Jamie Dimon: Wall Street's Hero for a Day

Bankers love the JPMorgan CEO for challenging the Fed. Others are less sure

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When Jamie Dimon stepped to the microphone and stared down Ben Bernanke on Tuesday, he may or may not have anticipated being labelled as Wall Street's hero. Bernanke stared back nodding, smiling slightly as JPMorgan's CEO unloaded on the government for shackling a quick economic recovery with regulation after regulation.

Now we're told there are going to be even higher capital requirements, and we know there are 300 rules coming, has anyone bothered to study the cumulative effect of these things and do you have a fear like I do that when we look back and look at them all, that they will be the reason that it took so long our banks, our credit, our businesses, and most importantly, our job creation, start going again? Is this holding us back at this point?

That's the hero quote. And Bernanke's smile, followed quickly by a "not sure" reply was the defeated villain's surrender, according to Dimon's Wall Street worshippers. "Nobody has looked at it in all detail, but we certainly are trying as in each part to develop a system that is coherent and that is consistent with banks performing their vital social function in terms of extending credit," Bernanke said.

The day-after news cycle has spun the Dimon-Bernanke moment in a million different directions, many of which cling heartily to the hero narrative. John Carney at CNBC reported signs of hero worship at first:

The clip of the video instantly made its way through thousands of email in-boxes inside the biggest financial companies. One Wall Street executive described Dimon as “Our Pericles” in an email to associates. Pericles was an Athenian general who helped lead Athens into a golden age following the devastating Persian Wars. Others are calling it Wall Street’s “Tea Party moment”--comparing it to the speech CNBC’s Rick Santelli gave that helped spark the Tea Party movement.

But the roles are easily reversed. Robert Reich, former Secretary of Labor under President Clinton, scoffed and stood behind Bernanke in his blogged reaction:

Someone should remind Dimon that a few years ago, before any stricter regulation or oversight went into effect, he and his colleagues on the Street almost eviscerated the American economy. Remember, Jamie? The Street's antics required a giant taxpayer-funded bailout.

JPMorgan Chase and the other giant banks on Wall Street are bigger than they were before. And now they're certain they're too big to fail. Without far stricter regulation they have every incentive to repeat their binge.

Later in the day, after he'd crunched some numbers, John Carney admits that Dimon is only half right. Sure, the biggest banks will find certain kinds of lending more expensive under the proposed capital buffer" and they won't like that.

But where [Diamond] goes wrong is considering this an unintended consequence of the rules. Getting JP Morgan out of the business of owning home loans is not a bug of the capital buffer, it’s a feature. 

Too much of our banking system is dominated by goliath national banks. If new capital requirements force these goliaths to exit certain businesses, we’re all better off for it. Regulators are not only aware that the new rules can have this effect—they’re planning on it.

In what may serve as a closing remark, Larry Doyle at Fortune cites Dimon's $20.8 million compensation package from JPMorgan last year and tells the executive to take a step back:

Jamie Dimon and many other senior executives within the Wall Street hierarchy are benefiting like never before from the oligopoly that defines Wall Street currently. With lessened competition and a perpetuation of self-regulation within its brokerage activities, JP Morgan and its cohorts on Wall Street continue to rack up perfect or near perfect trading results in terms of daily profitability. ... I can assure you that in a normal market environment, no bank would generate these sort of results.

Despite of all the new federal regulations, JPMorgan reported a 67 percent surge in profits in the first quarter of this year, despite Dimon reporting "extraordinarily high losses" in its mortgage department.

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.