The six biggest U.S. banks, led by JPMorgan Chase & Co. (JPM) and Bank of America Corp., have piled up $103 billion in legal costs since the financial crisis, more than all dividends paid to shareholders in the past five years.
Bank of America, led by Chief Executive Officer Brian T. Moynihan increased its legal costs by $3.3 billion in the first half to a total of $19.1 billion.
That’s the amount allotted to lawyers and litigation, as well as for settling claims about shoddy mortgages and foreclosures, according to data compiled by Bloomberg. The sum, equivalent to spending $51 million a day, is enough to erase everything the banks earned for 2012.
The mounting bills have vexed bankers who are counting on expense cuts to make up for slow revenue growth and make room for higher payouts. About 40 percent of the legal and litigation outlays arose since January 2012, and banks are warning the tally may surge as regulators, prosecutors and investors press new claims. The prospect is clouding outlooks for stock prices, and by some estimates the damage could last another decade.
“They’ve crossed the point of no return when it comes to the effects that these expenses are going to have on earnings,” said Jeffrey Sica, who helps oversee more than $1 billion as head of Sica Wealth Management LLC in Morristown, New Jersey, and doesn’t recommend bank stocks. “This is going to keep on hurting them, and people will start paying more attention.”
JPMorgan and Bank of America bore about 75 percent of the total costs, according to the figures compiled from company reports. JPMorgan devoted $21.3 billion to legal fees and litigation since the start of 2008, more than any other lender, and added $8.1 billion to reserves for mortgage buybacks, filings show.
Five years after the financial crisis shook global markets, banks are facing accusations that they misled buyers of mortgage-backed securities, rigged interest rates used to price loans worldwide and manipulated markets for credit derivatives and commodities. U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder told the Wall Street Journal this month that he’ll bring new cases tied to the financial crisis in the months ahead.
Investigators may be stepping up efforts now that the economy has recovered and the solvency of the nation’s banks is no longer in doubt, according to Daniel Hurson, a former U.S. prosecutor and Securities and Exchange Commission lawyer who runs his own Washington practice.
“There may be a sense that financial institutions have gotten away with a lot and maybe now is the time to catch up,” Hurson said.