Tag Archive: Fail Whale

Jun 13 2012

JP Morgan’s CEO And The Grand Lie

“We are not in the hedge fund business.”

Jamie Dimon, CEO JP Morgan Chase

JP Morgan Chase CEO Jamie Dimon testified today before the Senate Banking Committee about the $2 billion plus loss from it’s “London Whale” gambling with depositor and tax payer money. He was hardly contrite. Not only did Dimon whine about the complexity of the federal regulatory system but he lied, blatantly, this from Yves Smith at naked capitalism:

In Senate testimony, Dimon revealed his idea of “portfolio hedging” to be even more egregious than the harshest critics thought. Dimon presented the job of the CIO to be to make modest amounts of money in good times and to make a lot of money when there’s a crisis. (That does not appear to be narrowly true, since in the last couple of years, during which there was no crisis, the CIO’s staff were among the best paid in the bank and produced significant profits for the bank. That is a bald faced admission that the CIO’s mandate had nothing to do with hedging. A hedge is a position taken to mitigate losses on an underlying exposure should they occur. Instead, Dimon has admitted that the mission of the CIO is to place bets on tail risks that are unrelated to JP Morgan’s exposures. A massive, systemically destructive strategy like the Magnetar trade would fit perfectly within the CIO’s mandate.

Needless to say, this definition is an inversion of not just what the Volcker rule was meant to stand for (limiting financial firm gambles with taxpayer money), it’s NewSpeak, or in this case, DimonSpeak: “a hedge is whatever I say it is, no more and no less.” Another bit of DimonSpeak was his specious response when he was arguing against the Volcker rule. The JP Morgan chief asserted that a customer loan could be construed to be a prop trade. Um, no, Volcker applies to trading books. The fact that he’d run a line like that shows how little he thinks of the intelligence of the Senate Banking Committee and the public generally. [..]

It was instructive to see how effective confident misrepresentation can be. Most of the Republican senators fawned over Dimon after the ritual scolding at the top of the hearings, and I suspect most of the media will simply replay his lines uncritically. There were a few that will work against him, like his reluctant admission that the Volcker rule might have prevented the failed London trade. But in general, reducing complex situations to soundbites allows for obfuscation and misdirection, which is exactly what Dimon and his ilk are keen to have happen.

During the testimony, Dimon admitted to responsibility for the failed trade that could possibly lead to criminal charges for violation of Sarbanese-Oxley, but even under this Democratic administration, no one believes that, certainly not Yves or David Dayen at FDL:

Dimon also deflected blame for the losses. David Dayen recounts the conference call that took place during the hearing with economists Rob Johnson and Bill Black:

Dimon tried to blame the losses on a lot of factors, and in such a way that doesn’t trip up his priorities later. As economist Rob Johnson mentioned in a conference call, Dimon has been lobbying vociferously against things like the Volcker rule. So he doesn’t want this Fail Whale mix-up to lead to a stronger regulatory environment. He tried to explain the trades as a hedge (never saying that they were one, but that he “believed” they were one, to keep him out of trouble), that would make small amounts of money in good times and more money when things went bad. They were also specifically tied to business in Europe. Bill Black, who was also on the call, targeted this as a non sequitur. “He said that senior management ordered the CIO to get out of the risk out of this underlying supposed hedge,” Black said. “But a hedge is supposed to be reducing risk, and it was protecting you from Europe going bad, when Europe is going bad. So it should have been making more money at this time.”

Black continued. “Instead of reducing the risk, the CIO went into a vastly more complex series of derivatives and went far larger, and they hid the losses. I mean, my God. They violated direct orders, lose a ton of money and lie about it. Dimon described a massive insurrection by the CIO.”

Most of the senators soft peddled their questions and Sen. Jim DeMint (R-SC) actually asked Dimon for advice about banking regulations and Sen. Richard Shelby (R-AL) doesn’t believe in second guessing the banksters. The closest any of the questioners came to holding Dimon accountable for the losses was Sen Jeff Merkley (D-OR). It was during that exchange that Dimon admitted he was responsible for the losses.

All in all another farce by our politicians who are owned by the man before them.

May 22 2012

JP Morgan’s Whale Still Growing

That $2 billion failed London Whale has burgeoned up to a hefty $7 billion:

The crisis at JP Morgan escalated yesterday as it emerged its trading losses in London could rise to as much as $7bn (£4.5bn) and the US bank cancelled a share buyback. Fears were growing that the losses could spiral from an initial $2bn, which was declared on 10 May, as JP Morgan struggles to unwind the massive bets made by the so-called “London Whale” trader Bruno Iksil. [..]

The main index on which Mr Iksil’s credit default swaps trades were based has calmed down in recent days, which suggests that JP Morgan has decided to trade out of its positions gradually rather than take one massive hit. Mr Dimon originally said the bank would deal with the positions to “maximise economic value”. But there is a danger in taking the long view. Mr Iksil was betting on the credit-worthiness of corporate America and if that starts to fall JP Morgan’s losses could mount further.

But in the meantime, Dimon decided to suspend the $15 billion stock buy back:

Two months after announcing a $15 billion share buyback program, JPMorgan Chase reversed course on Monday, saying it was halting the repurchases after the bank’s multibillion-dollar trading loss. [..]

Mr. Dimon said the bank intended to keep its dividend of 30 cents a quarter unchanged. Bank officials have repeatedly emphasized that the company has no plans to reduce it despite the trading loss. Initially estimated by the bank at $2 billion, the trading loss on credit derivatives now stands at more than $3 billion, according to traders and regulators. [..]

The decision to halt the repurchases – a move the company said it made on its own, not at the behest of regulators – sent JPMorgan’s shares sliding again Monday, closing at their lowest level since late last year.

As the losses from London Whale increase and Dimon’s reputation as the “saviour” of JP Morgan is tarnished, the calls for better and tighter regulations for banking increase. That’s the problem faced by the Senate Banking Committee as they consider the “Volker Rule”. As David Dayen pointed out today the rule should not so complex that it just creates more loopholes:

The Fail Whale trades showed that massive, as-yet unregulated risk still exists in our financial system, with the potential to bring down the economy once again and trigger massive taxpayer bailouts. Since the Administration already passed a law that was supposed to deal with that, they’re scrambling to restore what little of value existed in those laws. [..]

The article intimates that independent regulators have authority over writing things like the Volcker rule, and that the White House and the Treasury Department have limited ability to ensure that the rule properly follows from the legislative mandate. Given that a senior Administration official told reporters just yesterday that the losses at JPMorgan Chase would “inform… how the ultimate contours of the Volcker ruler come out-make sure that it is strong,” it’s clear that not even the Administration believes that. They appointed the regulators, and Treasury has plenty of control over almost everything related to Dodd-Frank. If they want a stronger Volcker rule, they’ll get it.

But will the Banking Committee come out with strong, simple rules regulating the gambling that banks are doing with depositor funds? There is a lot of doubt considering that not only are the Senators on the banking committee “financed” by the banks and lobbied heavily, a former lobbyist for JP Morgan Chase, Dwight Fettig is the staff director for the Senate Banking Committee. As our friend watertiger at Dependable Renegade observed “Well, isn’t that conVEEEEENient”:

The Senate Banking Committee is responding to outrage over the news that J.P. Morgan lost some $3 billion in customer money because of a risky trading strategy. The committee is preparing for two hearings with regulators, and Senator Tim Johnson (D-SD), chair of the committee, is hoping that Jamie Dimon will testify in the near future. “Our due diligence has made it clear that the Banking Committee should hear directly from JPMorgan Chase’s CEO Jamie Dimon,” Johnson said in a statement last week.

Luckily for Dimon, the professional staff in charge of managing the banking committee will be quite familiar to him and his team of lobbyists. That’s because the staff director for the Senate Banking Committee is none other than a former J.P. Morgan lobbyist, Dwight Fettig.

In 2009, Fettig was a registered lobbyist for J.P. Morgan. His disclosures show that he was hired to work on “financial services regulatory reform” and the “Restoring American Financial Stability Act of 2009″ on behalf of the investment bank. Now, as staff director for the Senate Banking Committee, he will be overseeing the hearings on J.P. Morgan’s risky proprietary trading.

I agree with Yves Smith in her NYT op-ed opinion that “for starters, reinstate Glass – Steagall”:

Preventing blow-ups like the JPMorgan “hedge” that bears no resemblance to any known hedge isn’t difficult. What makes preventing it difficult is that banks that exist only by virtue of state-granted charters – and more recently, huge transfers from the public – have persuaded public officials and regulators that they have a God-granted right not just to high levels of profit but also high levels of employee and executive compensation. [..]

Maybe it’s time to recognize that these firms are too big and in too many complex businesses to be managed. Jamie Dimon was touted as a star who could supervise a sprawling firm running huge risks, and he fell short because no one can do the job adequately. A less disaster-prone financial system requires more simplicity and redundancy. Re-instituting Glass-Steagall or other variants on the narrow banking theme isn’t a full solution, but it would make for a good start.