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Has JPMorgan Finally Turned a Big Investing Corner?

By John Grgurich - Apr 5, 2013 at 11:09AM

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Nothing's for certain, but there's real cause for hope.

Potential backlash in the form of lawsuits and fines resulting from the housing boom and subsequent financial crisis have left many bank investors wary to go all-in on their favorite financial institutions, perhaps anxiously waiting for the other shoe to drop.

For JPMorgan Chase (JPM 0.70%) investors, at least, that plummeting piece of footwear may have been stopped dead in its tracks by a recent favorable court decision.

Here comes the judge
The Wall Street Journal is reporting that a federal judge has dismissed a major portion of a lawsuit against the superbank, one alleging it knowingly sold bad mortgage-backed securities to the European bank Dexia in the time leading up to the financial crash.

Specifically, the judge threw out that portion of the suit involving 65 mortgage-backed securities issued in 51 offerings, but allowed the suit to continue on five other mortgage-backed securities JPMorgan sold to Dexia. 

Foolish bottom line
This is a big win for JPMorgan. The dismissal of such a large portion of this suit may be a signal that the country's biggest bank has made it through the worst of its housing-boom related difficulties. How? By possibly setting legal precedent for other housing-boom related suits the bank may be facing.

If JPMorgan can have 65 potential mortgage-backed securities claims so quickly and summarily thrown out of court, investors can be genuinely hopeful the same may happen in other pending cases. Such a decision could also be a shot across the bow for other plaintiffs contemplating similar legal action.

Four-plus years on from the start of the financial crisis, many of the big banks are still in a kind of no-man's land when it comes to the end game, which leaves investors in a similarly grim place.

Just this past January, Bank of America (BAC 0.53%) settled with federal housing giant Fannie Mae for $10 billion over claims relating to the housing boom. Such a massive settlement this far out from the crash rightly frightens potential investors, leaving them to wonder, "Where does it all end?"

Of course, this big win for JPMorgan is no guarantee private lawsuits aren't going to continue popping up, and there's nothing saying U.S. District Court Judge Jed Rakoff's decision won't be reversed on appeal (though The Wall Street Journal piece made no mention of that).  

And the superbank is still facing a lawsuit filed in 2012 by New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman over allegedly fraudulent deals done by Bear Stearns, the fast-failing investment bank JPMorgan scooped up for next to nothing in March of 2008.

Still, investors should be reasonably buoyed by this action. And if Judge Rakoff's decision sets a precedent for the rest of the banking sector regarding suits related to mortgage-backed securities, all the better: If the big banks are still too big to fail, and too big to jail per U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder, we might as well let them -- and their shareholders -- get on with the business of turning money into money.

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