Tag Archives: Jamie Dimon

Three More Governance Questions For The New York Fed

By Simon Johnson.  This is a long post, about 2500 words.

Over the last several weeks on this blog, I have expressed a broad set of concerns about governance arrangements at the Federal Reserve Bank of New York. I have made the specific case for Jamie Dimon, the chief executive of JPMorgan Chase, to step down from the New York Fed’s board because of the large, unexpected losses in his bank’s London proprietary trading operation – and the fact that these activities and their disclosure are now under investigation by the Fed.

On Monday I met with senior staff members of the Federal Reserve System to deliver and discuss a petition I created, signed by 38,000 people, requesting that Mr. Dimon resign or be removed from the New York Fed board. They were gracious in the time they afforded me.

More broadly, I see no grounds for optimism that Mr. Dimon will relinquish his Fed position any time soon. In addition, as a result of recent interactions with former officials and others who know the Fed intimately, I now have three additional substantive governance concerns for the New York Fed that merit further discussion. Let me pose them as straightforward questions that I hope the Fed – at the Board of Governors or New York Fed level – will answer publicly, and soon. Continue reading

An Institutional Flaw At The Heart Of The Federal Reserve

By Simon Johnson.  This is a long blog post, about 2,800 words.

On the “PBS NewsHour” in late May, Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner indicated that the continued presence of Jamie Dimon, the chief executive of JPMorgan Chase, on the board on the Federal Reserve Bank of New York creates a perception problem that should be addressed. He used the diplomatic language favored by finance ministers, but the message was loud and clear: Mr. Dimon should resign from the board of the New York Fed.

Mr. Dimon has been an effective opponent of financial reform over the past four years. He remains an outspoken advocate of the view that global mega-banks can manage their own risks, and he has stated publicly that the new international and national rules on capital requirements are “Anti-American.”

Mr. Dimon now finds himself at the center of a number of official investigations into how his bank could have lost so much money so quickly in its London-based trading operation – including whether adverse material information was disclosed to regulators and to markets in a timely manner.

(The Wall Street Journal reported this week that serious concerns about the London trading operation had been raised – but not made public – two years ago; the New York Times has reported similar concerns. On Wednesday, the Senate Banking Committee interviewed Mr. Dimon; the event was inconclusive, perhaps because JPMorgan Chase is a major donor to some members of the committee.)

On Monday, Lee Bollinger, chairman of the board of the New York Federal Reserve Bank and president of Columbia University, weighed in to contradict Mr. Geithner in no uncertain terms. The Wall Street Journal reported Mr. Bollinger’s view: Mr. Dimon should stay on the New York Fed’s board, and critics attacking the Fed have a “false understanding” of how it works. (Please note the correction to the original Wall Street Journal story, with an important change to the reporting of what Mr. Bollinger said.) This is a remarkable statement in part because Mr. Geithner is himself a former president of the New York Fed, so it is hard to see how he would have a false understanding of how the Fed works. Continue reading

Jamie Dimon And The Fall Of Nations

By Simon Johnson

Why Nations Fail: The Origins of Power, Prosperity, and Poverty,” by Daron Acemoglu and James Robinson, is a brilliant and sometimes breathtaking survey of country-level governance over history and around the world. Professors Acemoglu and Robinson discern a simple pattern – when elites are held in check, typically by effective legal mechanisms, everyone else in society does much better and sustained economic growth becomes possible. But powerful people – kings, barons, industrialists, bankers – work long and hard to relax the constraints on their actions. And when they succeed, the effects are not just redistribution toward themselves but also an undermining of economic growth and often a tearing at the fabric of society. (I’ve worked with the authors on related issues, but I was not involved in writing the book.)

The historical evidence is overwhelming. Many societies have done well for a while – until powerful people get out of hand. This is an easy pattern to see at a distance and in other cultures. It is typically much harder to recognize when your own society now has an elite less subject to effective constraints and more able to exert power in an abusive fashion. And given the long history of strong institutions in the United States, it appears particularly difficult for some people to acknowledge that we have serious governance issues that need to be addressed.

The governance issue of the season is Jamie Dimon’s seat on the board of the Federal Reserve Bank of New York. Mr. Dimon is the chief executive of JPMorgan Chase, currently the largest bank in the United States. This bank is “too big to fail” – meaning that if it were to get into difficulties, substantial financial support would be provided by the Federal Reserve System (and perhaps other parts of government) to prevent it from collapsing. Continue reading

Jamie Dimon And The Legitimacy Of The Federal Reserve System

By Simon Johnson

There are two diametrically opposed views of how the largest financial companies in our economy operate. On the one hand, there are those like Charles Ferguson, director of the Academy Award-winning documentary “Inside Job” and author of the new book, “Predator Nation.” Mr. Ferguson takes the view that greed and immorality now prevail to an excessive degree at the heart of Wall Street.

Academics and other experts have become corrupted, the responsible regulators have been intellectually captured, and law enforcement officials refuse to act – despite the accumulation of evidence before their eyes.

“Inside Job” was gripping and emotional; “Predator Nation” contains many more specific details and evidence, as this excerpt dealing with academics (one Republican and one Democrat) makes clear.

The second view is that the people in charge of large banks and bank holding companies have done nothing wrong. To see this view in action, look no further than this week’s debate about whether Jamie Dimon, chief executive of JPMorgan Chase, should resign from the board of the Federal Reserve Bank of New York. The New York Fed oversees his organization, including assessing whether it is taking dangerous risks, so there are reasonable questions about whether this creates a potential conflict of interest. Continue reading

Jamie Dimon Should Resign From the Board Of The New York Fed

By Simon Johnson

Jamie Dimon, CEO of JP Morgan Chase, is a member of the board of the New York Federal Reserve Bank.  Mr. Dimon’s role there is sometimes presented as “advisory” but he sits on the Management and Budget Committee; here is the committee’s charter, which includes reviewing and endorsing “the framework for compensation of the Bank’s senior executives (Senior Vice President and above)”.  His advice apparently extends to important aspects of how the New York Fed operates, including its personnel policies.

The New York Fed is a key part of our regulatory and supervisory apparatus, involved in overseeing the activities of banks and bank holding companies, like JP Morgan Chase (currently the largest bank in the US).  Within the Federal Reserve System, the New York Fed also has some of the deepest expertise on financial markets and complex products, such as derivatives.  Almost all of the relevant supervision takes place behind closed doors, with representatives of the industry – including big banks – typically taking the position that they should be allowed to operate in a particular way or use various kinds of risk models.  The staff of the New York Fed often has a decisive voice in determining what kinds of risks are acceptable for systemically important financial institutions. Continue reading

The Need For An Independent Investigation Into JP Morgan Chase

By Simon Johnson

JPMorgan Chase is too big to fail. As the largest bank-holding company in the United States, with assets approaching $2.5 trillion as reported under standard American accounting principles, it is inconceivable that JPMorgan Chase would be allowed to collapse now or in the near future. The damage to the American economy and to the world would be too great.

The company’s recent trading losses therefore call for greater public scrutiny than would be case for most private enterprise – and demand an independent investigation into exactly what happened. (Dennis Kelleher of Better Markets has already called for exactly this.) The investigation begun by the F.B.I. is unlikely to be sufficiently public.  Given the strong political connections between JP Morgan and the Obama administration, it would also be better to have an investigation led by a completely independent counsel. Continue reading

Geithner to Dimon: Resign From The Board Of the New York Fed

By Simon Johnson

In an interview Thursday on PBS NewsHour, Jeffrey Brown and Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner had the following exchange:

“JEFFREY BROWN: Do you think Jamie Dimon should be off the board [of the New York Federal Reserve Board]?

TIMOTHY GEITHNER: Well, that’s a question he’ll have to make and the Fed will have to make. But again, on the basic point, which is it is very important, particularly given the damage caused by the crisis, that our system of oversight and safeguards and the enforcement authorities have not just the resources they need, but they are perceived to be above any political influence and have the independence and the ability to make sure these reforms are tough and effective so we protect the American people, again, from a crisis like this. And we’re going to, we’re going to do that.”

In the diplomatic language of Treasury communications, Mr. Geithner just told Jamie Dimon to resign from the New York Fed board (here is the current board composition).  It looks bad – and it is bad – to have him on the board of this key part of the Federal Reserve System at a time when his bank is under investigation with regard to its large trading losses and the apparent failure of its risk management system.  (Update: Mr. Dimon is on the Management and Budget Committee of the NY Fed board; here is the committee’s charter, which includes reviewing and endorsing “the framework for compensation of the Bank’s senior executives (Senior Vice President and above)”.)

Mr. Geithner’s call is a major and perhaps unprecedented development which can go in one of two ways. Continue reading

JP Morgan Debacle Reveals Fatal Flaw In Federal Reserve Thinking

By Simon Johnson

Experienced Wall Street executives and traders concede, in private, that Bank of America is not well run and that Citigroup has long been a recipe for disaster.  But they always insist that attempts to re-regulate Wall Street are misguided because risk-management has become more sophisticated – everyone, in this view, has become more like Jamie Dimon, head of JP Morgan Chase, with his legendary attention to detail and concern about quantifying the downside.

In the light of JP Morgan’s stunning losses on derivatives, announced yesterday but with the full scope of total potential losses still not yet clear (and not yet determined), Jamie Dimon and his company do not look like any kind of appealing role model.  But the real losers in this turn of events are the Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System and the New York Fed, whose approach to bank capital is now demonstrated to be deeply flawed. Continue reading

Anti-American Bankers

By Simon Johnson.  An edited version of this short post appeared today on the NYT.com’s Room for Debate: “Are Global Banking Rules Anti-American?”

Jamie Dimon claims that the new rules on bank capital “anti-American” because they somehow discriminate against American banks and American bankers.  This framing of the issues is misleading at best.

The term “bank capital” is often poorly explained in the debate on this issue.  It is just a synonym for equity – meaning the amount of a bank’s activities that are financed with shareholder equity, rather than debt.  The advantage of equity is that it is “loss absorbing,” meaning that it takes losses and must be wiped out in full before any losses fall on creditors.

More capital means that a bank is safer, both from the perspective of shareholders and for creditors.  Bankruptcy has become less likely. Continue reading

Jamie Dimon’s New Math

By Simon Johnson

On Tuesday, June 7, Jamie Dimon (CEO of JPMorgan Chase) pressed Fed Chair Ben Bernanke on the costs of bank regulation after the financial crisis of 2008.  Could this be what is slowing the economic recovery?  Bernanke was very polite in his response, but the question – as posed – made no sense at all.  (The full tape of his question is here,)

Most of what Jamie Dimon lists under the heading of changes are just symptoms of the crisis itself, e.g., badly run firms and crazy products disappeared.  His substantive issue appears – from his question – to be just about capital requirements. 

But the implication of Dimon’s question – that higher capital requirements will slow growth – is simply wrong.  I explain this in a column now running on Bloomberg.  Here’s the link: http://www.bloomberg.com/news/2011-06-09/the-missing-math-in-dimon-s-economic-argument-simon-johnson.html.

What Jamie Dimon Won’t Tell You: His Big Bank Would Be Dangerously Leveraged

By Anat Admati, Professor of Finance and Economics at Stanford Graduate School of Business.  To see her explain these issues in person, watch this Bloomberg interview.  This is a long post, about 3,500 words.

The debate is raging about banks and their size, financial regulation, and the international capital standards known as “Basel”.  Jamie Dimon of JP Morgan Chase, in his New York Times magazine profile, expresses admiration for the Basel committee and says,

“… they are asking the questions that, in theory, bankers ask of themselves: how much capital do banks need to withstand the inevitable downturn, and what is an acceptable level of risk?”

There is one problem, however. Basel may have asked the right question, but it did not come up with the right answers, mainly because it allows banks to remain dangerously leveraged, setting equity requirements way too low. This fact is not understood because the debate on capital regulation has been mired with a cloud of confusion, and filled with un-substantiated assertions by bankers and others. As a result, the issues appear much more mysterious and complicated than they actually are.

After a massive and incredibly costly financial crisis, we seem to have financial system that is a more consolidated, more powerful, more profitable and, yes, as fragile and dangerous as we had before the crisis. How did this happen and what can we do?

Here are some questions on which the confusion is staggering. Continue reading

Jamie Dimon: Becoming Too Big To Save – Creating Fiscal Disaster

By Simon Johnson

In Sunday’s New York Times magazine, Roger Lowenstein profiles Jamie Dimon, head of JP Morgan Chase.  The piece, titled “Jamie Dimon: America’s Least-Hated Banker,” is generally sympathetic, but in every significant detail it confirms that Mr. Dimon is now – without question – our most dangerous banker.

Mr. Dimon is not dangerous because he is in any narrow sense incompetent.  On the contrary, Mr. Dimon is very good at getting what he wants.  And now he wants to run a bigger, more interconnected, and more global bank that – if it were to fail – would cause great chaos around the world.  Lowenstein writes,

“Dimon has always been unusually blunt, and he told me that not only are big banks like JP Morgan (it has $2 trillion in assets) not too big, but that they should be allowed to grow bigger.” Continue reading

JP Morgan Responds To Financial Reform: The Poison Pill Strategy

By Simon Johnson

While the financial reform negotiation process grinds to its meaningless conclusion, the real action lies elsewhere – in Jamie Dimon’s executive suite. 

Dimon, the head of JP Morgan Chase, is apparently seeking to (a) become more global, (b) move further into emerging markets, and (c) become more like Citigroup. 

This is terrific corporate strategy – and very dangerous for the rest of us. Continue reading

Jamie Dimon Has Another Good Year

In May, Jamie Dimon, the head of JP Morgan Chase, told his shareholders that the bank just had probably “our finest year ever.”  Despite being close to the epicenter of the worst financial crisis since the Great Depression, Dimon’s bank was able to make a great deal of money, obtain government support when needed, and reduce that support level quickly when the overall situation stabilized – thus freeing the bank of constraints on its pay packages (and other activities).

It looks like the full year 2009 may turn out even better than Mr. Dimon expected in May.  Speaking at the Goldman Sachs US Financial Services Conference on Tuesday (December 8), Jamie Dimon presented JP Morgan Chase’s third quarter results (year-to-date).  His slides are informative, but if you want to pick up the nuances in his message, listen to the audio webcast (you have to register, but it’s free; here are back-up/alternative links). Continue reading

Why Didn’t The Major Bank CEOs Show Up On Monday?

Speaking on Wall Street at noon Monday, President Obama laid blame for the crisis and recession of 2008-09 squarely at the feet of the financial sector.  The diagnosis was sound but the rest of his speech was disappointing – the administration’s draft regulatory reforms look lame, banks are fully mobilized against the only proposal with any teeth (a consumer protection agency for financial products), and the President’s call to “please don’t do it again” surely fell on deaf ears.

In fact, were any of the most relevant ears even listening?  The real news from Monday was not the substance of the speech or the stony silence of the financial elite in the audience, but rather that not a single chief executive officer (CEO) of a major bank was in attendance. Continue reading