Jamie Dimon makes the best case for not breaking up banks

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The Jamie Dimon piece in today’s Washington Post is a must-read. Dimon, head of behemoth JPMorgan Chase makes the best case for not breaking up large too-big-to-fail financial institutions. His idea: set up a robust resolution process and let reckless lenders fail regardless of size.

Now, back in September, I attended a meeting at the Clinton Global Initiative where both Americans Sheila Bair and Jamie Dimon and British bank executive Peter Sands gave their ideas on the too big to fail idea. They all agreed that too big to fail must end. But, while Bair was arguing for shifting the balance of power toward smaller, community banks, Dimon was arguing, as he does in the Post, to keep large organizations intact.

Reviewing the exchanges, I wrote:

What I found interesting was the general agreement between Dimon, Sands and Bair that regulatory reform to date has been a bust…  the conversation made clear that Bair, Dimon and Sands all felt that the first and most important bit of financial reform must be to set up a resolution process in order to deal with too-big-to-fail institutions. Let me characterize Dimon and Bair’s remarks below.

Jamie Dimon. It is clear that Dimon believes JPMorgan Chase was never in any real jeopardy during the financial crisis. He spoke on several occasions about the lack of a resolution crisis to deal with large firms without mentioning any names, but clearly intimating that other beleaguered institutions like Citi and BofA were saved by this. He said that the financial crisis should not be used as an excuse to break up large institutions (like his) because the crisis was the result of bad lending as in any other crisis. He said, smaller imprudent lenders are being liquidated systematically by the FDIC. The only reason larger companies did not face liquidation is because no resolution mechanism was or still is in place to deal with them…

He said the present reform proposals are not heading in the right direction and used an analogy saying, “If we had a problem with our legal department, I would tell the guys to fix the legal department. If the government had the same problem, it would create a second new legal department.”  Over-regulation is not the answer. Smart regulation is.

Sheila Bair. Bair was in stunning agreement with Dimon on the core issues. She too said the first priority of any financial regulation must be to put a resolution mechanism in place to deal with too-big-to-fail institutions. She rejected the concept of the Federal Reserve as the main financial regulator, something even Ben Bernanke is now rejecting. But, she disagreed with Dimon. Instead she felt that the financial system had veered excessively into derivatives and other complicated financial products and that this was a major contributor to the financial collapse. She advocated regulating these and increasing the focus on traditional banking products typical in community banking. It was clear from these remarks that she favors community banks over too-big-to-fail institutions.

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Both points of view make sense. Dimon is obviously advocating from the position of an interested party. Nevertheless, he does make good arguments. Note that he says management should be fired. Shareholders should be wiped out. Unsecured creditors should, if necessary, be wiped out too. This is a big deal.

Here are excerpts of what he had to say (bolding added).  The link to the full article is at the bottom.

Our company, J.P. Morgan Chase, employs more than 220,000 people, serves well over 100 million customers, lends hundreds of millions of dollars each day and has operations in nearly 100 countries. And if some unforeseen circumstance should put this firm at risk of collapse, I believe we should be allowed to fail

But ending the era of "too big to fail" does not mean that we must somehow cap the size of financial-services firms. Scale can create value for shareholders; for consumers, who are beneficiaries of better products, delivered more quickly and at less cost; for the businesses that are our customers; and for the economy as a whole. Artificially limiting the size of an institution, regardless of the business implications, does not make sense…

Creating the structures to allow for the orderly failure of a large financial institution starts with giving regulators the authority to facilitate failures when they occur. Under such a system, a failed bank’s shareholders should lose their value; unsecured creditors should be at risk and, if necessary, wiped out. A regulator should be able to terminate management and boards and liquidate assets… We can learn here from how the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. closes banks…

…It also requires effective international cooperation, as the implications of a major financial institution’s failure are global. This is challenging but worth doing…

As we have seen clearly over the last several years, financial institutions, including those not considered "too big," can pose serious risks for our markets because of their interconnectivity. A cap on the size of an institution will not prevent that risk. Properly structured resolution authority, however, can help halt the spread of one company’s failure to another and to the broader economy…

To understand the harm of artificially capping the size of financial institutions, consider that some of America’s largest companies, which employ millions of Americans, operate around the world. These global enterprises need financial-services partners in China, India, Brazil, South Africa and Russia…

…a fragmented banking system cannot always provide the level of service, breadth of products and speed of execution that clients often need. Capping the size of American banks won’t eliminate the needs of big businesses; it will force them to turn to foreign banks that won’t face the same restrictions.

Source

No more ‘too big to fail’ – Jamie Dimon, Washington Post

Disclosure: I have no financial interest in any financial services companies. Further, I have said previously that I do not favor re-imposing Glass-Steagall as a magic bullet solution given that most financial carnage over the past twenty-five years has originated in the regulated commercial bank sector. Like Dimon and Bair, I see a robust regulatory regime as critical. On the other hand, I am generally in favor of reducing bank size, unlike Dimon.

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