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More trouble for JPMorgan, more love from analysts

Adam Jeffery | CNBC

The great debate over JPMorgan Chase rages on.

Wall Street analysts boosted the bank Wednesday in the wake of announcements Tuesday that it will pay more than $2 billion to settle investigations related to Bernie Madoff's massive Ponzi scheme.

Authorities at the U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York and the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency allege that JPMorgan, as the bank of record for Madoff and his investors, ignored signs of suspicious activity long before the scheme was uncovered in December 2008.

Additional charges saying the bank failed to maintain an adequate anti-money laundering program were among those settled.

(Read more: JPMorgan 'failed and failed miserably': Bharara)

The laundry list of legal issues for JPMorgan has grown quite long. In the last 12 months, the bank has paid more than $23 billion in settlements to resolve issues including charges over the London Whale trading losses, risky mortgage-backed securities, and alleged energy market manipulation.

Still, Jefferies on Wednesday initiated coverage on JPMorgan's stock with a "buy" rating and $66 price target—a level roughly 11 percent higher than where shares stand today. Sandler O'Neill Partners also reiterated its "buy" rating.

While JPMorgan said the Madoff settlement would mean an addition of $400 million to its legal reserves and a reduction of its fourth quarter net income by $850 million, both analysts believe that the bank's legal issues are receding.

"We continue to believe that declining litigation-related exposures are positive for JPM shares as it should allow investors to focus on the impressive fundamental performance of JPM's business lines," Jeffery Harte, principal at Sandler O'Neill, wrote in a note to clients.

(Read more: Rising rates play mind games with banks, stocks)

Jefferies' Ken Usdin argued that JPMorgan is trading at a slight discount to peers on 2015 earnings estimates, making it well-positioned to the upside. Other analysts seem to share that sentiment, with nearly two dozen "buy" or "overweight" ratings on the stock, according to FactSet data.

But while Wall Street seems to be giving JPMorgan a vote of confidence, it's unclear whether shareholders will do the same for its embattled chief executive, Jamie Dimon.

Dimon won a decisive victory at JPMorgan's annual meeting last year when a clear majority of shareholders rejected a proposal to strip him of his chairman title.

A Wall Street Journal "Heard on the Street" editorial Wednesday contended that JPMorgan shareholders should now re-consider that decision, given the bank's costly legal battles and what the author argues is a pattern of failed supervision and controls. Nearly a dozen regulatory investigations are still ongoing, some with the specter of criminal charges.

(Read more: Bank crackdown actually increasing risk: Dick Bove)

Market watchers, including Reuters blogger Felix Salmon, have already begun questioning how Dimon & Co. remain untouchable with so many stones being thrown.

"While prosecutors are winning countless battles against the bank," Salmon wrote on Seeking Alpha, "it's abundantly clear that the bank is going to win the war."

Shareholders, as the bank's annual meeting approaches, must choose what camp they're in: Cheer the stock price, or chide the reputational damage.

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