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2012-12-10 — nytimes.com

Estimates of potential costs from these cases vary widely, but some in the banking industry fear they could reach $300 billion if the institutions lose all of the litigation. Depending on the final price tag, the costs could lower profits and slow the economic recovery by weakening the banks' ability to lend just as the housing market is showing signs of life.

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Efforts by the banks to limit their losses could depend on the outcome of one of the highest-stakes lawsuits to date -- the $200 billion case that the Federal Housing Finance Agency, which oversees the housing twins Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, filed against 17 banks last year, claiming that they duped the mortgage finance giants into buying shaky securities.

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"All of Wall Street has essentially refused to deal with the real costs of the litigation that they are up against," said Christopher Whalen, a senior managing director at Tangent Capital Partners. "The real price tag is terrifying."

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Bank of America's attempts to resolve some mortgage litigation with an umbrella settlement have stalled. In June 2011, the bank agreed to pay $8.5 billion to appease investors, including the Federal Reserve Bank of New York and Pimco, that lost billions of dollars when the mortgage securities assembled by the bank went bad. But the settlement is in limbo after being challenged by investors. Kathy D. Patrick, the lawyer representing investors, has said she will set her sights on Morgan Stanley and Wells Fargo next.

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