The House of Representatives, in some cases on a bipartisan basis, is generally getting at the issue of JPMorgan Chase’s multi-billion dollar losses in today’s Financial Services Committee hearing with CEO Jamie Dimon. Clearly, Dimon is miffed by even having to be present for this questioning, an emotion he mostly didn’t have to show before the Senate Banking Committee.
The hearing got off to a stumbling start – Don Manzullo’s extended salon with Dimon about the roots of the Eurozone crisis was downright embarrassing – but the questioning by several members below the top tier of senior leadership was telling. Sean Duffy (R-WI) got at the taxpayer money on the hook when JPMorgan trades $350 billion in their Chief Investment Office. He suggested that JPM is not only too big to fail but too big to manage, a point brought up by several other members on both sides of the aisle. And one Republican – I didn’t catch the name – actually bothered to ask Dimon if he should resign from the board of the New York Federal Reserve (Dimon replied that he doesn’t have any rulemaking role and just gives advice).
But the two stars of the show thus far were Democratic Reps. Gary Ackerman and Brad Sherman. Ackerman asked point-blank if there’s any difference between gambling and investing. Dimon replied that with gambling, the house usually won, to which Ackerman quipped “That has been my experience in investing.” But he got at the central point, that hedging, which entails making a bet that would counteract any other actions in the markets, really bears reveals no difference from gambling. He emphasized that “with hedging, if you’re right, only you win, and if you’re wrong, we all lose.” Precisely. There’s no productive business being done with hedging.
Dimon replied to this by saying that they do a lot of other productive business with the rest of their $2 trillion in assets, so the gentleman from New York should kindly shut his mouth (that’s a paraphrase). And Brad Sherman followed up on that very well. He first said that hundreds if not thousands of small businesses need loans, and instead of accommodating them, “you took $350 billion to London.” Sherman added that JPMorgan holds a $14 billion subsidy through their implicit Too Big to Fail guarantee. This elicited an amusing moment, as Dimon said “We borrow in the marketplace, with the smartest people in the world, with 200 basis points over Treasury.” Sherman replied that “after you lost so much money in London, I would be surprised if people lent you money for less than that.”
The best parts of the hearing were more about the flaws in the business model of a giant mega-bank rather than the specific Fail Whale trade. But there’s definitely more talk exhibited at this hearing about serious constraints on that business model, and while I don’t expect a sea change right away, at least the House appears more aware of the issues than the Senate.
UPDATE: A couple other things on this hearing, which just concluded. First, Dimon was not made to testify under oath, even after Rep. Steven Lynch (D-MA) requested it. House Financial Services Committee chair Spencer Bachus claimed he was just operating under protocol, but former SIGTARP Neil Barofsky just noted on Twitter that he always had to testify under oath. The rich are different from you and me.
Next, Dimon’s waves at patriotism were downright nauseating. He mentioned that “lobbying is a Constitutional right” and that when determining deals, “the most important thing to me is the United States of America.” This was sad, but not as sad as the Democrats from New York City, Carolyn Maloney and Gregory Meeks, begging Dimon to tell them why he based the part of the Chief Investment Office that blew up in London and not New York City. As if it would be better for the country if the Fail Whale trades happened here, or even relevant.
Finally, Brad Miller got in some good questions at the end about Sarbanes-Oxley certification about risk controls. Basically, CEOs must certify risk controls to investors on an ongoing basis, and a lack of disclosure about the Value at Risk (VaR) model changes at CIO could violate this. Dimon looked very nervous answering this question, before essentially trying to dodge it.