Investment bank JPMorgan Chase & Co. reportedly is considering paying a $500 million-plus fine to settle charges of manipulating electricity markets in California and the Midwest.
JPMorgan is discussing the settlement with officials of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, according to reports today by the Wall Street Journal and New York Times. Quoting anonymous sources, the Times said the fine is expected to be about $500 million; the Journal said it could reach $1 billion.
The case involves an investigation that began in California four years ago, when managers of the state's transmission grid noted alleged irregularities in some of JPMorgan's trades. It has since expanded to include alleged market manipulation in Michigan, according to the Times.
Officials with JPMorgan and FERC couldn't be reached for comment.
A spokeswoman for the California Independent System Operator - which runs the state's power grid and has been closely involved with FERC's investigation into JPMorgan's activities - said she had no information on a potential settlement of the federal case.
"We're not privy to that," said ISO spokeswoman Stephanie McCorkle.
In June, FERC ruled that JPMorgan and other trading firms used improper trading tactics to generate $52 million in excess profits in California between 2009 and 2011. A source familiar with the situation said JPMorgan took the lion's share of those profits.
FERC also sided with California in two other disputes with JPMorgan. Last fall the federal agency said the firm was barred from trading California electricity at a profit for six months for allegedly lying to investigators.
And in January, FERC told JPMorgan to stop blocking critically-needed renovations to two Huntington Beach power plants. The firm doesn't own the plants but held the rights to market electricity from the facilities.
Since then, JPMorgan has reduced its presence in the state's power market. In May it sold the marketing rights to the Huntington Beach plants and 10 other facilities in the region to Southern California Edison.