JPMorgan Chase (JPM) has lost billions of dollars from its so-called "London Whale" trades — a fact no one disputes. Exactly how much the sour trades will cost JPMorgan remains unknown. Nearly two months after the bank revealed that a massive trade went awry in its Chief Investment Office — the very division that was supposed to manage the bank's excess cash and risky bets — the bank continues to leave Wall Street in the dark about the financial damage.
The New York Times reported on Thursday that the trading loss could be as high as $9 billion — more than four times the amount originally announced by the bank. Other news organizations peg the losses in the $4 billion to $6 billion range — still a mighty sum for a firm that was seen by many as the best run bank on the Street. JPMorgan CEO Jamie Dimon was summoned by Congress twice to testify about the deep losses and explain why the bank was engaged in the same speculative behavior that led to the financial crisis in 2008. Dimon answered questions from members of the Senate Banking Committee and House Financial Services Committee and throughout the proceedings maintained that the firm "disclosed what we knew when we knew it" and that he did not mislead shareholders about the extent of the problems. The Wall Street Journal's Greg Zuckerman, one of the first reporters to break the news about JPMorgan's billion-dollar loss, says in the accompanying video that JPMorgan has learned lessons from the aftermath of its trading debacle — but not necessarily the right ones.
"The lesson they've learned is that…we're going to improve risk management but not necessarily stop buying things like asset-backed securities," he says. "They kind of said 'we've done a bad job of risk management. We gave these guys a long leash.' And that was the problem rather than having a unit" that takes such risky bets in the first place.
Zuckerman notes that JPMorgan has historically been more aggressive in its trades than its banking counterparts. The firm's traders have never shied away from buying positions in exotic and potentially risky asset-backed securities and credit default swaps. Rumors about the company's trading loss will continue to swirl until the firm discloses its second-quarter earnings on July 13. JPMorgan executives have said that the firm will post a solid profit despite the bad trade — but that's always subject to change.