By Friday morning, New York time, Bloomberg TV was reporting that in the first couple of minutes after they had broke the story about J. P. Morgan CEo Jamie Dimon speaking in a conference call with major stakeholders, the ripple effect of the announcement globally had led to at least one TRILLION dollars in losses.
Think about that: $1,000,000,000,000, a trillion smackaroos. Can't wrap your mind around that can you? Well, I can't, anyway. So I decided to try to visualize it as a stack of one-dollar bills.
I don't have any U.S. currency here, so couldn't measure it. Googled it, and got more than one answer. The longest is 6.23 inches, while the shortest is 6.14; the first works out that a trillion one-dollar bills placed end-to-end would stretch over 98 MILLION miles, while the shorter works out to "only" nearly 97 million.
The Sun's average distance from Earth is about 93 million miles.
So I decided to figure out how tall a stack that many bills would make stacked on top of each other:
67,866 miles. And another 853 feet + 4 inches or so.
That's twice around the Earth at the equator, and then some. Quite a big "some": if you could get credit on your air miles account with your airline, you'd chalk up an exdtra 17,866 more miles. That's just about exactly one round-trip between Dallas, Texas and Bangkok, as it happens.
Getting the picture now?
But not to fear: Dimon was very direct in his call. Short version: "We screwed up. We'll fix it."
It's true that J. P. Morgan weathered the 2008 Hurricane Katrina that swept across the banking world (and everybody else, of course) -- with Dimon running the show.
It's also true that Dimon has been one of the main critics of the Volcker Rule and has worked furiously and tirelessly to gut it, with considerable success. "Trust us." The original version of the Volcker Rule was itself a very watered-down of the Glass-Steagall legislation, formally known as "Banking Act of 1933." That act had several sections meant to keep separate commercial and investment banking (sections 16, 20, 21, and 32). It was repealed by the Gramm-Leach-Bliley Act in 1999.
Many believe that repeal was a major cause of the Great Recession.
But -- "Trust us."
Now, let's shift gears and go . . . whale hunting. But this whale's human: one Bruno Iksil, a trader in Morgan's London office's opaque "chief investment office."
According to Bloomberg and many of the pro's they've been interviewing in their studios and via satellite say Iksil well deserves his nickname due to his extraordinary authority to invest vast amounts of the bank's money. Authority running well into the billions of dollars. that nickname? -- "the London Whale." A few weeks ago, he was moving so much money around that it was affecting markets globally -- and Bloomberg raised the alarm directly with CEO Dimon, who contemptuously retorted what they were talking about was nothing more than "a complete tempest in a teapot." His words, not mine.
Turns out to be one helluva HUGE teapot.
However, the chief investment office is supposed to be a place that protects the bank's interests -- not make risky investments, like the complex credit default swaps, which led to the 2008 meltdown.
Nobody knows just yet exactly what happened. Dimon helpfully told us that investments in some kind of synthetic intrument -- I forget the exact name. But it doesn't matter. None of the Bloomberg people nor any of their guest had the slightest idea just what they are. Apparently this is an investment strategy that the folks at J. P. Morgan whipped up. A new, unknown one.
"Trust us." Hold that thought.
Dimon also says there may be further losses pending, that no one will know. He also says the bank will have no further comment until the end of this reporting period -- the end of June. But that's okay, isn't it?
We can "trust them."
But regulators aren't quite so sanguine or trusting. They're furiously at it from New York to Washington to London to Shanghai to Tokyo -- just about everywhere else home to such regulators. In America, regulators were already badly strained trying to keep the weak recovery alive. The Euro Zone, already struggling with even worse troubles, sure as hell doesn't need this. China had already revised its estimates down (though to levels that remain the envy of the world), while alarm bells were already beginning to sound in India. Folks in tokyo must be holding their heads in their hands, but maybe not; I don't know how much exposure Asian and Subcontinental markets have to Moby Dick -- the "London Whale."
It's clear that trusting Wall Street, including those "banks too big too fail," is about as smart as handing your car keys to a drunk driver -- who's blind.
Sorry, Master-of-the-Universe Dimon: We don't trust you anymore.
It's time to resurrect the Glass-Steagall legislation. Then put it on steroids.
And let's put a crew of Whalers on while we're at it -- particularly on Wall Street. They could carry harpoons. And whaling knives to cut retail and investment banking apart again, which were never meant to be Siamese Twins.