Stuff JP Morgan bankers say: "There’s no hope. … The book continues to grow, more and more monstrous."

The London Whale report, digested.

The first major investigation into the London Whale scandal is underway - JP Morgan has been accused of "lying to investigators" as losses escalated last year. The losses came from a synthetic credit portfolio - a series of wagers on credit derivatives - which grew rapidly to $6bn. According to the report, the downward spiral was evident by March, but CEO Jamie Dimon pretented it wasn't, calling it a "tempest in a teapot" in early April.

The report is here, (warning, it's over 300 pages). It gathers together a juicy selection of emails, telephone conversations and instant messages, which amount to an interesting reminder that, whether discussing libor-rigging or a trading-loss cover-up, whether at Barclays or JP Morgan, banker communications are all cut from the same cloth.

It charts their last-minute attempts to forstall the multi-billion dollar loss - which get increasingly burlesque:

I can’t keep this going, we do a one-off at the end of the month to remain calm. I think what he’s [Mr. Martin-Artajo’s] expecting is a remarking at the end of the month, you can’t do it unless it’s month-end. … I don’t know where he wants to stop, but it’s getting idiotic. … [N]ow it’s worse than before … there’s nothing that can be done, absolutely nothing that can be done, there’s no hope. … The book continues to grow, more and more monstrous.

At one point, bank executives "yell at" OCC examiners and call them "stupid":

When asked if the CIO’s aggressive reaction to the 2010 examination of the CIO was unique, the OCC indicated that it was not. In fact, the OCC Examiner-In-Charge at JPMorgan Chase told the Subcommittee that it was “very common” for the bank to push back on examiner findings and recommendations. He recalled one instance in which bank executives even yelled at OCC examiners and called them “stupid.” In another example, in early 2012, according to the OCC, the most junior capital markets OCC examiner arrived at a meeting at the bank to discuss with his bank counterpart the results of a recent OCC stress examination. But instead of meeting with a single risk manager, he was, in his words, “ambushed” by all the heads of risk divisions from all the lines of business at the bank, including JPMorgan Chase’s Chief Risk Officer, John Hogan. Given the senior rank of the bank officials, the junior OCC examiner normally would not have led the meeting, but the bank officials pressed him to disclose the OCC’s preliminary conclusions. According to the OCC examiner, on every issue, the bank’s risk personnel criticized the OCC’s findings and recommendations, and the meeting assumed a loud and “combative” tone.

The report details an email sent by Bruno "the London Whale" Iksil to Javier Martin-Artajo on 30th January in 2012, worrying about increasing losses from the bet. He said that it had become "scary". A second email to Martin-Artajo came from Achilles Macris, equally worried. He says that "the book doesn’t behave as intended”.

Nothing was sorted out, and in the weeks that followed, things got worse. On March 22nd, traders were told to stop trading, able to mask the losses by presenting them in a favourable light. However, the differences between these favourable valuations of the derivatives and the actual midpoint prices had by this point "increased to 300" (that's £300m), and traders found they had become unsustainable.

By the time Jamie Dillon made his teapot remark, the report found that he was “already in possession of information about the . . . complex and sizeable portfolio, its sustained losses for three straight months, the exponential increase in those losses during March and the difficulty of exiting the . . . positions”.

The Senate panel said that “the written and verbal representations made by the bank were incomplete, contained numerous inaccuracies, and misinformed investors, regulators, and the public”. The investigation continues.

JP Morgan is being investigated. Photograph: Getty Images

Martha Gill writes the weekly Irrational Animals column. You can follow her on Twitter here: @Martha_Gill.

Photo: Getty
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Forget planning for no deal. The government isn't really planning for Brexit at all

The British government is simply not in a position to handle life after the EU.

No deal is better than a bad deal? That phrase has essentially vanished from Theresa May’s lips since the loss of her parliamentary majority in June, but it lives on in the minds of her boosters in the commentariat and the most committed parts of the Brexit press. In fact, they have a new meme: criticising the civil service and ministers who backed a Remain vote for “not preparing” for a no deal Brexit.

Leaving without a deal would mean, among other things, dropping out of the Open Skies agreement which allows British aeroplanes to fly to the United States and European Union. It would lead very quickly to food shortages and also mean that radioactive isotopes, used among other things for cancer treatment, wouldn’t be able to cross into the UK anymore. “Planning for no deal” actually means “making a deal”.  (Where the Brexit elite may have a point is that the consequences of no deal are sufficiently disruptive on both sides that the British government shouldn’t  worry too much about the two-year time frame set out in Article 50, as both sides have too big an incentive to always agree to extra time. I don’t think this is likely for political reasons but there is a good economic case for it.)

For the most part, you can’t really plan for no deal. There are however some things the government could prepare for. They could, for instance, start hiring additional staff for customs checks and investing in a bigger IT system to be able to handle the increased volume of work that would need to take place at the British border. It would need to begin issuing compulsory purchases to build new customs posts at ports, particularly along the 300-mile stretch of the Irish border – where Northern Ireland, outside the European Union, would immediately have a hard border with the Republic of Ireland, which would remain inside the bloc. But as Newsnight’s Christopher Cook details, the government is doing none of these things.

Now, in a way, you might say that this is a good decision on the government’s part. Frankly, these measures would only be about as useful as doing your seatbelt up before driving off the Grand Canyon. Buying up land and properties along the Irish border has the potential to cause political headaches that neither the British nor Irish governments need. However, as Cook notes, much of the government’s negotiating strategy seems to be based around convincing the EU27 that the United Kingdom might actually walk away without a deal, so not making even these inadequate plans makes a mockery of their own strategy. 

But the frothing about preparing for “no deal” ignores a far bigger problem: the government isn’t really preparing for any deal, and certainly not the one envisaged in May’s Lancaster House speech, where she set out the terms of Britain’s Brexit negotiations, or in her letter to the EU27 triggering Article 50. Just to reiterate: the government’s proposal is that the United Kingdom will leave both the single market and the customs union. Its regulations will no longer be set or enforced by the European Court of Justice or related bodies.

That means that, when Britain leaves the EU, it will need, at a minimum: to beef up the number of staff, the quality of its computer systems and the amount of physical space given over to customs checks and other assorted border work. It will need to hire its own food and standards inspectors to travel the globe checking the quality of products exported to the United Kingdom. It will need to increase the size of its own regulatory bodies.

The Foreign Office is doing some good and important work on preparing Britain’s re-entry into the World Trade Organisation as a nation with its own set of tariffs. But across the government, the level of preparation is simply not where it should be.

And all that’s assuming that May gets exactly what she wants. It’s not that the government isn’t preparing for no deal, or isn’t preparing for a bad deal. It can’t even be said to be preparing for what it believes is a great deal. 

Stephen Bush is special correspondent at the New Statesman. His daily briefing, Morning Call, provides a quick and essential guide to domestic and global politics.