FE Editorial : Scolding JP Morgan

Written by The Financial Express | Updated: Jan 17 2013, 08:39am hrs
As Jamie Dimons term at JP Morgan comes to an end, the Federal Reserve Bank released two consent orders, both of which demand that JP Morgan enhance its risk management, and allow further oversight by its board of directors over its trading activitiesa reprimand for the ruinous $2 billion losses incurred by JP Morgans CIO Bruno Iksil, aka The London Whale, last May. The huge bets by Voldemort (another nickname by virtue of his power to overshadow Wall Street) once again put to rest the notion that the too-big-to-fail banks can regulate themselves. Still, the consent order does not really force the bank to do anything save for enhanced board oversight and is widely considered a slap on the wrist for JP Morgan. Although Jamie Dimons successor would find the board snooping over his shoulders rather cumbersome, it is undeniably a frail punishment. Compare this with prior dealings of US regulators with other banks, like HSBCs money laundering problemno doubt a far more serious offence, but it paid a fine of $1.9 billion for this. US-headquartered banks may be getting off a bit more lightly.

So, how else can we deal with the reckless trading of too-big-to-fail banks, which have implicit government guarantee Besides enhanced oversight by the Fed and other central banks around the world, there is the Volckers Rule and the old idea of getting banks back to old-fashioned lending. But the latter is simplistic and almost impossible given the array of financial innovations. Volckers Rule to restrict proprietary trading is a good one but wont work if the biggest banks have, what Bloombergs William Cohan noted, secret teams to surreptitiously engage in otherwise banned or regulated trading. So, in this dearth of options, the Fed just has to come down more harshly on recklessness and waywardness.