By all accounts, Bank of America (NYSE:BAC) is playing the most expensive game of legal Whac-a-Mole in history. Hours after announcing a $950 million settlement on Wednesday, rumors started circulating about a pair of multibillion-dollar agreements coming down the pike. If true, they would add to an extensive list of misdeeds that Bank of America has been forced to atone for since the financial crisis -- click here to see a comprehensive list of the bank's legal woes.
The first of the rumored deals, which I discuss at greater length here, concerns a dispute with Ambac Financial Group (NASDAQ:AMBC) over faulty mortgage-backed securities sold by Bank of America to institutional investors in the lead-up to the crisis. Speculation about an agreement emerged on Wednesday, after the bank disclosed that it set aside an additional $2.4 billion to cover newly anticipated legal losses, a figure eerily similar to the $2.5 billion sought by Ambac Financial.
By contrast, the second seemed to come out of nowhere. According to The Wall Street Journal, Bank of America is engaged in multibillion-dollar settlement talks with the Justice Department and numerous state agencies over investigations into the same practice -- that is, the origination and sale of toxic mortgage-backed securities. Although it "isn't clear how big a settlement might be," the government is purportedly seeking "billions of dollars above" the $2.4 billion charge for reserves.
To be fair, Bank of America had previously disclosed the existence of federal and state investigations into these practices. According to its latest 10-K:
The Corporation has received a number of subpoenas and other requests for information from regulators and governmental authorities regarding [mortgage-backed securities] and other mortgage-related matters, including inquiries, investigations and potential proceedings related to a number of transactions involving the underwriting and issuance of MBS by the Corporation (including legacy entities the Corporation acquired) and participation in certain CDO and structured investment vehicle offerings.
These inquiries and investigations include, among others, investigations by the RMBS Working Group of the Financial Fraud Enforcement Task Force, including the [Department of Justice] and state Attorneys General, concerning the purchase, securitization and underwriting of mortgage loans and RMBS.
But disclosure aside, one would have been excused for concluding that Bank of America had satisfied its crisis-related debts to society. Among others, it settled with Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac -- twice. It entered into the multibillion-dollar National Mortgage Settlement with a laundry list of federal and state regulators two years ago. It lost a civil case brought by the Justice Department over toxic subprime mortgages originated by Countrywide Financial. And it agreed to the aforementioned $9.5 billion deal with the Federal Housing Finance Agency.
So how much more is left? If we've learned anything over the past two years, is that it's difficult to offer a precise number. That being said, the remaining cases appear to gravitate around the two discussed here as well as a $5 billion dispute involving American International Group (NYSE:AIG). Could there be more? Absolutely. But my guess is that once these three are complete, executives at the bank will finally be able to spend less time looking over their shoulders and more time planning for the future.