JPMorgan Chase Chairman Jamie Dimon acknowledged under intense questioning today that it is “possible” that the trades that led to a multi-billion dollar loss by the firm would have been banned if the so-called Volcker Rule had been in effect.
Dimon’s testimony was at a Senate Banking Committee hearing on the losses and what should have been done to prevent them.
It turned out to be a theater for an ideological battle over whether more regulation is needed in the wake of the U.S. government’s necessary advance of trillions of dollars in aid to businesses, mostly banks, in 2008 and 2009 to prevent a market collapse.
Democrats on the committee used the hearing to gain support for the Dodd-Frank Act which contains the Volcker Rule and Republicans used it to pummel the law as an unnecessary one that puts the U.S. at a competitive disadvantage, a point Dimon made whenever Republicans gave him the opportunity.
The Volcker Rule provision proposed to severely limit the ability of banks to trade securities, such as derivatives, from their own accounts. It also severely limits their ability to use their own equity to support outside businesses, such as hedge funds and private equity funds.
However, the rule is still being developed by regulators, including bank regulators, the Securities and Exchange Commission, and the Commodity Futures Trading Commission.
Sen. Jack Reed, D-R.I., a ranking Democrat on the panel who chairs the committee’s securities subcommittee, asked Dimon whether or not JPMorgan’s trade would have been restricted under the Volcker rule.
“I don’t know what the Volcker Rule is,” Dimon responded. “It hasn’t been written yet.”
But, under further prodding from Reed, Dimon acknowledged that he “didn’t know” for sure, but that it’s “possible” the trades would have been banned under the Volcker Rule.
And, in response to questioning by Sen. David Vitter, R-La., Dimon said he believes the Volcker Rule is just going to be too hard to get right, and isn’t necessary at all.
In his prepared testimony, Dimon acknowledged that the botched trades had “let a lot of people down, and we are sorry for it.”
But, he provided little details of what led to the loss, estimated to be anywhere from $2 billion to $5 billion. The transactions were conducted out of the bank’s London offices.
In his testimony, Dimon provided little details about the trade, only acknowledging that the trade started to go bad when the London Investment Office started taking on larger positions in mid-January.
He said the trading was an effort to address “new Basel capital requirements.”
He said the unit “embarked on a complex strategy that entailed adding positions that it believed would offset the existing ones,” and that the trades “morphed into something that rather than protect the firm, created new and potentially larger risks.”
But, despite the embarrassment and the losses suffered to his credibility and the bank’s balance sheet, Dimon used the support of Republican members of the committee to lash out at the Dodd-Frank Act.
Under questioning, he said the law created a “really complex system of regulation. Regulation that’s hard to figure out.”
He said, “I believe in strong regulation, not more.” He said he would have preferred a “simple, clean, strong regulatory system with real intelligent design, and that’s not what we did [through the Dodd-Frank Act].”
He explained that we “created a really complex system, where it is hard to figure out who has responsibility and authority.”