London Whale

You might not remember this but there’s a bank called JPMorgan and that bank invests its excess cash in a portfolio of available-for-sale securities and a year ago this week it announced that a certain cetacean had lost $5.787 billion hedging those securities. Man, that pissed people off. There was a hearing and everything. Good times.

So:

Bank of America Corp’s balance sheet suffered from rising bond yields in the second quarter, suggesting that the second-largest U.S. bank may be more exposed to interest-rate risk than some of its major rivals. … Bank of America appears to have used mortgage bonds in an investment portfolio to bet yields would stay stable and relatively low, say analysts who studied the size and composition of its holdings.

It lost that bet. U.S. bond yields surged after Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke said the bank would taper its latest bond buying programs. Bank of America booked some $5.73 billion of paper losses from these securities in the quarter, and still held about $170 billion as of June 30.

Those losses and others were in a portfolio, known as the “available-for-sale” book, which affects a bank’s balance sheet but does not affect earnings.

Are you not tickled by the coincidence? Read more »

Capiche? Read more »

Is Jamie Dimon too powerful at JPMorgan? I have a wonderful, simple test in mind, though it may be impracticable; anyway here it is:

  • if a majority of shareholders vote in favor of the nonbinding proposal to strip him of his role as chairman of the board, and
  • he remains chairman of the board, then
  • he’s probably too powerful!

Let’s find out!

Honestly, who cares who cares who cares who cares if JPMorgan’s board has an independent Chairman or just an independent Presiding Director? The board’s job is to keep an eye on Jamie; if it failed to do that then giving it a fancy new title doesn’t seem likely to improve performance. Is it your impression that Jamie Dimon, who apparently rides roughshod over pissant Presiding Directors,1 will nonetheless be meek and subservient when faced with a Chairman?

Discussion about this proposal is confused because some people think that having an independent chairman is a good thing in all circumstances, or at least say they do; CalPERs’s governance czar, for instance, believes that “There’s a fundamental conflict in combining the roles of chairman and C.E.O.” and so CalPERS will vote to split the roles at JPMorgan just as they did last year. Others think that, y’know, it depends on the people. The people here would presumably remain the same though there’s some rumbling that Dimon would take his toys and go home if he couldn’t be chairman too.

Outside of CalPERS, though, the universal-good-governance theory doesn’t seem to move anyone much. Here, if you’re interested, are JPMorgan’s top 20 shareholders: 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]

There are a lot of things that, if you wanted to, you could legitimately blame on former JP Morgan employee London P. Whale. The $6.2 billion trading loss the bank incurred over the summer. Ina Drew getting fired. This awkward phone call. Some stuff you can’t pin on him, though many have tried: male pattern baldness, the bombing of Pearl Harbor, Apple Maps, Lehman Brothers’ bankruptcy, tempting as it may be. Read more »

  • 30 Jan 2013 at 2:32 PM

Human-Whale Relations At JPMorgan Were Pretty Frosty

Is JPMorgan too big to manage the quantity of public confusion about its operations? Maybe? This Reuters story about how JPMorgan was betting against its own Whale trades is a bit silly: the fact that JPMorgan’s investment bank dealer desk may have been long (short) some of the instruments that JPMorgan’s Chief Investment Office was short (long) is not all that noteworthy. JPMorgan contains multitudes; the dealer desk and the CIO sit in different places and do different things and generally might have similar, offsetting, or entirely unrelated positions.1 In fact if you assume that the positions at issue here were mainly the Whale’s massive CDX NA IG position – he was very very long index credit, among other trades – you could imagine that the dealer desk would sort of naturally be short the same thing. A big part of a dealer’s job is to (1) write single-name CDS to people who want to short particular names and (2) buy index CDS to hedge.2 So it would naturally be looking to buy index protection, and if a certain whale of its acquaintance was selling – why not?

Still there is a piece of news here, which is this:

Two people familiar with Iksil and his boss, Javier Martin-Artajo, said the two CIO employees complained about the investment bank’s actions in the spring of 2012, accusing its traders of deliberately trying to move the market against the CIO by leaking information on its position to hedge funds. Iksil made his complaint to a member of JPMorgan’s compliance department, one of the people said. But those same sources said they had not seen any evidence to support that claim …

So, maybe news? There’s no evidence to support it; perhaps it’s just the Whale’s (retrospectively justified?) persecution complex. Still: the Whale crew thought that the investment bank were trying to make them take losses. Imagine that it’s true! Why would it be true? Read more »

  • 16 Jan 2013 at 1:41 PM
  • Banks

JPMorgan Dissects A Whale Carcass

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 »