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In April, Jamie Dimon – the swaggering chief of JPMorgan Chase – scoffed at critics who warned that his bank’s high-flying investment division was dangerously overextended and risking collapse: “A complete tempest in a teapot,” scoffed Dimon.
A month later, however, Jamie’s teapot exploded, blowing a $3 billion hole in the nation’s largest bank… and in Dimon’s reputation. Poor Jamie – why didn’t someone tell him?
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They tried. As early as 2009, JPMorgan’s own internal risk managers raised concerns that this out-of-control division was pouring billions of dollars into speculative trades that were too large and too complex even to understand, much less manage. But their caution was dismissed, and Dimon himself pushed for more of these wondrous schemes.
Okay, but where were the federal regulators, who’re supposed to dog banker excess? Shoved aside by Dimon. While more than 100 government inspectors were imbedded in JPMorgan – none were in the reckless investment division. The bank’s big shot boss, who is tightly wired to the top leaders of both political parties, had aggressively pushed against having regulators hovering around his hot investment profit center, assuring the overseers that nothing was happening in there worth watching.
Dimon had extra clout, for not only is he a Wall Street star, but – get this – he also has a seat on the board of the New York branch of the Federal Reserve, which has regulatory authority over Wall Street. Indeed, the New York Fed will now conduct the inquiry into JPMorgan’s disastrous risk-taking. Yes, Jamie the Fed official will investigate Jamie the banker.
This is proof again that these banks are simply too big – too big for managers, regulators, and the public interest. We don’t need yet another regulatory band-aid, we need Teddy Roosevelt to bust ‘em up.
“Bank Regulators Under Scrutiny in JPMorgan Loss,” www.nytimes.com, May, 25, 2012.