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Saturday, December 3, 2016

JPMorgan’s London Whale Could Use A New Nickname

Late last week, a little-known trader at JPMorgan Chase & Co. in London, Bruno Iksil, awoke to find his life changed forever.

In an instant, Iksil had become famous as the guy who infuriated some of his bank’s counterparts so much that they complained to Bloomberg News journalists he was skewing the credit-derivatives markets with his outsized bets, one of which they said may be as large as $100 billion. Worse yet, the world learned Iksil had earned two unforgettable nicknames: (1) The London Whale, and (2) Voldemort, after the Harry Potter villain.

One sobriquet would be bad enough. But two? For a single swaps trader? This is cause for serious concern.

History has often been unkind to famous Wall Street figures with colorful nicknames. Dick Fuld, the former head of Lehman Brothers Holdings Inc., was “The Gorilla.” There was Yasuo Hamanaka at Japan’s Sumitomo Corp., known as “Mr. 5 Percent” for the share of the world’s copper market he was said to control in 1996, before his trades wound up costing his bank $2.6 billion.

More than a century ago, the financier Hetty Green, one of history’s greatest misers, was dubbed “The Witch of Wall Street.” Goldman Sachs Group Inc. is the “Vampire Squid,” while its young salesman Fabrice Tourre of Abacus fame fancied himself as “Fabulous Fab” in an e-mail. One foul-mouthed bond salesman, Tom Bernard, got tagged “The Human Piranha” in Michael Lewis’s book “Liar’s Poker,” about Salomon Brothers in the 1980s.

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