Whaledemort

  • 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 »

  • 14 Jan 2013 at 6:33 PM

Regulators Close Aquarium Door Behind Escaped Whale

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 »

  • 12 Oct 2012 at 5:05 PM
  • Banks

London Whale Swims Off Into The Sunset

Hi Whale! I told you you were not forgotten. Not understood, either, but not forgotten.

The London Whale now goes by the less adorable name “synthetic credit portfolio,” since all mammalian representatives of that portfolio have left for non-extradition countries. That is descriptive enough, or so I would have thought; my rough model of the London Whale position was a combination of basically long IG index synthetic credit by selling protection on 10-year CDX.NA.IG.9, untranched or senior tranches, and short higher-beta synthetic credit bits by buying protection on high-yield indices, junior tranches, something like that.

But it’s also possible that the London Whale position is basically a blob of green glowing radioactive material that just deals indiscriminate pain everywhere it goes. So, for instance, this quarter, after causing massive and time-traveling losses last quarter and being mostly unwound and/or moved from the Chief Investment Office to the investment bank, it still managed to lose money in not one but two places – the investment bank, where the bulk of its ominously pulsing self “experienced a modest loss,”1 but also the CIO, where its mangled remnants lost $449 million on about a $12bn notional remaining position, or about 3.75% of quarter-initial notional.2

You can think a range of cynical things here. The most supportable, perhaps, is that CIO’s daily VaR was $54mm last quarter3, meaning that the CIO’s loss this quarter was a little over 8x its daily VaR, which is, um, high? A quarter is 65ish trading days; if you assume VaR goes with the square root of time then CIO’s quarterly 95%-confidence-interval VaR was about, oh call it $449 million, meaning roughly that 95% of the time it would have lost less than it did, yet here we are. Of course there’s the other 5% of the time, where the whale seems to live, but … I mean, that is an odd number and might make you quietly ponder JPMorgan’s new VaR model.4 BONUS FOOTNOTE!5 Read more »

  • 21 Sep 2012 at 1:29 PM

The CDX And The Whale

The OCC report on bank derivative activities is rarely what you would call a laugh riot but I enjoyed that the 2Q2012 one released today gives the London Whale a belated sad trombone:

Commercial banks and savings associations reported trading revenue of $2.0 billion in the second quarter of 2012, 69 percent lower than the first quarter of 2012, and 73 percent lower than in the second quarter of 2011, the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency reported today in the OCC’s Quarterly Report on Bank Trading and Derivatives Activities.

“Trading revenues were weak in the second quarter,” said Martin Pfinsgraff, Deputy Comptroller for Credit and Market Risk. “While both normal seasonal weakness and reduced client demand played a role, it was clearly the highly-publicized losses at JPMorgan Chase that caused the sharp drop in trading revenues.” Mr. Pfinsgraff noted that JPMorgan Chase reported a $3.7 billion loss from credit trading activities, causing the bank to report an aggregate $420 million trading loss for the quarter.

How big a deal Whaledemort is depends on your denominator: compared to JPMorgan’s assets, or even its revenues, he’s a drop in the ocean, but his misadventures in credit derivatives did wipe out two-thirds of all derivative trading revenues among all US banks. And he’s a good enough excuse to talk about a random assortment of other credit-derivative-trading things from the last few days. First is a neat Bloomberg article (appears to be terminal-only now) about CDX NA HY 19: Read more »

When JPMorgan’s whale drowned a lot of people asked “where were the regulators?” and that was a silly question, because the people with the most incentive and ability to keep the whale afloat were, in descending order, (1) the whale, (2) the whale’s bosses, (3) the whale’s bosses bosses, (4) the regulators, and (5) the people asking “where were the regulators?,” so if categories 1-3 missed the problem then there’s no reason to get all mad at category 4. “If X’s could do Y they wouldn’t be X’s” is an important tool to keep in your mental toolkit, and if regulators could distinguish good from bad trades they’d be at least risk managers and probably, like, Warren Buffett.

What regulators are supposed to do, ideally, is not pick trades but rather set up systems to prevent bad trades from having ruinous systemic effects, and a major method of doing so is capital regulation. JPMorgan lost $5.8 billion on whale-failing, and if you or I lost $5.8 billion we would probably be scaling back our vacation plans, but Jamie Dimon isn’t because JPMorgan had lots and lots more money where that came from. Capital!, in both senses of that exclamation.

This is a pleasing use of regulatory intelligence: Read more »

JPMorgan Whale Isn’t Finished Here

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]

Who wins the call-the-Whale-close? The headline number is a $4.4 billion loss this quarter but that is lower than it could have been because those losses propagated backwards through time:

JPMorgan Chase & Co. (NYSE: JPM) today reported that it will restate its previously-filed interim financial statements for the first quarter of 2012. The restatement will have no effect on total earnings or revenues for the company year-to-date.*

The restatement announced today will reduce the firm’s previously-reported net income for the 2012 first quarter by $459 million. The restatement relates to valuations of certain positions in the synthetic credit portfolio in the firm’s Chief Investment Office (CIO).

The total loss in the first quarter is now $1,378mm for Q1 (footnote 3 of page 14 here); add $4,409mm for Q2 (page 3 here) and you get a total final official loss of $5,787mm. So far.**

The restatement is fascinating, and Dimon is proud of it: “This is what the SEC chairwoman herself would have done if she had seen all the same facts at the same time.” Okay! But she probably wouldn’t have done this: Read more »