Dimon Doesn’t Know If JPM Broke the Law in Fail Whale Trade
These quotes from Jamie Dimon’s upcoming appearance this weekend on Meet the Press are a bit out of character:
David Gregory: Did the bank break any laws? Did it violate any accounting rules or SEC rules?
Jamie Dimon: So we’ve had audit, legal, risk, compliance, some of our best people looking at all of that. We know were sloppy. We know we were stupid. We know there was bad judgment. We don’t know if any of that’s true yet. Of course, regulators should look at something like this, that’s their job. We are totally open to regulators, and they will come to their own conclusions. But we intend to fix it, learn from it and be a better company when it’s done.
If you can find another CEO answer a point-blank question about whether or not their company broke the law with, essentially, “I don’t know, the regulators should come in and find out,” you win a cookie. That’s an especially interesting angle to take for Jamie Dimon, who has spent the last two years telling the regulators to get off the backs of the financial industry so they can go ahead and master the universe.
The legal issues stem from disclosures and statements made to investors about the “Fail Whale” trades before the inevitable admission of losses. They have little to do, as far as I can tell, with the trades themselves, which nobody contests are legal at the moment, and which sadly probably would be legal under the Proposed Volcker rule, which allows the very kind of portfolio hedging that the legislative history of the Volcker rule would seem to prevent.
Worse for JPMorgan Chase, the rating agencies have descended upon them.
JPMorgan Chase & Co. (JPM), the largest and most profitable U.S. bank, had its credit grade lowered one level by Fitch Ratings and Standard & Poor’s said it may follow after the bank revealed a $2 billion trading loss.
The lender’s long-term issuer default rating was cut to A+ from AA-, and the short-term grade was lowered to F1 from F1+, Fitch said yesterday in a statement. Fitch placed all parent and subsidiary long-term ratings on rating watch negative.
Standard & Poor’s cited the possibility of broader problems with JPMorgan’s hedging strategies, which the credit rater said isn’t “consistent with what we have viewed as the company’s sound risk-management practices.” A downgrade might result if the missteps prove to be wider, or if management “is pursuing a more aggressive investment strategy than we originally believed” and misses financial targets, according to an S&P statement. S&P affirmed JPMorgan’s A rating.
I’ve seen analysts call this a “Texas hedge,” making the point that it wasn’t really a hedge at all. It was an enormous bet on its own, called a hedge to make it look better to the regulators.
I’m pleased to see the pile-on against Dimon and in favor of actual constraints on the Wall Street casino, and so should anyone who doesn’t want to continue to finance a lavish lifestyle for the people who wrecked the economy.