JPMorgan announced a $2 billion loss yesterday. When compared to its market cap and other indicators, that goes Ouch!, but not much more. However, there’s more going on. The bank has refused to state where in its operations the loss was incurred. For good reason perhaps: the positions that caused the loss are still rumored to be open.
The main problem JPMorgan may be facing, and the 8% loss in pre-market trading may be a sign players are on to this, is that we probably already know where the loss is. A few weeks ago, the financial sphere was full of stories about the London Whale, a JPM trader in London named Bruno Michel Iksil, who had taken such massive – synthetic – derivative (gambling) positions in a 125 company index that they were moving the market itself.
Back then, some hedge funds took counter positions just for the sheer fact that he had bet so much; they figured he couldn't last forever on all trades. The underlying notion was he was long a bunch of companies; well, not a lot has gone well in the markets lately. And if you have overweight derivative positions in one direction (in this case credit default swaps) , you can make a killing or you can get punished fast and furious. He did the latter.
And since the bank allegedly – for now – can’t close the positions (they would move the market against JPM's positions, so JPM's doomed if they do and damned if they don't), there may be a whole lot more to come. A wounded whale oozing blood, and with sharks circling all around it. Given the above, the final tally may be many times higher than the $2 billion announced today. After all, everybody knows where the harpoon entered the whale.
Jamie Dimon may have to sweet talk like he's never done before, and he may have to pay some considerable sums here and there as well just to keep the sharks at bay.
Then again, Jamie Dimon knows that JPMorgan is too big to fail, and will be bailed out, so how worried does he really need to be?
Well, perhaps for his own job. Large investors like gamblers that win; they have no patience with losers. It’s a shark eat shark world in the end. Hard to see how Dimon can get out of this with his carefully groomed profile intact, even if the loss is limited.
Illustration: St. Brendan the Navigator conducts mass on a whale