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There were two op-ed pieces that came out 17 minutes apart last night following last week’s lawsuit filed against JPMorgan by New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman alleging the Bear Stearns unit the bank acquired during the financial crisis defrauded mortgage bond investors. The Wall Street Journal op-ed says that the feds are suing JPMorgan for “doing the favour of rescuing Bear Stearns.”
One notable detail: J.P. Morgan didn’t sell the securities. The seller was Bear Stearns—yes, the same Bear Stearns that the government persuaded Morgan to buy in 2008. And, yes, the same government that is now participating in the lawsuit against Morgan to answer for stuff Bear did before the government got Morgan to buy it.
The case is even stranger because it rests on highly dubious claims and is being prosecuted in a highly convenient venue. The suit is the product of a joint federal-state task force that President Obama announced to great fanfare in his 2012 State of the Union message to investigate “the abusive lending and packaging of risky mortgages that led to the housing crisis.” Mr. Obama’s gumshoes still haven’t uncovered the mortgage crime of the century, so apparently this lawsuit will have to do a month before Election Day.
Meanwhile, former JPMorgan banker William D. Cohan’s piece in Bloomberg says that JPMorgan didn’t buy Bear Stearns as a favour, but instead it saw an opportunity to buy it on the cheap.
I can imagine Jamie Dimon, JPMorgan (JPM)’s chief executive officer, saying: If this is the thanks we get, you can pretty much be assured that next time you ask us to save a failing systemically important institution, we’ll just walk away.
Methinks the bank doth protest too much. JPMorgan didn’t buy Bear Stearns as a favour to Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson, New York Fed President Timothy Geithner and Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke; it bought Bear Stearns because it saw an opportunity to acquire on the cheap a company with assets it coveted. JPMorgan admired Bear Stearns’s clearing business, its commodities trading, a few of its bankers and traders and, most of all, its sleek, new skyscraper at 383 Madison Avenue, across the street from JPMorgan headquarters at 270 Park Avenue.
Who do you think has a right? Leave your opinion in the comments section.