On Saturday, at 9:17am, Henry Blodget, the editor of Business Insider, asked the question that was on everyone’s mind: “So, when Is JP Morgan going to fire the incompetent fools who just lost $2 billion and trashed the firm’s reputation?”
The answer, according to the Wall Street Journal, is…soon. The paper reports that the botched trade is “likely to result this week in the departure of three of the highest ranking executives with direct ties to the investments.”
Over at Seeking Alpha, Gene Kirsch tried to put Hedgegate into a broader context. “JPMorgan losses are reported to be actually $800 million in Q2 with the potential for legal and other losses up to $4.2 billion over a longer period of time, possibly exceeding one year,” he wrote. “The banking unit of JPMorgan Chase alone made $12.4 billion last year. The holding company has over $2.26 trillion in assets and is the largest U.S. bank and 8th largest in the world. The holding company made $29.9 billion in operating income and just over $20 billion in net income for 2011. So, this initial loss of $800M represents approximately 4% of its total net profit for all of 2011, less than 2.7% of its operating income.”
The firm, in other words, can manage it. Though as Brad DeLong was quick to point out, tallying the direct losses misses the episode’s larger impact on the firm’s value. “The revelation that JPMC did not have control over its derivatives book–even though accompanied by promises of multiple firings and deep reforms–destroyed 1/7 of JPMCs franchise value.” Turns out the market doesn’t much like it when what’s reputed to be the safest bank on Wall Street turns out to be incompetent.
Jared Bernstein draws out the larger lesson nicely, and so I’ll quote him at some length. “The fundamental truth here is the one known since Adam (Smith, that is) and amplified by the great financial economist Hy Minsky: humans underprice risk. Their proclivity to do so increases as the business cycle progresses and confidence takes over (remember, JP’s bet was unwound by the fact that the economy wasn’t as strong as they thought). The advent of a global derivatives market with notional trades in the trillions greatly amplifies the risks.”
“The fact that humans like Jamie Dimon—he who presided over JP’s self-proclaimed ‘fortress balance sheet’—he who inveighed against financial reform as imposing unnecessary oversight on such skilled risk managers as he and his staff—fall prey to this fundamental truth only underscores the lesson of this episode in financial hubris.”
“And that is this: financial markets are inherently unstable. They will neither self-correct nor self-regulate. Their instability poses a threat to markets and economies and people across the globe. Therefore, they need to be regulated. That’s not to say that anyone knows the best way to do this yet in order to balance the necessity of oversight with the dynamics of the markets. We don’t know where to set the speed limits. It must be an iterative process. But we do know they need to be set, and JP’s loss should be taken as a warning that our tendency is to set them too low.”