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JPMorgan's "London Whale" Accord Gets Judge Approval

JPMorgan Chase & Co.’s JPM $150 million accord to settle investor claims related to the London Whale case was approved yesterday by the U.S. District Judge George Daniels in New York. The approval will bring an end to a suit filed in 2012, which accused the bank officials of insufficient actions to avoid losses in the London Whale trading scandal.

According to the judge, the accord in the class-action suit “is adequate and reasonable.” The case, filed in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York, was led by public pension funds in the U.S. states of Arkansas, Ohio and Oregon and in Sweden.

The Back Story

The London Whale matter, which came into light in 2012, brought a slew of lawsuits, criticism and troubles for JPMorgan. In May 2012, the unsound derivatives trading strategy of Bruno Iksil and other London employees caused JPMorgan around $6.2 billion in losses.

The portfolio handled by Iksil was exclusively designed to hedge the bank's risk exposure. His flawed strategies, however, resulted in him being nicknamed “London Whale” and led to the start of JPMorgan’s multi-year long battle.

While JPMorgan encountered criticism from the U.S. senate for its poor risk management practices dating back to 2010, investors cried foul and accused the bank of deliberately supporting Iksil despite understanding the risks involved in his approach and the magnitude of his derivative bets. The bank originally acknowledged only $2 billion in losses and later restated its 2012 first-quarter earnings to account for the massive trading loss.

The delayed admission led to JPMorgan shareholders expressing their ire against chief executive officer Jamie Dimon and former finance chief Douglas Braunstein. Shareholders also alleged that the bank misled them about its investment segment's ability to manage risk and showed negligence in suing the people at fault.

Several shareholder lawsuits have been dismissed over the years with the court ruling out any fraudulent activities and negligence on JPMorgan’s behalf. However, the bank had to shell out more than $1 billion as fines over losses due to its weak compliance and risk controls.

Our Take

Though JPMorgan has been hit by many lawsuits since the 2008 financial crisis, the London Whale scandal got excessive publicity as it dented the bank’s reputation for managing risk properly. While the matter highlighted the complexity and excessive risks involved in derivatives instruments like credit default swaps, it also brought to notice the oversight of the financial system, which worsened the situation.

The latest settlement puts to rest a major debacle that significantly impacted JPMorgan’s financials. Of late, the company has been moving past the shadow of its business malpractices and focusing on ways to improve profitability.

Currently, JPMorgan carries a Zacks Rank #3 (Hold). Some better-ranked banking stocks include Bank of Marin Bancorp BMRC, Pacific Continental Corp. PCBK and The Bank of New York Mellon Corporation BK. All these stocks hold a Zacks Rank #2 (Buy).

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