The Jamie Dimon who testified at Senate Banking Committee hearings today was a toned down version of the spontaneous, cocksure executive that we’ve come to know and love.
Mr. Dimon’s mouth, of course, got him into trouble in recent weeks, when he told investors that early sightings of the so-called London Whale—a trader in JPMorgan’s chief investment office said to be taking massive positions in credit derivatives—amounted to little more than “a tempest in a teapot.” It turned out to be a $2.3 billion (and counting) storm, which, may be drop in the mega-lender’s bucket, was a big enough boo-boo to get Mr. Dimon hauled down to Washington.
Sen. Jeff Merkely provided the hearing’s best moment when he asked if JPMorgan would have failed if not for “massive federal bailouts,” by which the Oregon Democrat intended TARP money and indirect aid, including the Treasury’s bailout of AIG.
“JPMorgan took TARP because we were asked to,” Mr. Dimon said, his voice rising. “We were asked that if the nine banks take this TARP we can keep the system from going down. “We were not bailed out by AIG. We would have had a loss of about $1 billion if AIG had gone under.”
“Sir, this is not your hearing,” Senator Merkley interrupted. And: “I think a lot of experts would say that without federal aid, JPMorgan would have gone down, and that you would have been out of a job.”
A moment later, Senator Merkley pressed Mr. Dimon on a Bloomberg article suggesting Mr. Dimon saw his firm’s CIO as a profit center. From the article:
“We want to ramp up the ability to generate profit for the firm,” David Olson, a former head of credit trading for the CIO in North America, recalled being told by two executives when he was hired in 2006. “This is Jamie’s new vision for the company.”
“I don’t believe everything I read, and I hope you don’t either,” Mr. Dimon told Senator Merkley.
A couple other choice moments:
“When you reduce a hedge, or hedge a hedge, isn’t that gambling?” asked Sen. Robert Menendez, a New Jersey Democrat. “No,” said Mr. Dimon. “You said the hedge morphed. What did it morph into, Russian roulette?” Senator Menedez followed.
Sen. Jerry Moran, a Kansas Republican, asked Mr. Dimon to elaborate on comments earlier in the hearings in which he observed that large organizations have a tendency to become arrogant.
“I wasn’t talking about the Senate, definitely not,” said Mr. Dimon. “Not now.”
Not the high drama we had hoped for, perhaps, but we won’t despair. Mr. Dimon will be back in Washington next week to testify before the House Financial Services committee.