JPMorgan

You’ve all peered into Ina Drew’s soul by now, right? My basic reaction was, “she kicks it old school.” This is obvious from the way that she stayed in Short Hills after getting rich, instead of decamping to, like, the moon, I guess? More telling, perhaps, is the fact that she seems to have been present at the creation of the idea of buying and selling financial instruments to hedge a bank’s credit risk:

By the mid-1980s, Drew was working directly under an economist named Petros K. Sabatacakis, the head of Chemical Bank’s global treasury department. Among the department’s tasks was managing interest-rate risk … Still, the group was considered a sleepy backwater until Sabatacakis turned their attention a few years later to banking’s other major risk: credit default. The bank was most vulnerable to its lenders1 defaulting in a recession; in a recession, the Federal Reserve generally lowers interest rates to increase borrowing and spending. Sabatacakis determined they should continue to buy those securities whose value would rise in a recessionary environment. “It was a trader’s mentality,” says Glenn Havlicek, a trader who worked under Drew for 22 years. “It may seem elemental, but at the time, the idea of mixing a trading solution and a credit-crisis solution — it was in its awkward infancy.”

That was an awkward infancy! Basically you notice that there’s a correlation between (1) spreads widening and (2) rates tightening, so you get long rate product to hedge your spread product? That’s a pretty blunt instrument: Read more »

Drew was something of an unusual figure on Wall Street and not easily categorized. She was known for her small, girlish voice but could let loose with profanity when angered. She was the daughter of a Newark lawyer and had a reputation as a tough adversary but practically blushed whenever she spoke about her husband, a periodontist who was her high-school sweetheart and played on the Johns Hopkins basketball team. Tall, with expensive blond hair, she dressed impeccably for the office, favoring classic Chanel suits and Manolo Blahnik shoes, as well as a blinding emerald-cut diamond ring; but she and her husband never left the affluent but unremarkable suburban neighborhood in Short Hills, N.J., where they settled more than 20 years ago. [NYT]

So, subprime mortgage-backed securities. Here’s a schematic:

  • Banks packaged subprime mortgages into bonds and sold them to people.
  • Something.
  • The bonds were bad and the people lost money.

What’s the something? There are two main theories. Theory 1 says that everyone knew at some lizard-brain level that it was a bad idea to give lots of money to poor unemployed people with low credit scores to buy overpriced houses, but figured it would work out fine if house prices kept going up. This worked until it didn’t; when house prices went down, badness ensued.

Theory 2 says that, while mortgage originators and securitizers knew that they were giving mortgages to people who had no chance of paying them back, the buyers of those mortgages had no idea: they thought that the originators were holding them to rigorous underwriting standards, where “rigorous” is read to mean “other than requiring a job, or an income, or assets, or a credit score.” When that turned out to be false, badness ensued.

Theory 1 has the benefit of probably being right.1 Theory 2 is superior on every other metric. For one thing, it fits well with deep cultural desires to find villains for the subprime crisis, and punish them. For another, it better fits the explicit facts. No subprime offering document actually said “these guys are all just terrible reprobates and the only way you’ll get your money back is if they can find a greater fool to buy their overpriced house when their rate resets.” But there’s no shortage of internal emails that say – well:

In connection with the Bear Stearns Second Lien Trust 2007-1 (“BSSLT 2007-1”) securitization, for example, one Bear Stearns executive asked whether the securitization was a “going out of business sale” and expressed a desire to “close this dog.” In another internal email, the SACO 2006-8 securitization was referred to as a “SACK OF SHIT”2 and a “shit breather.”

Thanks Eric Schneiderman! Read more »

Jamie Dimon, the outspoken chief executive of JPMorgan Chase, sat down on Tuesday for what banking analysts called a “fireside chat” during the Barclays 2012 Global Financial Services Conference. Known for his hands-on management style and confident swagger, Mr. Dimon has been navigating the fallout from a rare misstep in his career after JPMorgan announced a multibillion-dollar loss on a complex credit bet at its chief investment office unit. During a question-and-answer session with Jason Goldberg, a Barclays analyst, Mr. Dimon responded to questions about things like his stance on the mounting turmoil in Europe and regulatory changes, in particular the Volcker Rule, which restricts banks from trading with their own money. Mr. Goldberg started by asking Mr. Dimon about the rationale behind shaking up the upper echelons of JPMorgan’s executive suite in July. “It had nothing to do with the chief investment office,” Mr. Dimon said. He added that “there is nothing mystical, folks,” because the moves enabled greater cross-selling. “Cross-selling is a big deal, and we do an exceptionally good job,” he said…Tackling the issue of whether the big banks should be broken up, Mr. Goldberg asked Mr. Dimon about recent calls to break up the major banks. “There are huge benefits to size,” Mr. Dimon said. He noted that JPMorgan’s size allowed it to be “a port in the storm” during the market turmoil of 2008. “Big banks have a function in society.” The United States, he added, has the “best, widest, deepest and most transparent capital markets in the world.” Cautioning against needless reform, Mr. Dimon said, “Let’s make sure we keep that before we do a bunch of stupid stuff that destroys that.“ [Dealbook]

A fourth London-based JPMorgan Chase trader is under scrutiny in the investigation by U.S. authorities into the bank’s nearly $6 billion trading loss, according to sources familiar with the situation. Julien Grout, a trader who joined JPMorgan Chase in 2009, is drawing attention because he worked in the bank’s Chief Investment Office and reported to Bruno Iksil, the French credit trader who is a central figure in the federal probe, said the two sources. U.S. authorities are trying to determine whether traders in the bank’s London office, including Iksil, took steps to try and hide some of the losses the bank was incurring on a series of complex derivatives trades. In the trading community in London, Iksil became known as the London Whale because of the large positions he and his colleagues were taking on. Grout, who is also French, is still working for JPMorgan, according to a bank spokeswoman. [Reuters]

In her fascinating 1999 biography of J.P. Morgan,”Morgan: American Financier,” Jean Strouse writes, “He could, he said, do a year’s work in nine months but not in twelve.” Morgan would keep a workaholic’s schedule while in New York but would break for frequent trips to Europe, flopping around its spas to ward off depression and his hypochondriac fears of ill-health. He saw nothing macho about refusing holidays. The current crop of Wall Street CEOs might benefit from a similarly restorative schedule. If Goldman Sachs’s Lloyd Blankfein were to hit Positano and J.P. Morgan’s Jamie Dimon to take the waters in Baden-Baden from May to September, it may not help their image. But following Morgan’s example, it might be better for banks’ general health if their executives didn’t always feel they are in permanent crisis mode. [WSJ]

Earlier today, Bloomberg ran a lengthy piece about the latest crisis on Wall Street: a lack of Jamie Dimon. Specifically, a lack of Jamie Dimon telling meddlesome regulators, anti-industry populists, know-nothing Congressmen, and hypocrite bastard newspapers where they can go and what they can suck. True, it’s not as though he’s gone anywhere, and he’s still reminding people “it’s a free fucking country” but “juggling multiple investigations and a $5.8 billion trading loss on wrong-way bets on credit derivatives” has left his hands a little tied and, some believe, cost him his once untouchable “stature” in the industry.

And while one should never simply offer problems without solutions, Bloomberg isn’t gonna sugarcoat this one: when it comes to “any kind of credible statesmen” to step in for JD, Wall Street is shit out of luck and not just because no one besides Lloyd came close in sales of their respective Bankers At Work And Play pin-up calendars. Among current CEO’s, Lloyd Blankfein, Brian Moynihan and Vikram Pandit are deemed too busy “fixing their own firms or repairing their reputations,” while Wells Fargo chief John Stumpf, though respected among his peers, is ruled out due to geography (“Part of Jamie’s fitting into that role was his natural brashness as a Wall Streeter and New Yorker, and that is not John”).

But hey, what about that James Gorman guy? Runs Morgan Stanley, is based in New York, has been known to put a foot up an ass when necessary? Don’t even get Bloomberg started. Read more »