In the wake of JPMorgan Chase’s (JPM) announcement that it lost $2 billion in a trading portfolio that is supposed to hedge against the risks that it takes against its own money, the Securities and Exchange Commission, the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the Federal Reserve and other regulators are launching their respective investigations to find out exactly what happened. JPMorgan is the largest bank in the US.
As the financial firm’s stock plummeted nearly 7% in after-hours trading after the announcement, its CEO, Jamie Dimon, attributed the losses to “many errors, sloppiness and bad judgment.” He also said that the portfolio, which consisted of derivatives, ended up being “riskier” and not as effective as an economic hedge as the financial firm had previously thought.
Also seeing drops in their stocks following JPMorgan’s announcement of its massive trading loss were other banks, including Bank of America (BAC), Morgan Stanley (MS), Citigroup (C) and Goldman Sachs (GS).
Now, the SEC and other regulators are looking into whether possible civil violations were involved in JPMorgan’s massive loss. The Commission had recently opened a preliminary probe into the financial firm’s public disclosures about its trades and accounting practices.
According to The New York Times, questions regarding JP Morgan’s chief investment office, which is in charge of its hedging activities, were raised in April following reports that a trader in London was taking large bets that were “distorting the market.” Dimon, at the time, dismissed worries about the bank’s trading activities.
The FBI is also looking into potential wrongdoing related to the $2 trading loss.
Known for its excellence in trading until now and earning up to $5.4 billion of securities gains last year, JPMorgan’s chief investment officer has now seen a reversal of fortune. Per The New York Times, the financial firm’s problems may have begun with its bond portfolio, which was valued at $379 billion in March.
Just 30% of the portfolio had been invested in securities that the federal government had guaranteed—a change from 2010 when government guaranteed bonds made up 42% of the portfolio.
Signs of trouble with JPMorgan’s trading strategy started to brew at the end of March when the market went against corporate bonds. Yet during its first-quarter earnings call in mid-April, Dimon did not give any indication that there were problems with the bank’s trading.
Last week, however, Dimon told a different story by announcing the $2 billion trading loss. He said the investment bank’s problems were caused in part by its value-at-risk measure, which underestimated the losses on hedge funds that depended on credit derivatives. Yet were the trades even actual hedges? Banks have been known to perform elaborate trades that at first seemed to be a hedge but eventually become a bad bet.
SEC Opens Review of JP Morgan, The Wall Street Journal, May 11, 2012
F.B.I. Begins Preliminary Inquiry Into JPMorgan, The New York Times, May 15, 2012
JPMorgan Chase Discloses $2 Billion Trading Loss, NPR/AP, May 11, 2012
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Investors Want JP Morgan Chase & Co. To Explain Over $95B of Mortgage-Backed Securities, Institutional Investor Securities Blog, December 17, 2011
Washington Mutual Bank Bondholders’ Securities Fraud Lawsuit Against J.P. Morgan Chase & Co. is Revived by Appeals Court, Institutional Investor Securities Blog, June 29, 2011
JP Morgan Chase To Pay $150M to Settle Securities Lawsuit Over Lending Program Losses of Union Pension Funds, Stockbroker Fraud Blog, March 26, 2012
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