JPMorgan CEO: $2 Billion Loss Was Indefensible

JPMorgan Chase CEO Jamie Dimon was on Capitol Hill Wednesday to answer questions about the surprise $2 billion trading loss the bank announced in May.

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And I'm Audie Cornish. The chief executive of JPMorgan Chase, Jamie Dimon, went to Capitol Hill today. There, he tried to explain his company's recent multibillion-dollar trading losses, but he did not try to defend them. That's because he told the Senate Banking Committee the losses were indefensible. Dimon also said his company may try to recover some of the compensation paid to the traders who were responsible. NPR's Jim Zarroli reports.

JIM ZARROLI, BYLINE: In May, JPMorgan Chase said it had lost more than $2 billion in a hedging strategy that went awry. It was an embarrassing admission for the bank which emerged from the 2008 financial crisis in relatively good shape. And today's hearing was called to try to shed some light on what happened. Republican Senator Richard Shelby of Alabama.

SENATOR RICHARD SHELBY: Although JPMorgan enjoyed a strong reputation for effective risk management, something, obviously, went very wrong.

ZARROLI: When it came time for him to speak, Dimon told the senators that the losses were an isolated incident that were nevertheless deeply regrettable. The company's chief investment office had embarked on a hedging strategy in an attempt to reduce risk, and the traders responsible for it didn't really know what they were doing.

JAMIE DIMON: This portfolio morphed into something that, rather than protect the firm, created new and potentially larger risks. As a result, we have let a lot of people down.

ZARROLI: Dimon said the strategy was poorly conceived and vetted. Managers didn't really understand what was happening, and that included himself. By April, the markets were filled with rumors about the losses. And when he was asked about those rumors during an analyst call, Dimon dismissed them as a tempest in a teapot. Today, he said senior managers in the chief investment office had assured him everything was fine.

DIMON: I think the first error we made was that the CIO unit had done so well for so long that I think there was a little bit of complacency about what was taking place there and maybe overconfidence.

ZARROLI: But Dimon insisted that the losses hadn't cost taxpayers, customers or clients any money. The blunt New York-born Dimon has been called Washington's favorite banker, and the senators were largely respectful toward him. But Democrat Robert Menendez, of New Jersey, sparred with Dimon at one point, noting that he had been a big critic of the Dodd-Frank financial overhaul bill. Dimon testily replied that he wasn't opposed to regulation, but Dodd-Frank is hopelessly complex. Too many agencies oversee the banking business right now, he said, and it's often impossible to tell which one has jurisdiction. Another Democrat, New York Senator Charles Schumer, said JPMorgan Chase was large enough to absorb the losses without too much trouble.

SENATOR CHARLES SCHUMER: But I think the question that bothers most people is what's to stop this from happening again, maybe being a larger loss of the same type, but particularly at a weaker or less well-capitalized institution?

ZARROLI: It was a question that couldn't really be answered, but Dimon said banks are better capitalized and more transparent than they were before the crisis. Their boards are more engaged. And despite the losses at his own bank, he said they have better risk management, and people should take comfort in that. Dimon said he wished regulators had been more aggressive in detecting the losses that were mounting at his own bank. It would have saved everyone a lot of trouble, but they didn't, he said. It was simply too hard to figure out what was happening.

DIMON: I think you have to give regulators realistic objectives. I don't think realistically they can actually stop something like this from happening. It's purely management's mistake.

ZARROLI: Once regulators were alerted to what was happening, he said, they started an investigation. Meanwhile, the bank has fired some of the people involved, including the head of the CIO unit. Dimon also said the bank has the authority to reclaim some of the compensation paid to some of the traders responsible for the losses, and he suggested it was likely the company would do so. Jim Zarroli, NPR News.

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