Another Day, Another Profit-Robbing Lawsuit for a Misbehaving Bank


Two weeks ago, Standard Chartered was in the spotlight. The British bank suddenly found itself on the receiving end of charges it played fast and loose with the U.S government's banking rules in its dealings with Iran. And, just as quickly as the charges were brought, the bank paid New York State $340 million to make them go away. In July, Wells Fargo (NYS: WFC) was in the spotlight, when it agreed to pay $175 million to settle accusations that its mortgage brokers had discriminated against Latino and African-American borrowers during the housing boom.

This week, it's Citigroup's (NYS: C) turn.

The gift that keeps on giving
The superbank just announced that it will settle a class-action lawsuit to the tune of $590 million, brought by angry shareholders who contend they were misled about the bank's exposure to subprime mortgage debt in the run-up to the financial crisis.

In the statement announcing the settlement, Citigroup said:

Citi will be pleased to put this matter behind us. This settlement is a significant step toward resolving our exposure to claims arising from the period of the financial crisis

And you can be very confident that Citi means what it says because, as is the case with almost every other big bank, the financial crisis is the gift that keeps on giving.

We will survive
If you mark the beginning of the crash as September 2008, the month that Lehman Brothers collapsed, it's almost exactly five years since the fun began. Since then, banks have spent most of their time figuring out how to make money in the post Dodd-Frank regulatory world: fighting, dodging, or surrendering to legal action most of the way.

Goldman Sachs (NYS: GS) , in some respects, has led the way in this regard. The Wall Street titan opened a monoline insurance business back in March and, more recently, a private bank-within-a-bank to cater to its wealthy clients around the world. JPMorgan Chase (NYS: JPM) has done well for itself, too, to the point where nobody in charge noticed, or at least seemed to care enough about, a $100 billion dollar bet riding along out there in the derivatives market: the bank's recent and infamous London Whale trading debacle.

Yet, the legal action persists, the biggest settlement of which was reached this past February, when Bank of America (NYS: BAC) , JPMorgan Chase, Wells Fargo, Citigroup, and Ally Financial all signed onto a $26 billion settlement, brought about by attorneys general from 49 states, that would provide mortgage relief to 2 million American homeowners harmed by the bursting of the housing bubble.

And now for something completely different
But for investors, whether it's because of rogue nations or rogue mortgage brokers, the effect is the same: banks facing legal action after legal action resulting from bad behavior, with the inevitable fines that rob the bottom line and, hence, shareholders.

In its statement announcing the settlement, Citi also said:

Citi is fundamentally a different company today than at the beginning of the financial crisis. Citi has overhauled risk management, reduced risk exposures and through our core businesses in Citicorp. We are focused on the basics of banking ... to serve our clients and the real economy."

That would be a nice change of pace, and certainly something very different, for shareholders and the rest us who have to function in the 99% tier of the economy. Think positive, Foolish readers. And in the meantime, believe it or not, there's still a big bank left out there that's managed to keep its nose clean (mainly) in the run-up to the crash, avoiding many of the pitfalls that befell its peers. As such, it's one of the few big banks that The Motley Fool can still, in good conscious, recommend as an investment. Learn more about it in this Motley Fool special free report: The Only Big Bank Built to Last. Download it while it's still available by simply clicking here now.

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Fool contributorJohn Grgurichwonders if Goldman Sachs' new private bank will be giving away toasters to its new account holders. More importantly, though, John holds no positions in any of the companies mentioned in this column. Follow John's dispatches from the bleeding edge of capitalism on Twitter @TMFGrgurich.The Motley Fool owns shares of Wells Fargo, Bank of America, Citigroup, and JPMorgan Chase. Motley Fool newsletter services have recommended buying shares of Wells Fargo and Goldman Sachs Group. The Motley Fool has a rippingly entertaining disclosure policy. We Fools may not all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days.

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