Boy, if The Business Press Maven didn't know better, I'd think JPMorgan ( JPM) actually made money this quarter. But unlike much of the business media, I do know better.It was a one-time, nonrecurring accounting fluke that caused the so-called surprise "profit." That's hardly reason to break out the bubbly. Keep in mind as we review some of the coverage of this earnings report that no better a source than JPMorgan CEO Jamie Dimon termed the results "very disappointing." He obviously wasn't buying into the notion that a one-time, nonrecurring accounting fluke meant anything significant. But the business media? Well, there they go again. Read this CNNMoney.com headline and weep: " JPMorgan Chase posts surprise profit." The real surprise, though, came way down in the fourth paragraph, with this: "Helping boost the results was a one-time gain of $1.3 billion, related to its purchase of the failed savings and loan Washington Mutual last year. Excluding this, JPMorgan Chase said it would have reported a loss of 28 cents per share during the quarter." So for all ongoing purposes, they lost 28 cents. Then why the flashy, excited headline that raises hopes and expectations? But at least CNNMoney deigned to mention the one-time charge that rendered the profit all but meaningless. That wasn't the case with The New York Times. In an article with the not-so-very-disappointed headline " JPMorgan Reports Slim Profit in Tough Quarter," the lead picks up on the same note of misguided satisfaction: "JPMorgan Chase reported a $702 million profit for its fourth quarter on Thursday, topping forecasts for a quarter expected to be among the toughest in its history."
Speaking on Yahoo!'s Tech Ticker, a New York Times columnist even called the earnings " a nice piece of news " and "good for the market and it's good for the country." He drew a distinction between this happy news and the Citigroup ( C) earnings coming today, which were described as sad-news-in-the making: "a bloodbath." Though JPMorgan's earnings were no bloodbath, considering the environment, there was certainly too much blood spilled to describe them as "nice" and "good." "Very disappointing" would be a better description. Oh, wait. That's how JPMorgan itself described them. How should this be covered? Look at the Associated Press, which acknowledged the profit in name only right in the headline: " JPMorgan posts profit, but 'disappointing' one: JPMorgan Chase posts small profit, but credit keeps worsening -- a bad sign for other banks." The lead does the same, followed by an appropriate accounting of the fluke gain, then the forthright Dimon quote: "JPMorgan Chase eked out a fourth-quarter profit, but its results were anything but calming to investors worried about the mountain of upcoming losses in the troubled banking sector. "Defaults surged in a wide variety of loans, ranging from home loans to credit cards to commercial real estate loans. JPMorgan's investment bank was forced to mark down its portfolio by $2.9 billion. And had it not been for JPMorgan's buy of Washington Mutual Inc. late last year, the bank would have reported a net loss for the fourth quarter. "Even Chief Executive Jamie Dimon called the results 'very disappointing.'" The Wall Street Journal did much of the same in this article: " J.P. Morgan Turns a Profit, With a Frown." Describing it as a profit with a frown? That's something to make The Business Press Maven smile.