Will JPMorgan's "Enron" Be The End Of Blythe Masters?
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.
Government investigators have found that JPMorgan Chase devised "manipulative schemes" that transformed "money-losing power plants into powerful profit centers," and that one of its most senior executives gave "false and misleading statements" under oath. The findings appear in a confidential government document, reviewed by The New York Times, that was sent to the bank in March, warning of a potential crackdown by the regulator of the nation’s energy markets.
Another "tempest in a teapot"... Or is JPM reprising the role of the most hated company from the early 2000s, Enron, now that absolutely everyone's attention is focused on its purportedly criminal activity, potentially a problematic development? It very well might be.
The JPMorgan case arose, according to the document, after the bank’s 2008 takeover of Bear Stearns gave the bank the rights to sell electricity from power plants in California and Michigan. It was a losing business that relied on "inefficient" and outdated technology, or as JPMorgan called it, "an unprofitable asset."
Funny: another "case" that has arisen, so far at mostly in the tinfoil hat periphery of the blogosphere is that JPM also inherited some massive precious metal shorts when it was handed over Bears Stearns on a Fed-subsidized silver platter, and it is the legacy of these short positions that has encouraged various JPM employees, such as Blythe Masters for example, to not only do everything in their power to push the price of gold and silver lower, but to align directly with the Fed, which wants nothing more than to destroy every single last believer in real, not paper-based, "quality-collateral."
For now, however, let's get back to what was previously conspiracy theory, and is now fact:
Under "pressure to generate large profits," the agency’s investigators said, traders in Houston devised a workaround. Adopting eight different "schemes" between September 2010 and June 2011, the traders offered the energy at prices "calculated to falsely appear attractive" to state energy authorities. The effort prompted authorities in California and Michigan to dole out about $83 million in "excessive" payments to JPMorgan, the investigators said. The behavior had "harmful effects" on the markets, according to the document.
Uh-oh. Sounds suspiciously close to what a certain Houston firm, once upon a time called Enron (advised by none other than one Paul Krugman) was doing to the California electricity market. And where the FERC and legacy ENRON instances arise, sparks are sure to fly.
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.
In the energy market investigation, the enforcement staff of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, or FERC, intends to recommend that the agency pursue an action against JPMorgan over its trading in California and Michigan electric markets.
The 70-page document also took aim at a top bank executive, Blythe Masters.
Blythe did a bad, bad thing. So bad she lied about it under oath.
The regulatory document cites her supposed "knowledge and approval of schemes" carried out by a group of energy traders in Houston. The agency’s investigators claimed that Ms. Masters had "falsely" denied under oath her awareness of the problems and said that JPMorgan had made "scores of false and misleading statements and material omissions" to authorities, the document shows.
Oops. And it's only downhill from here, because what follows, are the two scariest words a banker can hear in the context of a potential enforcement decision: "individually liable"
For now, according to the document, the enforcement officials plan to recommend that the commission hold the traders and Ms. Masters "individually liable." While Ms. Masters was "less involved in the day-to-day decisions," investigators nonetheless noted that she received PowerPoint presentations and e-mails outlining the energy trading strategies.
And some more scary words: "systematic cover-up"