On Thursday, November 21, the U.S. Department of the Treasury (“Treasury”) announced its third major sale of General Motors (“GM”) common stock since the 2009 bailout, this time unloading 70.2 million shares. The sale, part of Treasury’s pre-defined written trading plan, further reduced Treasury’s GM holdings to 31.1 million shares, or approximately 2.2 percent of GM’s outstanding shares.
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The Obama Administration has expressed support for a bipartisan bill to wind down government-controlled mortgage companies, Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. The proposed bill will eliminate or greatly reduce the size of these companies while retaining the federal government’s role in backing mortgage lending. However, lawmakers seem unlikely to produce a bill by the end of the year as planned.
Once again, JPMorgan found itself discussing yet another settlement and facing bad publicity linked to excessive risk-taking. Last week, news broke that the bank had agreed to a $920 million settlement in the “London Whale” derivatives trading case; plus, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau ordered JPMorgan to refund over $300 million to customers based on alleged wrongdoing in its credit card and debt collection procedures.
Another settlement deal surfaced this week—and its numbers are much larger. The U.S. Department of Justice is seeking $11 billion (with a ‘B’) in compensation for JPMorgan’s actions leading up to the Financial Crisis, including selling mortgage backed securities the bank knew were essentially worthless. According to the Washington Post, it would be “the biggest settlement a single company has ever undertaken.” On Thursday, the bank’s visible CEO Jamie Diamond flew to Washington, D.C., to meet with Attorney General Eric Holder for nearly an hour. Instead of lobbying for looser restrictions on Wall Street, Diamond was seeking an end to federal and state probes (which still represent a large liability to the bank) and, perhaps more importantly, attempting to avoid criminal charges.
All of the rhetoric and press releases notwithstanding, the Administration’s handling of numerous JPMorgan investigations has been properly criticized for missing an opportunity to charge top Executives. The S.E.C., D.O.J., and other regulators have thus far failed to press criminal charges, even when financial disclosures have misrepresented the bank’s business or mortgage-backed products. To be sure, the government has charged front-line traders in the London Whale case, but those tasked with overseeing the bank’s actions have escaped indictment—perhaps for the very reason that Mr. Diamond is willing to personally negotiate with the nation’s top law enforcement official on their behalf.
While the financial penalties being discussed are stiff, they represent only a small fraction of the damage done to the global economy, JPMorgan shareholders, and (ultimately) dinner tables across the country. Columbia Law School professor John C. Coffee Jr. provided some insight to the back-and-forth. He told the Post: “If I was in [Holder’s] position, I would be concerned about my legacy. . . . There’s been a lot of criticism of officials in Justice being much too soft, timid.”
Hedge Fund Manager Sues U.S. Treasury, Demands That Government Cease Receiving All of Fannie’s and Freddie’s Profits.
Perry Capital, one of the largest hedge fund managers in the U.S., has filed a lawsuit against the Treasury Department, alleging that the Government’s seizure of Fannie Mae’s and Freddie Mac’s profits is illegal. The lawsuit was filed in a federal court for the District of Columbia, and the full complaint can be found here.
Perry Capital’s complaint is brought under the Administrative Procedure Act. The APA empowers the Court to “hold unlawful and set aside agency action, findings, and conclusions” that are “in excess of statutory jurisdiction, authority, or limitations” or that are “without observance of procedure required by law.” Read the rest of this entry »
Let the Delegation Continue: Supreme Court Reaffirms Deference to Administrative Agencies in Regulatory “Interpretation” of Statutes
On January 11th the Supreme Court handed down its decision in Mayo v. U.S. The decision reaffirmed the Court’s use of the Chevron standard, under which government agencies are given broad authority to make any “reasonable interpretations” of statutes so long as Congress does not specifically and clearly address the issue in the relevant legislation. The decision is significant because lower courts had previously spliton whether the Treasury Department, in implementing the Internal Revenue Code (IRC), was subject to the more exacting standard found in National Muffler. Under the National Muffler standard, government agencies’ only had the latitude to make interpretations that “harmonize with the plain language of a statute, its origin, and its purpose.”
In Mayo v. U.S. the plaintiff, Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research, was challenging a Treasury Department regulation that would classify medical residents (individuals that have recently graduated from medical school and seek additional instruction in a specialization) as employees. The Treasury Department implemented this regulation pursuant to a statutepassed by Congress, which exempted from consideration as employees individuals whose “services performed in the employ of… a school, college, or university… if such service is performed by a student that is enrolled and regularly attending classes at [the school].” Dating back to 1951 the Treasury Department had exempted students (including medical residents) from being classified as employees of schools, colleges, and universities, if their work was “incident to and for the purpose of pursuing a course of study.” However in 2004 the Treasury Department passed a regulationthat eliminated this exemption for “students” that worked 40 hours per week or more. Utilizing the Chevron standard, the Court in Mayo concluded that it was reasonable for the Treasury Department to change course and consider individuals working 40 hours or more per week as not “regularly attending classes.”