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JPMorgan Chase Faces FBI Probe; Shareholder Meeting Goes Well, However

The Justice Department and the FBI have now joined the fray in investigating JPMorgan Chase and its Fail Whale trade that has so far cost the firm $2 billion. The report added that “it isn’t clear what possible legal violation federal investigators may be focusing on,” and I can’t add any insight into that. The Volcker rule is not yet operative, so even if you think that the portfolio hedge violated its guidelines, that doesn’t matter for the time being. Anyway, I don’t think the Justice Department would be involved in that. The SEC investigation pretty clearly involves disclosures to investors over the trades. The New York office of the FBI is leading the investigation, and typically that would mean more than a civil fine. But especially considering the fact that the trades were executed in London, I’m not sure what criminal charges would be involved here. Perhaps violations of Sarbanes-Oxley rules, but that’s all I can think of. It feels more like theater.

Meanwhile, in a case of bad timing, JPMorgan Chase held its shareholder meeting in Tampa today. The protests were decidedly muted considering the circumstance, with just a handful of Occupy Tampa protesters outside. Inside the meeting, activists failed to make any significant changes to JPM’s management:

At its annual shareholder meeting in Tampa, Florida, 91% of those who voted backed Jamie Dimon’s $23m pay packet for the last year.

And a vote to strip Mr Dimon of his dual titles of chief executive and chairman won only 40%.

But most ballots were cast before the trading loss was announced.

Mr Dimon has called the shock loss a “terrible, egregious mistake” and told reporters after annual meeting: “The buck always stops with me.”

Except in this case, it didn’t. And the buck got $23 million for his services. In fact, Dimon said at the meeting that it would pursue disciplinary action, not against the buck, but against the subordinates who executed the trades. He even brought up the idea of clawbacks in compensation for those individuals. Not for the buck, of course. New York City Comptroller John Liu has endorsed the concept of clawbacks for the responsible parties, as well as former FDIC Chairman Sheila Bair:

“We don’t know the facts and culpability, but it appears she (Ina Drew, who resigned this week) did have a responsibility here along with a number of others,” Sheila Bair, former chairman of the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp, said in an interview with Reuters Insider. “Clearly, the whole purpose of clawbacks is if you make a bad bet that results in losses, compensation should be clawed back.”

JPMorgan Chase’s stock has lost $14.3 billion in market capitalization, or seven times as much as the loss in the Fail Whale trade, since the announcement last Thursday. However, it rebounded today, up 2.82% to $36.80 thus far in afternoon trading.

Shareholders had more to say about the mortgage servicing practices of the bank than the Fail Whale trade, according to some reports. That should not be lost here. Shareholder activism has pressed the leading banks on their foreclosure practices.

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David Dayen

David Dayen