Now that JPMorgan Chase’s $13 billion settlement with the Justice Department is official, let’s put it in perspective for the real estate market.
It’s true, $13 billion is a record for a government settlement. It’s tempting to consider the astronomical sum a victory for homeowners cheated by the banking giant. But when the details of the deal are viewed in light of Chase’s balance sheet, the trophy starts looking a little tarnished.
Only $4 billion of the $13 billion settlement is earmarked specifically for borrower assistance. The rest will go to government fines and restitution to investors, including the hard-hit pension funds. While $4 billion is enough to send a human to Mars, develop cold fusion or end malaria, it’s a drop in the proverbial bucket for Chase.
Chase’s assets in 2012 were $2.5 trillion. They currently hold $1.4 trillion in mortgages on their balance sheet. Even if they applied all $4 billion directly to the outstanding loans on their books, the total reduction would amount to less than .1%, according to HuffPo. That is if they applied all $4 billion. Instead, this deal is death by a thousand cuts – just like the previous mortgage settlement.
It’s well established that cramdowns provide homeowners with real relief, unlike extend-and-pretend loan modifications. And cramdowns are thankfully required under the settlement, but only to the tune of $1.3 billion. Even $1.3 billion constitutes a steep loss, right? In the alternate reality of big finance, it is a small price to pay for total absolution. What’s more, since cramdowns are so effective at limiting future defaults, this so-called penalty may prove to be a reward by resulting in a net positive value for Chase’s mortgage holdings.
If you still think $13 billion qualifies as proper comeuppance, consider this: $7 billion of the settlement is tax deductable. Based on the 35% corporate tax rate, the settlement is likely to save Chase $2.5 billion come tax time, according to the L.A. Times.
The U.S. lost about $16 trillion in household wealth from peak to trough of the Great Recession. Clearly, $1.3 billion in cramdowns will go a long way in repairing the wreckage Chase and the other banking behemoths left in their wake. Excuse us for holding our applause.