The US Federal Reserve has just released data that shows mind-boggling trade positions that JP Morgan has taken in synthetic credit indices, an extremely haphazard class of derivative, also known as Credit Default Swaps (CDS).
Um, try $100 Billion worth; an increase from a net long notional of $10 Billion at the end of 4Q11, to $84 Billion by the end of 1Q12.
All banks are required to report quarterly on these things and JP Morgan’s position in CDS has jumped eight-fold in under 6 months. This may raise additional concerns about JP Morgan’s investment strategy in synthetic products.
In investment-grade CDS with a maturity of one-year or less, JPMorgan‘s net short position exploded from $3.6 billion notional at the end of September 2011 to $54 billion at the end of the first quarter.
Over the same period, JPMorgan’s long position in investment grade CDS with a maturity of more than five years leapt five times from $24 billion to $102 billion (see chart). They are either really, really smart, or really, really, stupid. If it’s the latter, guess who bails them out?
“I don’t care how big a bank you are, that’s still a big move,” said one seasoned credit analyst.
JPMorgan’s chief executive Jamie Dimon said his firm began closely examining the CIO’s (Chief Investment Officer) controversial trading strategy in closer detail when large mark-to-market losses – put at $2 billion by Dimon during an analyst call on May 10 – started appearing in the second quarter.
Dimon has since tried to balance his exposures by flipping positions in long, high-yield CDS and short positions in investment-grade CDS, but the crazed selling of these CDS positions is eerily reminiscent of the final hours of Lehman Brothers.
People will question senior JP Morgan management signing off on a trading strategy that vastly increased the banks’ exposure to a worsening credit environment at a time when other banks were battening down the hatches. In dramatic contrast to JPMorgan, the Fed data show ALL other major US banks (GSax, Citi, B of A, Morgan Stanley) maintaining large short positions in investment-grade credit in expectation of a continuation of the rocky credit environment persisting throughout the second half of 2011.
The figures underscore JPMorgan’s failure to act at an earlier stage, given the large concentrations of risk it was accumulating, as well as the inability of regulators to discern abnormal trading patterns among the piles of data banks already reported to them. Shame on the SEC … again.
“The press conference… caught everyone a bit off guard and does raise all sorts of flags and does indeed cause us to remind ourselves that “there is never just one cockroach;” however, if the losses sustained are held to what was reported yesterday afternoon, then we must remember that this is isolated; that it shall be a loss of only 30 cents/share; that Jamie Dimon’s pristine reputation has been irreparably sullied; that the Left shall use this as an excuse for even more onerous over-sight of the banking/broking businesses of the nation, but the nation is not in jeopardy and we shall all go on.”
IF … “the losses sustained are held to what was reported … .”.
Should be an interesting couple of weeks on Wall Street.