Whose bad news is Cyprus burying?

JPMorgan, SAC Capital, HSBC breathe a sigh of relief.

As CNBC's John Carney points out, it's a great time to bury bad news.  While everyone looks at Cyprus, JPMorgan Chase's story has been dropped by most publications - which is a good thing for them, as their panel hearing on Friday did not go well...

So here it is in brief, via extracts from the New York Times report, during which CEO Douglas Braunstein is berated "for nearly an hour":

For nearly an hour, the executive, Douglas L. Braunstein, was berated for playing down JPMorgan’s risky bets to investors and regulators on a conference call in April, just weeks before the bank disclosed the costly blowup.

“You give this very glowing call,” said Senator Carl Levin, Democrat of Michigan, “instead of telling them what you knew” — that the portfolio “had been losing money and violating risk limits.”

Mr. Braunstein defended his statements in the conference call, saying they were the most “accurate” depiction based on the information at the time.

“You thought that was a balanced presentation?” Mr. Levin asked incredulously, peering over his glasses.

..and during which Ina Drew, the former head of JPMorgan’s chief investment office (which was at the centre of the scandal), also comes under some aggressive over-the-glasses peering:

While Ms. Drew acknowledged that “things went terribly wrong,” she directed virtually all of the blame at lower-level traders in London and other subordinates. She returned to this defense throughout the hearing, deflecting culpability by faulting inaccurate information.

..eventually all this the blame-shifting starts prompting sarky comments from John McCain, the chief Republican on the panel:

“The traders seemed to have more responsibility and authority than the higher-up executives,” he said.

..and even Michael Cavanagh, co-head of the corporate and investment bank, which was more removed from the scandal, is questioned closely and sarcastically:

But Mr. Levin persisted, asking, “How do you possibly justify your process?” Was it a “coincidence,” he asked, that the models shifted just as losses on the trades were ballooning? At one point, he reminded Mr. Cavanagh that he was under oath.

The other pieces of submerged bad news are a money laundering fine for HSBC, and a record insider trading fine for SAC Capital - of $6000m, announced on Friday. This is huge (c.f. the second largest SEC insider trading sanction was $156 m, paid by Galleon Group founder Raj Rajaratnam back in May 2011).

"These settlements call for the imposition of historic penalties," SEC's George Canellos said during a press conference call on Friday.

 

London Whale submerged. Photograph: Getty Images
Getty
Show Hide image

How tribunal fees silenced low-paid workers: “it was more than I earned in a month”

The government was forced to scrap them after losing a Supreme Court case.

How much of a barrier were employment tribunal fees to low-paid workers? Ask Elaine Janes. “Bringing up six children, I didn’t have £20 spare. Every penny was spent on my children – £250 to me would have been a lot of money. My priorities would have been keeping a roof over my head.”

That fee – £250 – is what the government has been charging a woman who wants to challenge their employer, as Janes did, to pay them the same as men of a similar skills category. As for the £950 to pay for the actual hearing? “That’s probably more than I earned a month.”

Janes did go to a tribunal, but only because she was supported by Unison, her trade union. She has won her claim, although the final compensation is still being worked out. But it’s not just about the money. “It’s about justice, really,” she says. “I think everybody should be paid equally. I don’t see why a man who is doing the equivalent job to what I was doing should earn two to three times more than I was.” She believes that by setting a fee of £950, the government “wouldn’t have even begun to understand” how much it disempowered low-paid workers.

She has a point. The Taylor Review on working practices noted the sharp decline in tribunal cases after fees were introduced in 2013, and that the claimant could pay £1,200 upfront in fees, only to have their case dismissed on a technical point of their employment status. “We believe that this is unfair,” the report said. It added: "There can be no doubt that the introduction of fees has resulted in a significant reduction in the number of cases brought."

Now, the government has been forced to concede. On Wednesday, the Supreme Court ruled in favour of Unison’s argument that the government acted unlawfully in introducing the fees. The judges said fees were set so high, they had “a deterrent effect upon discrimination claims” and put off more genuine cases than the flimsy claims the government was trying to deter.

Shortly after the judgement, the Ministry of Justice said it would stop charging employment tribunal fees immediately and refund those who had paid. This bill could amount to £27m, according to Unison estimates. 

As for Janes, she hopes low-paid workers will feel more confident to challenge unfair work practices. “For people in the future it is good news,” she says. “It gives everybody the chance to make that claim.” 

Julia Rampen is the digital news editor of the New Statesman (previously editor of The Staggers, The New Statesman's online rolling politics blog). She has also been deputy editor at Mirror Money Online and has worked as a financial journalist for several trade magazines.