It's time for Jamie Dimon to show some leadership and honesty. Not fake leadership and honesty. The real thing.
On Thursday, the CEO of
Erin Burnett that his company did not want or need the $25 billion it received from the federal government under the Troubled Asset Relief Program.
"We didn't think JPMorgan should be selfish and stand in the way of what the government was trying to do," he said.
Thanks for not being selfish, Jamie. So how about then using the money to make loans? That's what the money is for, according to several members of Congress, including House Financial Services Committee Chairman Barney Frank (D-Mass.), without whose support the $700 billion rescue package would never have been approved.
At this point, the federal government has invested more than $243 billion in 149 institutions, including JPMorgan,
Bank of America
, through the TARP, according to
Frank has made it clear the money is to be used for lending and nothing else, but, Dimon's answers about what JPMorgan is doing with the funds left a lot to be desired.
Burnett: We've got $25 billion in for you. Has it already gone out the door in loans, or are you waiting, or deals, or ... ?
Dimon: Money is fungible.
Money is fungible?
This is from a man universally praised as an island of forthrightness in the sea of doubletalk that brought us into this recession. In fairness to Dimon, he goes on from there to talk about all the lending JPMorgan is doing. Yes, one would expect a bank the size of JPMorgan to be lending. But is it lending with the TARP money, Burnett wants to know?
Burnett: For $25 billion, would you be willing and able, and I guess that may be a big part of this question, to say 'Here's the $25 billion the government
gave, and I'm going to account for that $25 billion, and I'm going to tell you where every single dollar of it went?' Is that something you would be willing and able to do?
Dimon: No. Because we are absolutely willing and able to describe what we do, but the $25 billion, think of your checking account if it got $25,000 ...
Burnett (interrupting): It goes in a pool.
Dimon: And you may spend millions on something ... or as a business. It goes into a pool. It's one of a certain sum of money, but its capital, so it is leverageable at one point, and uh, but I just said, our commercial loans are up. I think it's at least $10 billion, our credit card loans are up year over year $5 billion, our interbank lending is $60 billion and its up from a very small number, so we'd be happy to show people. There are loans going up, and we're trying to do it in a conservative way. There are certain categories down a little bit too, but in total, our loans are up.
I included his entire answer so no one could say I wasn't giving him a fair shake, but also to show that what Dimon does in his long-winded explanation is
exactly what got us into this mess
. During the interview, he hid behind the massiveness and complexity of JPMorgan's balance sheet, which had about $1.7 trillion -- yes, trillion -- in
assets at the end of the third quarter.
There's some lending here, some pulling back there, and if you want to figure it out, go read the 10-Q, which is as thick as a phone book and so filled with footnotes and jargon you'd have better luck with the Dead Sea scrolls.
One veteran analyst I spoke with, who won't go on the record because his firm doesn't let him speak to the press, tells me JPMorgan could have a tough time making money in 2009. That's because it will be a very difficult year for the U.S. consumer, who has lots of untapped credit lines open with the bank. That's where the bulk of the $1.7 trillion in off-balance sheet exposure is. JPMorgan says in a footnote that it can cancel much of that available credit, and it would probably be wise to do so.
Maybe Dimon's defenders would say he has to obfuscate so we don't all freak out even more about the mess we're in. Maybe he does, but let's at least stop calling him a hero.