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
Show Hide image

Will Euroscepticism prove an unbeatable advantage in the Conservative leadership race?

Conservative members who are eager for Brexit are still searching for a heavyweight champion - and they could yet inherit the earth.

Put your money on Liam Fox? The former Defence Secretary has been given a boost by the news that ConservativeHome’s rolling survey of party members preferences for the next Conservative leader. Jeremy Wilson at BusinessInsider and James Millar at the Sunday Post have both tipped Fox for the top job.

Are they right? The expectation among Conservative MPs is that there will be several candidates from the Tory right: Dominic Raab, Priti Patel and potentially Owen Paterson could all be candidates, while Boris Johnson, in the words of one: “rides both horses – is he the candidate of the left, of the right, or both?”

MPs will whittle down the field of candidates to a top two, who will then be voted on by the membership.  (As Graham Brady, chair of the 1922 Committee, notes in his interview with my colleague George Eaton, Conservative MPs could choose to offer a wider field if they so desired, but would be unlikely to surrender more power to party activists.)

The extreme likelihood is that that contest will be between two candidates: George Osborne and not-George Osborne.  “We know that the Chancellor has a bye to the final,” one minister observes, “But once you’re in the final – well, then it’s anyone’s game.”

Could “not-George Osborne” be Liam Fox? Well, the difficulty, as one MP observes, is we don’t really know what the Conservative leadership election is about:

“We don’t even know what the questions are to which the candidates will attempt to present themselves as the answer. Usually, that question would be: who can win us the election? But now that Labour have Corbyn, that question is taken care of.”

So what’s the question that MPs will be asking? We simply don’t know – and it may be that they come to a very different conclusion to their members, just as in 2001, when Ken Clarke won among MPs – before being defeated in a landslide by Conservative activists.

Much depends not only on the outcome of the European referendum, but also on its conduct. If the contest is particularly bruising, it may be that MPs are looking for a candidate who will “heal and settle”, in the words of one. That would disadvantage Fox, who will likely be a combative presence in the European referendum, and could benefit Boris Johnson, who, as one MP put it, “rides both horses” and will be less intimately linked with the referendum and its outcome than Osborne.

But equally, it could be that Euroscepticism proves to be a less powerful card than we currently expect. Ignoring the not inconsiderable organisational hurdles that have to be cleared to beat Theresa May, Boris Johnson, and potentially any or all of the “next generation” of Sajid Javid, Nicky Morgan or Stephen Crabb, we simply don’t know what the reaction of Conservative members to the In-Out referendum will be.

Firstly, there’s a non-trivial possibility that Leave could still win, despite its difficulties at centre-forward. The incentive to “reward” an Outer will be smaller. But if Britain votes to Remain – and if that vote is seen by Conservative members as the result of “dirty tricks” by the Conservative leadership – it could be that many members, far from sticking around for another three to four years to vote in the election, simply decide to leave. The last time that Cameron went against the dearest instincts of many of his party grassroots, the result was victory for the Prime Minister – and an activist base that, as the result of defections to Ukip and cancelled membership fees, is more socially liberal and more sympathetic to Cameron than it was before. Don’t forget that, for all the worry about “entryism” in the Labour leadership, it was “exitism” – of Labour members who supported David Miliband and liked the New Labour years  - that shifted that party towards Jeremy Corbyn.

It could be that if – as Brady predicts in this week’s New Statesman – the final two is an Inner and an Outer, the Eurosceptic candidate finds that the members who might have backed them are simply no longer around.

It comes back to the biggest known unknown in the race to succeed Cameron: Conservative members. For the first time in British political history, a Prime Minister will be chosen, not by MPs with an electoral mandate of their own or by voters at a general election but by an entirelyself-selecting group: party members. And we simply don't know enough about what they feel - yet. 

Stephen Bush is editor of the Staggers, the New Statesman’s political blog. He usually writes about politics.