement its pronouncements about the economy had a bullish cast. Or as bullish as the Fed ever sounds, anyway.

Bank of America (NYSE:BAC) had a nice chance to take advantage of the lull by making nice with Fannie Mae (NASDAQOTCBB:FNMA) and Freddie Mac. It seems as if relationship mending is in order following revelations that the big lender's conduct with those two concerns is under investigation by the U.S. Attorney's Office for the Western District, North Carolina and the Commodity Futures Trading Commission. The Feds suspect Bank of America's swaps desk of prioritizing the company's own futures trades at the expense of Fannie and Freddie. Hopefully for the company it'll put this to rest soon, as the two government-sponsored entities are crucial to every big bank's success in the mortgage segment.

Dimon

Source: Steve Jurvetson

Nobody seemed to be bringing the legal hammer down on JPMorgan Chase (NYSE:JPM) this week -- a rare development given the almost constant legal fires the company has been walking through lately. An interesting news item about the bank was reported by Bloomberg Businessweek, which wrote that CEO Jamie Dimon might soon be allowed to exercise roughly $34 million worth of stock options granted to him by the company in 2008. That stack would be in addition to the $20 million in compensation Dimon was awarded last week for his 2013 performance. Convincing arguments could be made on either side as to whether the man deserves the cash; regardless, this latest bit of news looks ugly to critics of over-the-top chief executive pay.

While Dimon gets paid, others are paying out. Wells Fargo (NYSE:WFC) made its first common stock dividend declaration of 2014; the bank will hand out $0.30 per share on March 1 to shareholders of record as of February 7. This matches each of the bank's previous three payouts and is thus expected, but a dividend is always happy news and it should help keep investors on board the stock.

Wells isn't the first of the big four lenders to announce a common stock distribution this year. That honor goes to Citigroup (NYSE:C) which announced on Jan. 15 that, for the 13th quarter in a row, it's going to dole out $0.01 per share. Nobody should expect more from the bank for some time, as it's got to cut expenses and streamline its operations before powering ahead. The record date for the dividend is Feb. 3, with payment coming on Feb. 28.

All in all, though, despite some turbulence on the market, the nation's big banks had a fairly uneventful week. For that, they can tip their collective hat to the FOMC and the outgoing Mr. Bernanke. They should all pitch in to buy him a nice going-away present. 

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Eric Volkman has no position in any stocks mentioned. The Motley Fool recommends Bank of America and Wells Fargo, and owns shares of Bank of America, Citigroup, JPMorgan Chase, and Wells Fargo. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. We Fools may not all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.

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