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
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Autumn Statement 2015: whatever you hear, don't forget - there is an alternative

The goverment's programme of cuts is a choice, not a certainty, says Jolyon Maugham.

Later today you will hear George Osborne say there is no alternative to his plan to slash a further £20bn from lean public services by 2020-21. He will also say that there is no alternative to £9bn cuts to tax credits, cuts that will hit the poorest hardest, cuts of thousands of pounds per annum to the incomes of millions of households.

But there is.

As I outlined here the Conservatives plan future tax cuts which benefit, disproportionately or exclusively, the wealthy. Suspending those future tax cuts for the wealthy would say, by 2020-21, £9.3bn per annum.

I also explained here that a mere 50 of our 1,156 tax reliefs cost us over £100bn per annum. We don't know how much the other 1,106 reliefs cost us - because Government doesn't monitor them. And we don't know what public benefit they deliver - because Government doesn't check.

What we do know, as I explained here, is that they disproportionately and regressively benefit the wealthy: an average of £190,400 per annum for the wealthiest.

And we know, too, that they include (amongst the more than 1,000 uncosted reliefs) the £1bn plus “Rights for Shares Scheme” - badged by the Chancellor as for workers but identified by a leading law firm as designed for the wealthiest.

Simply by asking a question that the Chancellor chooses to ignore - do these 1,156 reliefs deliver value for money - it is entirely possible that £10bn or more extra in taxes could be collected without any loss of  public benefit

To this £19bn, we might add the indiscriminate provision - both direct and indirect - of public money to wealthy pensioners.

Those above basic state pension age enjoy a tax subsidy of up to 12% on earned income.

Moreover, this Office for National Statistics data (see Table 18) reveals that the 10% of wealthiest retired households - some 714,000 households - have gross pre-tax and pre-benefit private income of on average £43,983. Yet still they enjoy average cash benefits from government of £11,500 per annum.

Means testing benefits to exclude that top 10 per cent of retired households would save £8.2bn per annum. And why, you might wonder aloud, should means testing be thought by the government appropriate for the working age population, yet a heresy for retired households?

Add in abolition of that unprincipled tax subsidy and you'll save even more. 

So there are alternatives. Clear alternatives. Good alternatives. Alternatives that enable those with the broadest shoulders to bear some share of the pain. Don't allow yourself to be persuaded otherwise.

Jolyon Maugham is a barrister who advised Ed Miliband on tax policy. He blogs at Waiting for Tax, and writes for the NS on tax and legal issues.