Why JPM's "Chief Investment Office" Is The World's Largest Prop Trading Desk: Fact And Fiction
For the fiction, we go to JPM's conference call transcript where we had the following disclosures.
- "I did want to talk about the topics in the news around CIO and just take a step back and remind our investors about that activity and performance. We have more liabilities, $1.1 trillion of deposits than we have loans, approximately $720 billion. And we take that differential and we invest it, and that portfolio today is approximately $360 billion. We invest those dollars in high grade, low-risk securities. We have got about $175 billion worth of mortgage securities, we have got government agency securities, high-grade credit and covered bonds, securitized products, municipals, marketable CDs. The vast majority of those are government or government-backed and very high grade in nature. We invest those in order to hedge the interest rate risk of the firm as a function of that liability and asset mismatch."
- "We hedge basis risk, we hedge convexity risk, foreign exchange risk is managed through CIO, and MSR risk. We also do it to generate NII, which we do with that portfolio. The result of all of that is we also need to manage the stress loss associated with that portfolio, and so we have put on positions to manage for a significant stress event in Credit. We have had that position on for many years and the activities that have been reported in the paper are basically part of managing that stress loss position, which we moderate and change over time depending upon our views as to what the risks are for stress loss from credit. And I would add that all those positions are fully transparent to the regulators. They review them, have access to them at any point in time, get the information on those positions on a regular and recurring basis as part of our normalized reporting. All of those positions are put on pursuant to the risk management at the firm-wide level. They are done to keep the Company effectively balanced from a risk standpoint.... " Of course, when you own the regulators, it is not much of an issue... And would it be the same regulators who we have now confirmed don't understand the first thing about markets?
- "All of those decisions are made on a very long-term basis." Indeed - and the Norway sovereign wealth fund bought Greek bonds investing in "eternity." Only problem is eternity came far faster than expected."
- "The last comment that I would make is that based on, we believe, the spirit of the legislation as well as our reading of the legislation and consistent with this long-term investment philosophy we have in CIO we believe all of this is consistent with what we believe the ultimate outcome will be related to Volcker."
For the facts, we go to Bloomberg again, which was the first to break the Bruno Iksil story, and which exposes without shadow of a doubt why the Chief Investment Office is nothing but the world's largest prop desk. But hey, just as Goldman named it frontrunning service the "Asmymetric Service Initiative" thereby magically not making it a frontrunning service, naming the world's largest prop desk the "Chief Investment Office" makes it no longer be the world's largest prop desk.
Here are the highlights. First on the CIO group:
- Achilles Macris, hired in 2006 as the CIO’s top executive in London, led an expansion into corporate and mortgage-debt investments with a mandate to generate profits for the New York- based bank, three of the former employees said.
- Some of Macris’s bets are now so large that JPMorgan probably can’t unwind them without losing money or roiling financial markets, the former executives said, based on knowledge gleaned from people inside the bank and dealers at other firms.
- The CIO’s growing size and market power have made it an increasingly important customer to Wall Street’s trading desks and a market influence watched by hedge funds and other investors, the former employees said. Iksil’s positions in credit-derivatives have become so large that some market participants dubbed him “Voldemort,” after the villain of the Harry Potter series who’s so powerful he can’t be called by name.
- “What Bernanke is to the Treasury market, Iksil is to the derivatives market,” Bonnie Baha, head of the global developed credit group at DoubleLine Capital LP in Los Angeles, where she helps oversee $32 billion, said in a telephone interview.
- Macris’s team amassed a portfolio of as much as $200 billion, booking a profit of $5 billion in 2010 alone -- equal to more than a quarter of JPMorgan’s net income that year, one former senior executive said.
And far more importantly on the background of the guy behind it all. It kinda, sorta sounds like he is a... gasp.... prop trading kinda guy
- It’s Macris, not Iksil, who was behind the strategy that led to an unprecedented build-up of credit risk in JPMorgan’s chief investment office, three former employees of the bank said. While they expressed doubt Iksil can unwind his positions without causing a dislocation in the markets he trades, they also said JPMorgan probably can afford to hold the assets until they mature and so won’t be forced to sell them.
- In 2011, corporate revenue of $3.3 billion included $1.6 billion of securities gains and produced $411 million of net income, the bank said in an annual filing on Feb. 29. By comparison, JPMorgan’s investment bank reported $26.3 billion in revenue and $6.8 billion of net income in 2011.
- Since 2007, the value of securities held in JPMorgan’s chief investment office and treasury has more than tripled to surpass $350 billion from $76.5 billion, according to company filings.
- Profit, not risk management, guided the purchases, according to the former employees. One of the employees, who previously held a senior executive position at the bank, said Dimon even ordered some of the trades himself.
- Dimon pushed the unit to seek bigger profits by buying higher-yielding assets, including structured credit, equities and derivatives, and ramping up speculation, according to two former employees.
- In London, Macris expanded his team, adding expertise in credit and fixed-income trading. A Greek citizen, Macris previously was co-head of capital markets at Dresdner Kleinwort Wasserstein before joining JPMorgan in 2006. In that role he helped oversee a unit that made proprietary trades, or bets with Dresdner’s own money, according to two people who worked with him at the time.
- Before joining Dresdner, Macris oversaw currency trading at Bankers Trust, now part of Deutsche Bank AG. Macris was an idea- generating machine who was blunt and didn’t suffer fools, said Duncan Hennes, who worked with him at Bankers Trust.
- At JPMorgan, Macris hired Evan Kalimtgis, a former head of credit portfolio strategy at Dresdner, to help with risk management, according to one former employee.
- In 2007 Javier Martin-Artajo, who had been Dresdner’s head of credit-derivatives trading, joined JPMorgan in London. George Polychronopoulos, who worked at hedge fund Endeavour Capital LLP, also joined the London office in 2009.
- Martin-Artajo, Polychronopoulos and Kalimtgis didn’t return calls and e-mails seeking comment.
- While Macris had a mandate to make money from the beginning, he didn’t start putting on big bets until after the credit crisis in 2008. Two of the former executives said the following year he bought AAA-rated pieces of collateralized debt obligations. As competitors dumped securities and prices slumped, Macris’s group at JPMorgan emerged as the biggest buyer in some markets, said one former executive at the bank who was familiar with the trades at the times.
- In one example, a New York-based CIO trader named Jonathan Horowitz bought about $1.1 billion of AAA-rated portions of collateralized loan obligations for about 80 cents on the dollar in November and December 2008, people familiar with the matter said at the time. Horowitz declined to comment.
Finally, the most damning evidence that JPM's World's Biggest Prop DeskTM, elsewhere known as the CIO, has to be dismantled lest it suffer the fate of all other massive prop desks, which promptly blew up in the days after the Lehman failure, is the following:
- One public sign that the chief investment office does more than hedge: Its trading risk is on par with that of JPMorgan’s investment bank.
- JPMorgan’s annual report for 2011 shows that the CIO stood to lose as much as $57 million on most days of the year. That compares with $58 million for the investment bank, which includes Wall Street’s biggest stock- and bond-trading units.
- Another sign: The relationship between the CIO and the investment bank’s sales and trading desks is strained, two former employees said. Employees in the CIO get a smaller share of their trading profits than those in the investment bank, giving Dimon a cost-management incentive to direct more trading through the CIO, one former executive said.
Hence: JPMs "Chief Investment Office" = World's largest prop trading desk. But hey, just repeat "Assymetric Service Initative" ... "Assymetric Service Initative" ... "Assymetric Service Initative" three times ... and it becomes truth.