JPMorgan Chase lost more than $6 billion on a bad bet known as the “London whale” trades and then tried to conceal its losses from regulators, investors and the public, according to a report released last night and hearings held today by the Senate Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations.
When media reports surfaced in April of last year that a JPMorgan Chase trader had “amassed positions so large that he’s driving price moves in the $10 trillion market,” JPMorgan Chase executives quickly responded by holding a call with investors and analysts.
Instead of coming clean about the problem, however, JPMorgan Chase senior executives played down the risky bets. They attempted to conceal the losses through accounting manipulation and hid information from regulators.
During a call on April 13, 2012, JPMorgan Chase's Chief Financial Officer Douglas Braunstein told investors, analysts and the media that the trades were “done to keep the bank balanced from a risk standpoint.” He said the “positions are fully transparent to regulators,” and would be “consistent with what we believe the ultimate outcome will be related to the Volcker Rule.” The Volcker Rule is part of the Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act that will prevent banks from gambling with taxpayer-backed funds.
During the April 13 call, JPMorgan Chase CEO Jamie Dimon stated that reports about the London whale trades a “complete tempest in a teapot.”
The Senate report and hearings make clear that none of these statements were, in fact, true. According to the report:
“Senior bank management was also involved in the inaccurate information conveyed to investors and the public after the whale trades came under the media spotlight. Previously undisclosed documents showed that senior managers were told the [whale trade] was massive, losing money and had stopped providing credit loss protection to the bank, yet downplayed those problems and kept describing the portfolio as a risk-reducing hedge, until forced by billions of dollars in losses to admit disaster.”
The Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act that President Obama signed into law in 2010 is intended to prohibit some of JPMorgan Chase's bad behavior uncovered by the Senate report. The Volcker rule would prevent JPMorgan Chase and other too-big-to-fail banks from gambling with taxpayer-backed money. And derivatives regulation will help limit the riskiness of the types of bets that led to JPMorgan Chase's $6 billion loss.
But too-big-to-fail banks and Wall Street insiders have successfully lobbied regulators to prevent them from implementing many important aspects of the law. To make matters worse, irresponsible members of Congress are working to repeal the Volcker Rule and roll back derivatives regulation.
This new Senate report reinforces that it’s time for regulators to finalize strong rules implementing the Wall Street Reform bill. Congress also must give regulators the funding they need to write strong rules and enforce them.