Economy Watch: Bernanke Defends Fed Stimulus; Chase to Pay $13B Fine

Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke defended his actions for the continued bond-buying program during an annual dinner in Washington. And JP Morgan Chase agreed to pay about $13 billion to settle charges by the U.S. Department of Justice that during the runup to the housing bubble back in the mid-2000s, it

Probably with an eye toward his legacy, Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke spoke on Tuesday at the National Economists Club Annual Dinner in Washington, defending his actions as chairman and offering some reasons for the continued bond-buying program. “In coming meetings, in evaluating the outlook for the labor market, we will continue to consider both the cumulative progress since September 2012 and the prospect for continued gains,” he said, adding that recent reports on payroll employment had been “somewhat disappointing.”

Still, he sounded an optimistic note – as optimistic as central bankers get: “The FOMC still expects that labor market conditions will continue to improve and that inflation will move toward the 2 percent objective over the medium term. If these views are supported by incoming information, the FOMC will likely begin to moderate the pace of purchases.” But he stresses that the asset buying “isn’t on a pre-set course.”

Some fine day, he said, asset purchases will slow, “likely because the economy has progressed sufficiently for the Committee to rely more heavily on its rate policies, the associated forward guidance, and its substantial continued holdings of securities to maintain progress toward maximum employment and to achieve price stability,” Bernanke added. Even when that happens, the target for the federal funds rate is likely to remain near zero for a long time after the asset purchases end, the chairman said.

Chase to Pay $13B Fine

Banking behemoth JP Morgan Chase agreed to pay about $13 billion on Tuesday to settle charges by the U.S. Department of Justice that during the runup to the housing bubble back in the mid-2000s, it routinely misrepresented the value of the mortgages it sold, many of which had been given to borrowers whose only qualification was being able to fog a mirror. It’s thought to be the largest such settlement in Amercian history, and is fairly large compared to the company’s 2012 net revenues of more than $21 billion, though much of the fine might turn out to be tax deductible for the bank.

The money will be parceled out to various recipients. About $9 billion will go to settle claims by a number of entitles, such as the GSEs and others that suffered enormously because of the popping of the housing bubble. The company will also pay about $4 billion for assorted borrower relief, such as new loans for low-income borrowers, loan modifications for underwater borrowers, and the demolition of housing stock too far gone to be salvageable to reduce blight.

The deal follows other settlements reached by JP Morgan Chase recently. Last week, the bank reached a tentative $4.5 billion settlement with 21 institutional investors over bum MBS sold to them by the bank, but especially by Bear Stearns and Washington Mutual, which Chase acquired before the recession in a fit of bad timing. Other legal actions against the bank are still pending.

On Tuesday, Wall Street once again flirted with record highs, but didn’t quite make it, as various disappointing earnings reports trickled in. The Dow Jones Industrial Average once again closed less than 16,000 by losing 8.99 points, or 0.06 percent. The S&P 500 was down 0.2 percent and the Nasdaq dropped 0.44 percent.