Monday, May 14, 2012

JP Morgan: Bank Or Casino?

Robbie Conal
The New York Times reports that JP Morgan, "which emerged from the financial crisis as the nation’s biggest bank, disclosed on Thursday that it had lost more than $2 billion in trading, a surprising stumble that promises to escalate the debate over whether regulations need to rein in trading by banks."  Its CEO, Jamie Dimon, blamed “errors, sloppiness and bad judgment” for the loss, which stemmed from "a hedging strategy that backfired."

Surprising?  Hardly.  As Travis Waldon writes at ThinkProgress, these are the kind of errors that "could have been prevented were it not for extensive lobbying efforts from banks like JPMorgan, which has spent nearly $10 million on lobbying since the beginning of 2011 (including nearly $2 million already this year)."

Robert Reich reminds us that Dimon has incessantly argued against government regulation of Wall Street:
Last year he vehemently and loudly opposed the so-called Volcker rule, itself a watered-down version of the old Glass-Steagall Act that used to separate commercial from investment banking before it was repealed in 1999, saying it would unnecessarily impinge on derivative trading (the lucrative practice of making bets on bets) and hedging (using some bets to offset the risks of other bets).
And since then, Reich continues, "J.P. Morgan’s lobbyists and lawyers have done everything in their power to eviscerate the Volcker rule — creating exceptions, exemptions, and loopholes that effectively allow any big bank to go on doing most of the derivative trading it was doing before the near-meltdown."

As Waldon writes, "Thursday’s events prove that Wall Street hasn’t learned its lesson from the last crisis, and that America’s 'too big to fail' institutions are too irresponsible to avoid failure. The Volcker Rule, watered down as it may be, is aimed at preventing that. Unfortunately, Dimon and his Wall Street colleagues remain committed to making sure it won’t."

Matt Taibbi explains why we should care "if some idiot trader (who apparently has been making $100 million a year at Chase, a company that has been the recipient of at least $390 billion in emergency Fed loans) loses $2 billion for Jamie Dimon."
Because J.P. Morgan Chase is a federally-insured depository institution that has been and will continue to be the recipient of massive amounts of public assistance. If the bank fails, someone will reach into your pocket to pay for the cleanup. So when they gamble like drunken sailors, it’s everyone’s problem.
Taibbi concludes:
 If J.P. Morgan Chase wants to act like a crazed cowboy hedge fund and make wild exacta bets on the derivatives market, they should be welcome to do so. But they shouldn’t get to do it with cheap cash from the Fed’s discount window, and they shouldn’t get to do it with money from the federally-insured bank accounts of teachers, firemen and other such real people. It’s a simple concept: you either get to be a bank, or you get to be a casino. But you can’t be both. If we don’t have rules to enforce that concept, we ought to get some.


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