Here’s a good Sonic Charmer post about how JPMorgan could have prevented the London Whale loss by imposing a liquidity provision on the Whale’s desk:
Liquidity provision means: ‘the more illiquid the stuff you’re trading, the more rainy-day buffer we’re going to withhold from your P&L’. And since one way a thing becomes illiquid is ‘you’re dominating the market already’, you inevitably make it nonlinear, like a progressive income tax: No (extra) liquidity provision on the first (say) 100mm you own, half a point on the next (say) 400mm, a point on the next 500mm, 2 points on the next 1000mm, etc etc. (specific #s depend on the product). Problem solved. In fact, it’s genuinely weird and dumb if they didn’t have such a thing.
The London Whale’s problem (one of them) was that he traded so much of a particular thing that he basically became the market in it. That means among other things that even if on paper “The Price” of what he owned was X there would have been no way for him to sell the position for X. A liquidity provision is a rough and dirty way of acknowledging this fact.
This suggestion isn’t a matter of GAAP accounting: JPMorgan wouldn’t report its asset values, or its revenues, net of this liquidity provision. It’s just an internal bookkeeping mechanism: his bosses informing the Whale that, for purposes of calculating his P&L and, thus, his comp, they would take the GAAP value of the things he had and subtract a semi-arbitrary number for their own protection.
It is weird and dumb that they didn’t do this although you can sort of guess why: the Whale portfolio started very small, and by the time it got big the Whale was both profitable and a (mostly imaginary) tail risk hedge, so it would have been hard for a risk manager to take a semi-punitive step to rein in his risk-taking. “Just tell the Whale to take less risk” does in hindsight seem like a sensible suggestion, but I suppose if he’d made $6 billion it wouldn’t.
Something else though. Here you can read about an exchange between the SEC and JPMorgan about the Whale newly released yesterday. Read more »
The executive who led the J.P. Morgan Chase Co. cash-management unit at the center of the “London Whale” debacle is scheduled to testify Friday before a Senate panel probing the $6 billion trading loss at the nation’s largest bank by assets. Former Chief Investment Officer Ina Drew, who resigned as head of the unit last May, will make her first public appearance since the New York company disclosed the trading losses last spring. [WSJ]
How should one read JPMorgan’s Whale Report? I suppose “not” is an acceptable answer; the Whale’s credit derivatives losses at JPMorgan’s Chief Investment Office are old news by now, though perhaps his bones point us to the future. One way to read it is as a depressing story about measurement. There were some people and whales, and there was a pot of stuff, and the people and whales sat around looking at the stuff and asking themselves, and each other, “what is up with that stuff?” The stuff was in some important ways unknowable: you could list what the stuff was, if you had a big enough piece of paper, but it was hard to get a handle on what it would do. But that was their job. And the way you normally get such a handle, at a bank, is with a number, or numbers, and so everyone grasped at a number.
The problems were (1) the numbers sort of sucked and (2) everyone used a different number. Here I drew you a picture:1
Everyone tried to understand the pool of stuff through one or two or three numbers, and everyone failed dismally through some combination of myopia and the fact that each of those numbers was sort of horrible or tampered or both, each in its own special way. Starting with:
VaR: Value-at-risk is the #1 thing that people talk about when they want to talk about measuring risk. To the point that, if you want to be all “don’t look at one number to measure risk, you jerks,” VaR is the one number you tell the jerks not to look at. Read more »
Once upon a time there was a whale, and he had a synthetic credit portfolio, and one day he did terrible terrible things with that synthetic credit portfolio, and the next day he woke up and realized he had lost $5.8 billion, and he was sad. The question for you is: was that a disaster? I think a sensible answer is:
- Well, for the whale, yes.1
- For, like, the human race, nah.2
Having a sense of proportionality here is a good idea. For one trader, losing six billion dollars, give or take, really is in the far left tail of Worst Things You Can Do, and so the whale himself was fired in infamy, though an infamy mixed with a certain envy. For his direct manager and that manager’s manager, it is probably even worse, since failing to prevent your direct report’s $6 billion loss lacks the “wow-that-takes-balls” element of actually going out there and losing six billion dollars like a whale. So they were fired too. For the bank … meh. For the Second Bank of North-Central Indiana, I’m sure losing six billion dollars would be the sort of existential disaster that would require firing the CEO, tearing down the building, and salting the earth on which it stood, but there’s a reason this didn’t happen at the Second Bank of North-Central Indiana. It happened at JPMorgan. For which it wasn’t all that much of a disaster.3
What about for JPMorgan’s regulators? I go with, like, our financial system is still here, not really any the worse for wear, but others disagree, and regulators don’t have the same “well we were profitable for the quarter” defense that JPM had.4 And so today the Fed and OCC engaged in a well-lawyered barn-door-closing exercise, issuing consent orders to JPMorgan that basically say (1) you done fucked up, but (2) you fixed it, so (3) keep doing what you’re doing. Here is the Fed: Read more »
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]
“And I want you to know the London Whale issue is dead,” Jamie Dimon recently told a bunch of school children. “The Whale has been harpooned. Dessicated. Cremated…I am going to bury its ashes all over.” [NYM]
JPMorgan can’t outrun the ripples from its multibillion-dollar “London Whale” trading blunder. The largest U.S. bank admitted Thursday in a federal filing that it pushed back a plan to resume share buybacks, scaled back several key measures of capital at the request of regulators and lost money on 28 trading days in the second quarter. The developments came as the New York company tried to unwind a series of problematic positions taken by a trader in the bank’s Chief Investment Office nicknamed the “London Whale” for his outsize market bets. [WSJ]
JPMorgan’s chief investment office has lost $5.8 billion on the trades so far, and that figure may grow by $1.7 billion in a worst-case scenario, Dimon, the bank’s chairman and chief executive officer, said today. [Bloomberg, related]
Update: And the winner is HHFM, with -$5.75 billion! Get in touch to collect your prize.
Did Bruno Iksil make the bank -$2 billion? -$9 billion? -$20 billion? Was this all just a hoax and he actually didn’t lose any money at all? JPMorgan will let us know tomorrow at 7AM. Read more »
Despite Jamie Dimon’s promise that JPMorgan will be “solidly profitable” for the quarter, some are skeptical given the growing estimates of Whale-boy’s losses. According Mike Mayo, the bank “will only make $727 million…including $4 billion of losses in the unit that made the bungled bet [though] if the losses exceed $5 billion, JPMorgan could make an overall loss.” Barclays’ Jason Goldberg thinks things are gonna be okay here, and sees the bank making $3.3 billion, assuming you know who will have only lost it $3 billion when all is said and done. And yourselves? Read more »