The recent back-and-forth struggle between financial regulators on both sides of the Atlantic and multinational companies increasingly looks like a game of "you shoot one of mine, I shoot one of yours." The most recent bird to get shot: Deutsche Bank (DB) . I have a feeling it won't be the last, but also that it won't be forced to pay the gigantic settlement that's just been proposed.
Deutsche Bank's shares nosedived 7% in Frankfurt trading Friday morning, after a report by the Wall Street Journal that the U.S. Department of Justice will ask Germany's biggest bank to pay $14 billion to settle mortgage securities probes going back to the financial crisis.
The bank confirmed in a statement that $14 billion was the "opening position by the DoJ" and said it had been invited by the DoJ to submit a counter-proposal.
"Deutsche Bank has no intent to settle these potential civil claims anywhere near the number cited. The negotiations are only just beginning. The bank expects that they will lead to an outcome similar to those of peer banks, which have settled at materially lower amounts," the statement said.
As a reminder, since 2012 there have been various settlements, but only one, that of Bank of America (BAC) two years ago, was higher at $16.6 billion. JP Morgan (JPM) settled for $13 billion, while others ended up paying much less: Goldman Sachs (GS) settled for $5 billion; Citigroup (C) for $7 billion and Morgan Stanley (MS) for $3.2 billion.
Deutsche Bank's representatives did not return Real Money's requests for further comment, and its interim report for the first half of this year says the bank did not disclose how much it set aside for a possible settlement "because it has concluded that such disclosure can be expected to prejudice seriously the outcome of these regulatory investigations." News accounts suggest the bank has set aside around €5.4 billion ($6 billion) for litigation compensation, but there is no further information.
Still, it is very possible that the amount it does end up paying will be smaller than the $14 billion the DoJ seeks, depending of course on the negotiations. The Financial Times quotes insiders at Deutsche Bank saying they hope the bank will be treated like Goldman Sachs.
It was known that Deutsche was under investigation by the DoJ, but these trans-Atlantic regulatory revelations increasingly look like a tug-of-war between the U.S. and the European Union -- or, to be more precise, between the U.S. and Germany.
This seems to have started with the Volkswagen (VLKAY) emissions scandal a year ago, when the Environmental Protection Agency discovered that many of the German giant's cars sold in America had a piece of software installed in diesel engines that helped them cheat emissions tests.
Dieselgate, as it has been dubbed by some in the media, rumbles on, with institutional investors, including Blackrock (BLK) , expected to file a suit later today in a court in Germany over the company's failure to disclose the issues sooner.
Last month, the Action Alerts PLUS charity portfolio holding Apple (AAPL) found itself caught in the crossfire, when the European Commission (EC) said it should pay back as much as €13 billion in tax to Ireland because it benefited from illegal state aid in the form of tax breaks. Apple rejected the claim and Ireland's parliament backed a decision by its government to appeal the EC's ruling.
The U.S. may not realize it, but it has a big disadvantage right now because of the Brexit vote. Many American companies have used the business-friendly, regulation-light U.K. as their gate of entry to the EU market's 500 million people, and now this gate seems to be closing.
How big a disadvantage this will prove to be remains to be seen, but the consequences are beginning to be felt. The big U.S. financial services industry associations just sent a letter asking the Treasury to lobby for a transition period after Brexit so that banks can adjust to the new rules.
The Financial Times, which first published the letter, said that more than 40% of U.S. financial services exports to Europe go through the U.K.'s "passporting" agreement with the rest of the EU. If they lose those rights overnight, U.S. banks, insurers, asset managers etc. would face big costs. They would have to move headquarters and hire new staff in the EU, while still maintaining a presence in the U.K.'s deep capital markets.
Taking all that into account, it's clear that politics trumps business when it comes to U.S.-EU relations. Which is why Deutsche Bank may just end up paying much less than the DoJ requested.