In case you hadn’t heard, Saturday is the five-year anniversary of Lehman’s bankruptcy, which plunged the global economy into chaos. In the months leading up to and immediately following that financial cataclysm, one firm emerged as a clear winner: JPMorgan (JPM).
In 2008 and 2009, JPMorgan seemingly thrived while other firms struggled to survive – and several didn’t make it. After getting the Fed to underwrite its acquisition of Bear Stearns in March 2008, JPMorgan later acquired (some say ‘stole’) Washington Mutual.
All this served to buttress the reputation of Jamie Dimon, JPM’s Chairman and CEO.
Dimon visited the White House 16 times in the early days of President Obama’s presidency, prompting The New York Times to declare him Obama’s “favorite banker”. The Daily Ticker (nee Tech Ticker) dubbed Dimon “the King of Wall Street.”
Duff McDonald chronicled all this (and more) in his 2009 book, Last Man Standing.
When the Fortune contributing editor joined The Daily Ticker this week to discuss his latest book, The Firm, I asked for an update on Dimon, whose sterling reputation has been tarnished over the past few years.
“He is still the last man standing,” McDonald says, noting a recent effort to separate the CEO and Chairman roles was defeated – and by a much bigger margin than most pundits anticipated. “Shareholders clearly value him.”
That said, the London Whale saga – a huge trading loss from the firm’s Chief Investment Office – “was obviously a big mistake,” McDonald says. “It was colossally stupid. Obviously embarrassing, egg in the face” for Dimon.
But while the nearly $6 billion loss is a black mark on Dimon’s record, it didn’t destroy the firm – or even result in a quarterly loss. “That’s part of [Dimon’s] argument for size and breadth of institution, you can absorb hits like that,” McDonald says. “They built the ‘fortress balance sheet’ and [the Whale] didn’t destroy the firm.
Still, the London Whale saga is merely the most obvious blemish on the firm – and Dimon’s record. As The Wall Street Journal reports Friday, JPMorgan has spent nearly $18 billion on litigation and related expenses, currently operates under four regulatory enforcement actions – the most of any major U.S. bank – and faces at least seven separate Justice Department investigations for alleged misdeeds during the housing boom and resulting bust.
As a result, JPMorgan is setting aside an additional $4 billion and committing 5000 employees to “clean up its risk and compliance problems,” The WSJ reports.
On these issues, JPMorgan continues to “lead” Wall Street – but not in ways that garner glowing reports from investors, the media, elected officials or regulators.
Heavy weighs the head that wears the crown, indeed.