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JPMorgan's $2 billion loss prompts calls for more bank regulation

By Daniel Wagner

AP Business Writer

LAST UPDATED: 12:00 p.m. HST, May 11, 2012

WASHINGTON >> JPMorgan Chase faced intense criticism Friday for claiming that a surprise $2 billion loss by one of its trading groups was the result of a sloppy but well-intentioned strategy to manage financial risk.

More than three years after the financial industry almost collapsed, the colossal misfire was cited as proof that big banks still do not understand the threats posed by their own speculation.

"It just shows they can't manage risk — and if JPMorgan can't, no one can," said Simon Johnson, the former chief economist for the International Monetary Fund.

JPMorgan is the largest bank in the United States and was the only major bank to remain profitable during the 2008 financial crisis. That lent credibility to its tough-talking CEO, Jamie Dimon, as he opposed stricter regulation in the aftermath.

But Dimon's contention that the $2 billion loss came from a hedging strategy that backfired, not an opportunistic bet with the bank's own money, faced doubt on Friday, if not outright ridicule.

"This is not a hedge," said Sen. Carl Levin, D-Mich., chair of a subcommittee that investigated the crisis. He said the trades were instead a "major bet" on the direction of the economy, as published reports suggested.

On Friday, Dimon told NBC News, for an interview airing Sunday on "Meet the Press," that he did not know whether JPMorgan had broken any laws or regulatory rules. He said the bank was "totally open" to regulators.

The head of the Securities and Exchange Commission, Mary Schapiro, told reporters that the agency was focused on the JPMorgan loss but declined to comment further.

JPMorgan's disclosure Thursday recharged a debate about how to ensure that banks are strong and competitive without allowing them to become so big and complex that they threaten the financial system when they falter.

The JPMorgan loss did not cause anything close to the panic that followed the September 2008 failure of the Lehman Brothers investment bank. But it shook the confidence of the financial industry.

Within minutes after trading began on Wall Street, JPMorgan stock had lost almost 10 percent, wiping out about $15 billion in market value. It closed down 9.3 percent. Fitch Ratings also downgraded the bank's credit rating by one notch.

Morgan Stanley and Citigroup closed down more than 4 percent, and Goldman Sachs closed down almost 4 percent. The broader stock market was down only slightly for the day.

Dimon gave few details about the trades Thursday beyond saying they involved "synthetic credit positions," a type of the complex financial instruments known as derivatives.

Enhanced oversight of derivatives was a pillar of the 2010 financial overhaul law, known as Dodd-Frank, but the implementation has been delayed repeatedly and will not take effect until the end of this year at the earliest.

JPMorgan's trades show that the derivatives market remains too opaque for regulators to oversee effectively, said Rep. Barney Frank, D-Mass., one of the law's namesakes.

"When a supposedly responsible, well-run organization could make such an enormous mistake with derivatives, that really blows up the argument, 'Oh, leave us alone, we don't need you to regulate us,'" he said.

Criticism of the bank did not stop with its traditional chorus of detractors. It also came from Sen. Bob Corker, R-Tenn., a prominent member of the Senate Banking Committee who has received $10,000 since January 2011 from JPMorgan's political action committee, the most any candidate has received.

Corker, a leader of a failed effort last year to block a Federal Reserve rule that slashed bank profits from debit cards, called for a hearing "as expeditiously as possible" into the events surrounding JPMorgan's loss.

Tim Ryan, president of the Securities Industry and Financial Markets Association, a trade group, said it was imposible to legislate or regulate risk out of the financial system.

"My hope is that this is viewed as bona fide hedging, but it went wrong," he said in an interview. "A mistake was made. Money is going to be lost. It's not customer money. It's not government money. It's JPMorgan's money, the shareholders of JPMorgan."

No one seemed to suggest Friday that JPMorgan had broken a law. But the mistake added a wrinkle to the still-unsettled discussion about how the financial industry should be regulated in the aftermath of 2008.

"This just tells you that we are a long, long way from getting our arms around this whole 'too big to fail' issue," said Cliff Rossi, a former top risk executive for Citigroup, Countrywide and other big financial companies.

Immediately after the crisis, a time of popular outrage over bailouts and investment losses, there was broad public support for an overhaul of bank regulations.

The changes promoted by the Obama administration were in many cases similar to what the financial industry had sought before the crisis: Consolidation of regulators and oversight of the multi-trillion-dollar marketplace for derivatives.

Regulators are still drafting hundreds of rules under the 2010 law. As Wall Street has returned to record profits, and executives to million-dollar bonuses, banks have fought to soften those rules.

In particular, the industry has fought hard against a few provisions that might have prevented the problems at JPMorgan.

One is the so-called Volcker rule, which will prohibit banks from trading for their own profit. The rule is still being written, and the Federal Reserve has said it will begin enforcement in 2014.

JPMorgan said that its bets were made only to hedge against financial risk. Dimon conceded that the strategy was "egregious" and poorly monitored. But analysts, former bank executives and many lawmakers disagreed.

"This is an exact description of proprietary trading-style activity," Sen. Jeff Merkley, D-Ore., told reporters Friday. "This really is a textbook illustration of why we need a strong Volcker rule firewall."

Nancy Bush, a longtime bank analyst at NAB Research and a contributing editor at SNL Financial, said the trades probably crossed that line because they were making money for JPMorgan.

"So they made money on hedges and then they hedged some more," she said. "At some point it goes from being a hedge to being a moneymaker."

JPMorgan was seen as a savior of weaker banks during the financial crisis and the only big bank to escape relatively unscathed. His reputation enhanced, Dimon, 56, has been emboldened to challenge efforts to toughen regulation.

In an interview with the Fox Business Network earlier this year, Dimon said that Paul Volcker, the former Federal Reserve chairman for whom the rule is named "doesn't understand capital markets."

Last year, he questioned the current Fed chair, Ben Bernanke, about the rules and said they might be delaying the recovering of the financial system and the broader economy.

"Has anyone bothered to study the cumulative effect of all these things?" he asked.

Dimon, who grew up in the Queens borough of New York and was groomed by the former Citigroup chief executive Sanford Weill, has also chafed against Occupy Wall Street protesters.

"Acting like everyone who's been successful is bad and that everyone who is rich is bad — I just don't get it," he said at a conference earlier this year.

On Thursday, at about the same time he was breaking news of the $2 billion loss to Wall Street, Dimon sent an email to JPMorgan's 270,000 worldwide employees assuring them that the company was "very strong."


AP Business Writer Marcy Gordon, AP Business Writer Pallavi Gogoi and Associated Press writer Jack Gillum contributed to this report.

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OldDiver wrote:
This is the libertarian free market at work. Banks gambling with our savings accounts. Time for Tea Party Republicans to support Democratic Party bills to re-regulate the banks.
on May 11,2012 | 06:21AM
Manoa2 wrote:
JP Morgan hid this practice under "hedging" so it would not be seen as a hugely risky investment unsuited for a bank-- insiders at JPM say it was done deliberately to seek higher returns greed if you will and not as a hedge. A. Perfect example why these banks cannot be trusted to regulate themselves. Still the political influence of thse big banks is enormous among both Republicans and Democrats. We are all being short changed and the economy and our investments are still at risk.
on May 11,2012 | 06:51AM
Maui wrote:
Greedy bankers putting everyone else at risk again. Republicans against fixing the problem.
on May 11,2012 | 07:17AM
cojef wrote:
Greed for higher returns equate to risks and finally a debacle. Greed for higher or bigger bonuses?? 1%'s in action, can you blame the occupiers?? Gambling depositors money, hardly ?? Can't figure it out, it's beyond my comprehension. The thing that bugs me is that they still get to keep the bonuses they claim they earned buying derivatives to hedge against high risks investment. Give me the old rural small town banks where investments in banks stocks was sure as gold. My portfolio has 3 financial institutions and it's for the pits, loosing big bucks. Wish I got out of them 10 years ago, when they were riding high. BAH!
on May 11,2012 | 08:43AM
EightOEight wrote:
The conservative/libertarian bloggers too busy commenting about Obama's fundraising to comment here...
on May 11,2012 | 08:17AM
EightOEight wrote:
P.S. ""We will admit it, we will learn from it, we will fix it, and we will move on," Dimon said. JPMorgan is trying to unload the portfolio in question in a "responsible" manner, Dimon said, to minimize the cost to its shareholders. He acknowledged that more losses are possible as JPMorgan's traders and risk management officers try to untangle the trades.". Were they on another planet in 2007-2008?
on May 11,2012 | 08:37AM
serious wrote:
The regulation was passed by Dodd/Fink!! No typo!!! The funds JPM used were company funds. Every large commodity company hedges--airlines do it with oil, General Mills, etc does it with wheat. You win some you lose some--that's business. Not sure what the "Tea" comment was, but Starbucks also hedges coffee and I am sure Lipton does it with tea!!!
on May 11,2012 | 10:32AM
OldDiver wrote:
Not true. Airlines The airlines buy oil futures so they have a known future price of fuel, a commodity which they will at some future date take possession of. Wall Street bankers are gambling on commodities that they have no intention of taking possession of. This is a difference you need to understand to understand this issue.
on May 11,2012 | 03:06PM
Manoa2 wrote:
This was not a hedge meant to cover the downside risks of the bank-- this was an aggressive trading position taken by a "rogue" trader for the Bank in London, "Voldemort". This was not risk control, this was deliberately risky trading in the hope of higher returns-- risks that involve other financial institutions and all of us, risks that no bank should take. And these risky positions have more downside to come-- maybe a $Billion or more. The Bank's CEO admitted that the Bank flat out failed to control these trades-- shades of the 2007-2008 crash, especially the crash of AIG.
on May 11,2012 | 04:55PM
DiverDave wrote:
This comment has been deleted.
on May 11,2012 | 10:03AM
OldDiver wrote:
Apples and oranges.
on May 11,2012 | 10:14AM
opihi123 wrote:
Wow- JP Morgan Lost 2 % of the 300 something billion they manage.... Oh my god, call for more regulation. Jealous people unite to get the bad rich guys. Get a life, go to work for yourself, stop trying to take what isn't yours. I , for one want guys like JP Morgan around because they are successful. They will come back from this if government gets out of the way.
on July 13,2012 | 04:25AM
HealthyandHappy wrote:
The banks have hired Eric Holders law firm to represent them. There will obviously be no enforcement against them by the Obama administration and his Department of Justice.
on May 11,2012 | 12:36PM
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