Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Banks Held Responsible for Housing Market Crash

9/12/14 - Three of the country's largest banks have been facing all kinds of financial and legal repercussions in the aftermath of the housing crash that contributed greatly to the Great Recession. Bank of America, who, in 2008, bought out a couple of failing firms: Countrywide Financial Corp. and Merrill Lynch & Co., are now suffering the consequences of “the worst deal in banking history.” An article by Jim Puzzanghera and Walter Hamilton, of the L.A. Times, described the various legal problems and penalties that Bank of America, JPMorgan Chase & Co., and Citigroup Inc. have had to face over the past year.

Even between BofA's record-breaking $16.65 billion settlement, JPMorgan Chase & Co.'s $13 billion settlement, and Citigroup Inc.'s $7 billion settlement, these three penalties only make up a fraction of the total amount gathered from such financial institutions. According to Puzzanghera and Hamilton, approximately $125 billion in settlements related to the financial crash have been paid by the six largest banking institutions alone. While some of BofA's penalties are due to the pre-recession actions of Merrill Lynch and Countrywide, every bank has problems of its own.

Out of the many billions of dollars paid in penalties and settlements by these banking institutions, over 50% of this money goes to several federal agencies, including the Securities and Exchange Commission, as well as a few states that were most affected by the banks' practices. California by itself has been designated $300 million from the settlements to help reimburse two of its largest pension funds: the Public Employees' Retirement System and the Teachers' Retirement System. The rest goes toward “ consumer relief,” which involves write-downs of mortgage principal or reductions in interest rates on the mortgage. According to Puzzanghera and Hamilton, rates could be reduced to as low as 2%.

While many people and federal institutions blame Bank of America for many of the practices that contributed to the housing crash and the Great Recession, others feel that it is unfair to punish BofA shareholders for the actions taken by executives and employees at Merrill Lynch and Countrywide. While criminal suits against Angelo Mozilo, the former Countrywide chief executive, have been dropped since his involvement didn't quite “rise to the level of a crime,” many prosecutors are continuing to pursue civil cases against him in the hopes of finding some way of holding him responsible for his actions and the actions of his employees.

Now that these proceeding are, for the most part, done with, investors can hopefully breathe easier in the coming future. According to experts, these penalties will only affect the current quarter, and that by the third quarter, profits should be back up to their usual levels. While it is great that these financial institutions are being held responsible for their decisions, I personally am skeptical as to how these penalties are going to have a long-lasting effect on pulling us out of the Great Recession. I guess we will just have to wait and see.

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