Do big fines even matter for JP Morgan Chase?

The headquarters of JP Morgan Chase on Park Avenue December 12, 2013 in New York. JP Morgan Chase and federal authorities are close to a USD $2 billion settlement over the bank's ties to financier Bernard L. Madooff that involve penalties and deffered criminal prosecution.

Another year, another big fine for JP Morgan Chase. The bank's expected to soon be paying out another $2 billion in criminal and civil settlements to the federal government. This time for ignoring signs of Bernie Madoff's Ponzi scheme. That brings the grand total of fines JPM has paid in just the past year to just about $20 billion.

But the markets aren't paying any heed: Shares are up almost a percent today and CEO Jamie Dimon is still there. The company's doing just fine, it seems. But is there a limit?

Tim Fernholz from Qz.com thinks JPM's seeming invulnerability may be due to Wall Street's indifference to anything but the bank's financial performance: 

"What I think to look for with Jamie Dimon is going to be, the company's latest earnings report. Ultimately on Wall Street and I think among the investors and these banks, they're an amoral bunch in the strictest sense of that term in that they do not care about the crime, they care about the stock price and the earnings."

Fernholz also says that it's important to remember that the fines and penalties we see today are punishing crimes and practices that aren't necessarily still happening.

"So it's hard to say...if they've cleaned up their act, and I think that's one of the reasons that prosecutors have reportedly opted for this deferred prosecution agreement," Fernholz says, "They're going to ask JP Morgan to really strengthen the controls that they supposedly put to watch out for things like Ponzi schemes or drug runners or any other kind of money laundering."

About the author

Kai Ryssdal is the host and senior editor of Marketplace, public radio’s program on business and the economy.

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