The French have an expression for it, "Plus ca change plus c'est la meme chose..." -- the more things change the more they stay the same. And JP Morgan, after the Financial Regulation Bill (Finreg), after crassly challenging the president's policies, after the near collapse of the financial markets, and after the debate over the Volcker amendment separating banks from their proprietary trading desks, JP Morgan knows better.
Given the financial calamities to which we have been subject it was head spinning to read an article in this weekend's Wall Street Journal, "J.P. Morgan Commodities Chief Takes the Heat". The article details JP Morgan's full court press ambitions to "to build and finish building the No. 1 commodities trading franchise on the planet". This from staff that was "in the eye of the controversy over derivatives when they helped trigger the 2008 financial crisis" and viewed as among those who "built financial weapons of mass destruction."
Hardly deterred by the events of 2008, JP Morgan has been assiduously buying commodities trading assets spending more than $2 billion sopping up the trading operations of:
- Bear Stearns and UBS Commodities in 2008
- Sempra Commodities in 2010
- Poaching traders and executives from rivals
- Boosting its work force from some 125 in 2006 to 1,800 today.
When J.P. Morgan executives were confronted in a private meeting with U.S. Senators in the summer of 2008 they pointedly disagreed with the contention that J.P. Morgan had an incentive to drive oil prices higher. Yet it did nothing to dissuade them from pouring hundreds of millions into the tankers at anchor oil speculative trades whereby VLCC super tankers were chartered to sit at anchor months at a time filled to the brim with crude oil tying up hundreds of millions of dollars badly needed by a desperately sinking economy. This even months after having cashed in billions from the TARP program.
Of course the fig leaf for this exercise, according to JPMorgan, given Finreg's pointed restriction on banks and bank holding companies' proprietary trading, is that its mostly about providing a service for their customers and "focusing on client fees." Yes, but not to the point where a proprietary trade went badly off the rails this year and $130 million loss was booked betting on coal prices. $130 million on one trade alone, and this from an institution whose depositors monies are guaranteed by the FDIC, and through their ownership of Chase Bank and WaMu (Washington Mutual) have ultimate oversight responsibility over tens of thousands of mortgages of home owners throughout the country. How many homes might not have been foreclosed had those $130 million been available for mortgage loan workouts? Heck, that's dull work. Better to blow it at the casino