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Sunday, December 11, 2016

May 11 (Bloomberg) — Could Jamie Dimon really be as clueless as he sounded on the phone yesterday?

Last month, after Bloomberg News broke the story that JPMorgan Chase & Co.’s chief investment office had, in essence, become a ticking time bomb, Dimon, the bank’s chief executive officer, called the press coverage “a complete tempest in a teapot.” That explanation no longer works.

Yesterday, Dimon changed tacks. Losses on the investment office’s “synthetic credit portfolio” had reached $2 billion so far this quarter, though he refused to give any meaningful details on how that had happened. Presumably, these are derivatives of some sort, but even that basic fact was too much for the bank to specify.

What Dimon lacked in information, he more than made up for in assigning blame — to himself and JPMorgan employees. “There are many errors, sloppiness and bad judgment,” he said, as JPMorgan’s stock sank in after-hours trading. “These were egregious mistakes. They were self-inflicted.” He called himself and his colleagues “stupid.”

But there is more to it than that. Either Dimon misled the public about the gravity of the festering trades during his company’s first-quarter earnings call last month. Or he didn’t know what was happening inside the bowels of his own company. History tells us the latter is the norm for Wall Street bosses, though it’s hard to say which is worse.

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