or Is Jamie still wearing those Presidential cufflinks now?
from Yves Smith
There is so much grist in the just-released Senate Permanent Subcommittee report on the JP Morgan London Whale trades that the initial reports are merely high level summaries, which is understandable. Even with the admirable job done by the committee in documenting its findings and recommendations, it will take some
doing to pull out the critical observations and convey them to the public. Plus the hearings tomorrow should provide good theater and further hooks for commentary.
But some critical findings emerge, quickly. We here at NC were particularly harsh critics of JP Morgan’s conduct, and disappointed in the media’s failure to understand that the information JP Morgan presented as it bobbed and weaved showed glaring deficiencies in risk controls. Yet the failings described in the report are even worse than we imagined. For instance, Michael Crimmins, in a post, Why Hasn’t Jamie Dimon Been Fired by His Board Yet? wrote last July:
The first stunner, that JP Morgan was restating the first quarter financials, should have caused a deafening ringing of alarm bells. For a company of JP Morgan’s stature to be compelled to restate prior period financials is a very clear signal of bigger problems with their overall financial reporting. In isolation we would normally expect to see a massive selloff with an event of that seriousness. Analysts and reporters may have missed the significance since it was dropped into a footnote and overshadowed by the other disclosures. …
But the real cause for alarm is the reason for the restatement. JPM was forced to disclose that it relied on its traders to provide honest and accurate valuations for its financial statement disclosures. That’s like putting the foxes in charge of not just the henhouse, but the entire farm. Much to its chagrin that was a costly choice. Note that was not a mistake, but a conscious choice….
It appears that JPM is attempting to make the case that rogue traders, with criminal intent, mismarked the books. That may be so and relevant criminal charges against those traders should be pursued. But that strategy does not protect management. If there was mismarking, especially to the extent that occurred here, it is the responsibility of management to know or have procedures in place to alert them to the potential for fraud. Step one in that control process: Don’t let your traders mark their own books. If you do you have no excuse. Your controls are worthless and as CEO, you are responsible for ignoring that fundamental control gap. Full stop.
Which leads to the second underreported stunner.
It is a very big deal when a firm is compelled to disclose a material weakness in internal controls. That’s the worst level of internal control failure a going conern can report. In JP Morgan’s case its more damning since Dimon, as recently as May 10, 2012, certified that all was well with internal controls as of the end of 1Q2012.
That assessment means that it is impossible for the firm’s external auditor to sign off on the financial statements until and unless the control breakdowns are remediated sufficiently for the auditor to provide assurance. The description of the control weaknesses at JP Morgan appear to be design flaws, so it’s likely the weaknesses existed in periods earlier than the first quarter of 2012, when it was ‘discovered’. The fact that the unit with the weaknesses by all accounts was under the direct control of the CEO throws doubt on the validity of his prior certifications about the quality of the internal controls. The external auditors will be under extreme pressure to either support or refute the earlier certifications. Falsifying the certification is the worst Sarbanes Oxley violation there is, so Dimon is going to have to come up with an airtight rebuttal.
Not only does the Senate report hew to the Crimmins’ take, it presents an even worse picture. Just to give a few highlights:
Management hid the existence and role of the unit within the JP Morgan Chief Investment office that entered into the “whale” trades, the Synthetic Credit Portfolio, from its inception, even as its exposures ballooned, from the OCC
The bank made repeated, knowing misrepresentations about the size of the losses, the severity of the control failures, and the degree of management knowledge to regulators and investors
The contempt for regulators and for the need for timely and adequate disclosure is symptomatic of an out of control environment. Between the beginning of the year and end of April 2012, the SPG breached risk limits 330 times, sometimes even violating bank-wide limits. Yet staff and management regarded them as an inconvenience rather than treating them as shrieking alarms that warranted swift action
JP Morgan managers and risk control officers were aware of and complicit in the mismarking of positions (this is a very big deal in a financial institution)