JPMorgan Chase & Co. is putting federal regulators on notice that it may go after the very funds it used to buy Washington Mutual Inc.'s banking assets — and then some.
In a series of previously undisclosed letters sent to the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp., the nation's second-largest bank by assets warned it could seek billions in legal protection from the FDIC receivership that liquidated the Seattle-based thrift two years ago, people familiar with the situation said.
To the FDIC, the JPMorgan letters amount to more than $6 billion in claims, which would dwarf the $1.88 billion JPMorgan paid the receiver in September 2008, according to people familiar with the situation.
JPMorgan declined to comment, but another person familiar with the matter said JPMorgan didn't include specific dollar requests; instead, the bank submitted WaMu-related lawsuits and expects the FDIC receiver to absorb any losses stemming from them. Currently, the only funds available for such a payout are the $1.88 billion that JPMorgan paid.
The agreement JPMorgan signed with the FDIC in September 2008 allows the bank to file claims against the FDIC receivership, said Kevin Starke, an analyst with CRT Capital Group LLC in Stamford, Conn. The agreement states the receiver agrees to cover "liabilities of the failed bank" that weren't assumed by JPMorgan, which must provide "written notice" when it believes it is entitled to such protection.
But in at least one prominent federal case, the FDIC said JPMorgan is responsible for those losses, according to court documents filed by the FDIC last June in U.S. District Court in Washington, D.C. The documents were filed in response to a lawsuit by Deutsche Bank National Trust Co. on behalf of more than 100 trusts holding poor-performing WaMu mortgages. That lawsuit, seeking as much as $10 billion, named the FDIC and ultimately JPMorgan as co-defendants.
The letters to the FDIC are the latest example of how JPMorgan could be helped by a deal struck at the height of the financial crisis. The collapse of WaMu was the largest bank failure in U.S. history, and JPMorgan's purchase gave it $188 billion in deposits and a coast-to-coast presence — 2,207 additional branches — for the first time.
JPMorgan has benefited from the WaMu transaction. The bank recorded a $2 billion gain based on accounting adjustments in 2008 and 2009, concluding the fair value of the assets was higher than what it paid. The bank has also said it may be able to earn as much as $25.5 billion in interest from its WaMu loans. It could receive as much as $6.9 billion in assets as part of a proposed settlement from the bankruptcy of WaMu's parent company, Starke said.
But JPMorgan recorded a $30 billion write-down related to the thrift's home-lending assets and added $1.5 billion to its loan-loss reserves because of expected losses in the WaMu portfolio.
The bank will be able to recover the value of some loans as conditions improve, said RBC Capital Markets banking analyst Gerard Cassidy in Portland, Maine. "We would expect this transaction to be extremely profitable to JPMorgan," he said.
Among those still upset about the JPMorgan purchase are the bondholders who had their holdings wiped out when the bank and FDIC decided not to honor the senior and subordinated debt holders.
Earlier this year, JPMorgan said it was willing to cap the size of its claims made against the FDIC receiver at $1.4 billion as long as that claim was awarded "priority" status. But bondholders balked at that idea, and JPMorgan dropped its request as part of a larger settlement of the WaMu bankruptcy case.
If JPMorgan asks the receiver to cover billions of dollars in new claims, "they are taking away with the right hand what they have given with the left," Starke said.