Even as JPMorgan seems set to put its London Whale troubles behind it with a nearly $1 billion imminent settlement, while at the same time throwing two mid-level traders at NY prosecutors and washing its hands of the whole tempest in a teapot affair, a curious snag has appeared. The CFTC, which in the past has never had a problem with promptly settling any market manipulation abuse with any bank in exchange for a small cash-greased slap on the hand, is suddenly a sticking point in JPM's ability to just walk away from the biggest prop trading Snafu in history. As WSJ reports, "the CFTC is focusing on the bank's increasingly aggressive trades made over several months early last year, when it added tens of billions of dollars to its derivatives positions—contracts tied to investment-grade corporate bonds, these people say. The CFTC is likely to use new powers granted by the Dodd-Frank law that allow it to charge firms for recklessly manipulating markets, say people familiar with the agency's thinking."
It is somewhat ironic that none other than CNBC is reporting the news (which was suggested here months ago in "Will JPMorgan's "Enron" Be The End Of Blythe Masters?") that as part of its divestment of its physical commodities unit announced previously, JPMorgan may also seek to cover up any trace of market manipulation in the division recently embroiled in the aluminum cartel scandal (which we reported on in June 2011 and which story recently rose to prominence as a result of follow up reporting by the NYT) by getting rid of none other than Blythe Masters.
DOJ Picks Up Where FERC Left Off: Begins Investigation Of JPMorgan's "Enronesque" Energy Market ManipulationSubmitted by Tyler Durden on 08/19/2013 17:50 -0500
On July 30, when FERC announced that it had agreed to resolve it allegations of JPMorgan manipulation of the energy market for a $410 million fine, with the bank neither admitting nor denying guilt, we posited that the only question on Jamie Dimon's mind was whether to pay the fine from petty cash or just to charge it on his corporate Amex. Three weeks later he may have some other questions swirling in his head, such as "whose Christmas lobbying stocking did I not fill with campaign donations?" after the WSJ reported that it is no longer FERC, but the DOJ itself, led by Preet Bharara, which is investigating whether JPM manipulated energy markets. Ironically, this is a deja vu of the SAC take down by the same Bharara, when a few months after SAC settled with the SEC it was shocked to be crushed by the Department of Justice which pulled an "Arthur Anderson" on it and for all intents and purposes shut it down (although with nobody sent to prison). It remains to be seen if Bharara will have the balls to take this prosecution to the next level and whether after he made SAC into Arthur Anderson, he will make JPMorgan into the New Normal's Enron and whether Jamie Dimon or Blythe Masters will be the next Lay and/or Skilling. One can hope.
Just flashing red headlines for now:
- JPMORGAN ACCUSED BY U.S. REGULATOR OF MANIPULATING POWER MARKET
- JPMORGAN ACCUSED OF MANIPULATIVE ENERGY-BIDDING STRATEGIES
- JPMORGAN ACCUSED OF ENERGY-MARKET MANIPULATION IN 2010 AND 2011
- U.S. FERC ANNOUNCES JPMORGAN ALLEGED VIOLATIONS IN E-MAIL
And now we look forward to learning how many hundreds, or maybe even thousands, of cents the settlement will be, which will also include a full wristslapping pardon of Blythe Masters of course.
Back in June 2011 we first reported how "Goldman, JP Morgan Have Now Become A Commodity Cartel As They Slowly Recreate De Beers' Diamond Monopoly" in an article that explained, with great detail, how Goldman et al engage in artificial commodity traffic bottlenecking (thanks to owning all the key choke points in the commodity logistics chain) in order to generate higher end prices, rental income and numerous additional top and bottom-line externalities and have become the defacto commodity warehouse monopolists. Specifically, we compared this activity to similar cartelling practices used by other vertically integrated commodity cartels such as De Beers: "the obvious purpose of "warehousing" is nothing short of artificially bottlenecking primary supply." Over the weekend, with a 25 month delay, the NYT "discovered" just this, reporting that the abovementioned practice was nothing but "pure gold" to the banks. It sure is, and will continue to be. And while we are happy that the mainstream media finally woke up to this practice which had been known to our readers for over two years, the question is why now? The answer is simple - tomorrow, July 23, the Senate Committee on Banking will hold a hearing titled "Should Banks Control Power Plants, Warehouses, And Oil Refiners."
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Following Barclays' fine of $453 million by FERC for manipulating electric energy prices in California (and other other Western markets), it seems the price of infamy is weighing heavy on Blythe Masters' overlords at JPMorgan in yet another derivative debacle for the "I invented CDS" queen. As we discussed in great detail here, FERC's investigations into JPMorgan's actions saw them pursuing actions against the firm and Ms. Masters. In recent weeks settlement rumors have been heard and now as the NYTimes reports, it appears - in light of last year's PR and P&L 'London Whale' disaster - the best-CEO-in-the-entire-world-so-there is preparing to settle to the tune of $500 million to keep Blythe out of jail. To settle Ms. Masters' alleged “manipulative schemes” that transformed “money-losing power plants into powerful profit centers,” and then her giving “false and misleading statements” under oath, must mean she has some serious dirt on Jamie (and his fortress balance sheet and best-in-class risk management).
Following the drubbing in commodities in Q2 it is was only a matter of time that the pendulum swung the other way. At least that is the view of JPMorgan's commodities team led by Colin Fenton who says to "go overweight commodity indices now." JPM's summary: "It’s our first OW call on commodities since September 2010… we turned underweight commodities as an asset class in November 2011, shortly after it became apparent that Europe and Australia had entered manufacturing recessions and commodities were likely to underperform equities and bonds over the following 6 to 12 months, likely yielding negative returns in 1H12. Over the past year, we have grown more positive on the asset class, as energy has improved, expected menaces in bulks and metals have arrived, and sentiment across commodities has belatedly soured. However, our strategies have sought to be directionally neutral. Now, we move to recommend a net long, overweight exposure for institutional investors for the first time in more than two years, based on ten fundamental factors we quantify in this note." Yes, that includes gold, although as a hedge JPM adds: "Liquidity could fall quickly in summertime. Buy 25-delta puts in oil, copper, and gold to protect a core position in commodity index total return swaps."
First it was the conspiracy theory that Li(e)bor traders were manipulating the entire rates market which a year ago became conspiracy fact. Then it was commodities with an emphasis on the energy market (but not gold - gold is never, ever manipulated) with even such luminaries as JPMorgan's Blythe Masters, subsequently implicated. And moments ago, via Bloomberg, to absolutely nobody's surprise, we learn that that final market which so far had not been exposed as the "wild west" of manipulators, the FX market, is part of the conspiracy "fact" too. According to Bloomberg, "employees have been front-running client orders and rigging WM/Reuters rates by pushing through trades before and during the 60-second windows when the benchmarks are set, said the current and former traders, who requested anonymity because the practice is controversial. Dealers colluded with counterparts to boost chances of moving the rates, said two of the people, who worked in the industry for a total of more than 20 years."
Earlier it was Bank of America reporting a perfect trading quarter, with profitability on 60 out of 60 trading days, and now it is JPMorgan's turn. Moments ago, Jamie Dimon's firm filed a 10Q in which, among other things, it announced than in the quarter ended March 31, it was profitable on 63 out of 63 trading days and had one day in which it gained more than $200 million, or said simply another case of trading perfection unmatched anywhere in the known universe except perhaps by sellers of newsletters on Twitter. It was not immediately clear why JPM got a freebie of three extra profitable trading days in the quarter compared to BofA, although we suspect Jamie Dimon's presidential cufflinks may have something to do with it. What is clear is that the probability of one firm trading without error for an entire quarter, let alone two (and soon more as other banks file their 10-Qs) is slim to quite slim. Although not nearly as slim as whoever the hot chick is on Dancing with the Stars this season, which we are confident is the only thing the bulk of the population cares about. For everyone else, there's E(rror free)-trade.
As reported earlier, JPM's head commodity maven, Blythe Masters (her very rare public appearance can be seen here) suddenly finds herself in hot water for, among other things, allegedly lying under oath, obstructing justice and "engaging in a systematic cover up" to "approve schemes" seeking to defraud the states of California and Michigan in electricity trading (Enron flashbacks are more than welcome). So just who is Blythe? Most people on this site should be very familiar with her work by now (the NYT has a good recap), so instead of reconnecting the dots, we will once again dig up the presentation by one very young Ms. Master, introducing her then quite innovative product: the Credit Default Swap, titled appropriately enough "The J.P.Morgan Guide To Credit Derivatives" (by Blythe Masters). Because it is always best to let one's work speak.
One year after the infamous Jamie Dimon "tempest in a teapot" fiasco, which promptly turned out to be the biggest TBTF prop-trading desk debacle in history, things were going well for JPMorgan. On one hand, the chairman of the TBAC (and thus US Treasury advisor and policy administrator), and former LTCM trader, Matt Zames, was just recently promoted to the sole second in command post at the biggest US bank (and 2nd biggest in the world) by assets, and first in line to take over from Jamie Dimon. On the other hand, one of Mary Jo White's former co-workers, and a JPM defense attorney from Debevoise just became head of the SEC's enforcement division, in theory guaranteeing that the US government would never do more than slap the wrist of JPM in perpetuity. And then, when everything seemed like smooth sailing ahead, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) showed up on March 13, the day before Carl Levin's committee released its latest report on JPM's prop trading blunder, and according to the NYT, alleged that JPM in the past several years, quietly became nothing short than the next Enron. ... But what is worst for JPM, and its brilliant (abovementioned) employee, often times credited with creating the Credit Default Swap product and market (simply an instrument to trade credit with negligible upfront collateral and thus allow equity option-like speculation in the credit realm), is that FERC may be seeking to throw the book at none other than Blythe Masters.
The man who is the chief advisor to the US Treasury on its debt funding and issuance strategy was just promoted to the rank of second most important person at the biggest commercial bank in the US by assets (of which it was $2.5 trillion), and second biggest commercial bank in the world. And soon, Jamie willing, Matt is set for his final promotion, whereby he will run two very different enterprises: JPMorgan Chase and, by indirect implication, United States, Inc.
And that, ladies and gentlemen, is how you take over the world.
Previously, in our first two editions of FleeceBook, we focused on "public servants" working for either the Bank of International Settlements, or the Bank of England (doing all they can to generate returns for private shareholders, especially those of financial firms). Today, for a change, we shift to the private sector, and specifically a bank situated at the nexus of public and private finance: JP Morgan, which courtesy of its monopolist position at the apex of the Shadow Banking's critical Tri-Party Repo system (consisting of The New York Fed, The Bank of New York, and JP Morgan, of course) has an unparalleled reach (and domination - much to Lehman Brother's humiliation) into not only traditional bank funding conduits, but "shadow" as well. And of all this bank's employees, by far the most interesting, unassuming and "underappreciated" is neither its CEO Jamie Dimon, nor the head of JPM's global commodities group (and individual responsible for conceiving of the Credit Default Swap product) Blythe Masters, but one Matt Zames.