JP Morgan Sought Loophole on Risky Trading
WASHINGTON — Soon after lawmakers finished work on the nation’s new financial regulatory law, a team of JPMorgan Chase lobbyists descended on Washington. Their goal was to obtain special breaks that would allow banks to make big bets in their portfolios, including some of the types of trading that led to the $2 billion loss now rocking the bank.
Several visits over months by the bank’s well-connected chief executive, Jamie Dimon, and his top aides were aimed at persuading regulators to create a loophole in the law, known as the Volcker Rule. The rule was designed by Congress to limit the very kind of proprietary trading that JPMorgan was seeking.
Even after the official draft of the Volcker Rule regulations was released last October, JPMorgan and other banks continued their full-court press to avoid limits.
In early February, a group of JPMorgan executives met with Federal Reserve officials and warned that anything but a loose interpretation of the trading ban would hurt the bank’s hedging activities, according to a person with knowledge of the meeting. In the past, the bank argued that it needed to hedge risk stemming from its large retail banking business, but it has also said that it supported portions of the Volcker Rule.
In the February meeting was Ina Drew, the head of JPMorgan’s chief investment office, the unit that suffered the $2 billion loss.
JPMorgan officials declined to comment for this article. But in the company’s annual report, Mr. Dimon wrote: “If the intent of the Volcker Rule was to eliminate pure proprietary trading and to ensure that market making is done in a way that won’t jeopardize a financial institution, we agree.”
He added: “We, however, do disagree with some of the proposed specifics because we think they could have huge negative unintended consequences for American competitiveness and economic growth.”
JPMorgan wasn’t the only large institution making a special plea, but it stood out because of Mr. Dimon’s prominence as a skilled Washington operator and because of his bank’s nearly unblemished record during the financial crisis.
“JPMorgan was the one that made the strongest arguments to allow hedging, and specifically to allow this type of portfolio hedging,” said a former Treasury official who was present during the Dodd-Frank debates.
Those efforts produced “a big enough loophole that a Mack truck could drive right through it,” Senator Carl Levin, the Michigan Democrat who co-wrote the legislation that led to the Volcker Rule, said Friday after the disclosure of the JPMorgan loss.