PwC faces 3 major trials that threaten its business

Philip Merrill’s notes:

1) Do Auditors need to be seasoned professionals in the businesses they audit?

2) Or, CPA’s that have to take the customers word for accuracy in financial statement representation including notes.

By Francine McKenna

Published: Aug 15, 2016 12:32 p.m. ET

The Big Four global audit firms go to court all the time but are rarely put on trial.

PricewaterhouseCoopers LLP, the U.S. member of the global professional-services giant, is currently facing not one, not two, but three significant trials for allegedly negligent audits. An unfavorable verdict in the trial currently playing out in a Florida state court could inflict a significant monetary wound. That, combined with a possible unfavorable judgment in another trial scheduled for federal court in Alabama in February of 2017, and a third in a Manhattan federal court within the next year, may be fatal.

The case against PwC brought by the Taylor Bean and Whitaker bankruptcy trustee is quite unusual, said Tom Rohback, an attorney with Axinn Veltrop & Harkrider. That’s because it is one of the few cases from the credit crisis seeking to hold auditors responsible for crisis-era losses to actually go to trial.

“Beyond the $5.5 billion sought, the case is unusual because the plaintiff is the trustee of the entity that committed the fraud and is suing not its own audit firm but the audit firm of the institution it defrauded,” he said. “

Settlements preferred

In the U.S. the Big Four audit firms have, in recent history, almost always settled because of the fear that one catastrophic jury verdict could shut them down for good. In addition, trials show the public just how often auditors fail to detect fraud. Settlements prevent the public from hearing that in open court and typically put partners’ pretrial testimony under confidential court seal forever.

‘The trial has the potential to influence public perception of auditors, as well as strategies used by the plaintiff lawyers that try cases against them, regardless of the eventual verdict.’

Tom Rohback, Axinn Veltrop and Harkrider

The bankruptcy trustee for Taylor Bean & Whitaker Mortgage Corp., once the 12th-largest U.S. mortgage lender, sued PwC for $5.5 billion in damages in 2012 after the bank went bankrupt in August 2009. Federal regulators, not the bank’s auditor, Deloitte, uncovered a $3 billion fraud involving fake mortgage assets. The bankruptcy trustee for Taylor, however, alleges that PwC was negligent in not spotting the fraud from its perch as auditor of Colonial Bank, which bought the allegedly fake mortgages that Taylor Bean had originated and that made Taylor Bean’s losses worse.

Beth Tanis, the lead attorney for PwC from the firm King & Spalding, issued a statement at the beginning of the trial: “PricewaterhouseCoopers did not audit or perform any other services for Taylor Bean. With regard to the services performed for Colonial Bancgroup, one of the targets of Taylor Bean’s fraud, PricewaterhouseCoopers did its job,” said Tanis. “As the professional audit standards make clear, even a properly designed and executed audit may not detect fraud, especially in instances when there is collusion, fabrication of documents, and the override of controls, as there was at Colonial Bank. We are confident that a jury will understand the applicable rules and standards in this case and decide accordingly.”

A spokeswoman for PwC declined to provide further comment.

Six Taylor Bean executives went to jail for their roles in the fraud. The bank’s former chairman, Lee Farkas, was sentenced to 30 years in prison. Taylor Bean auditor Deloitte settled with the trustee for an undisclosed amount in 2013.

The bankruptcy route

Colonial Bank, a Montgomery, Ala., institution with $25 billion in assets, also filed for bankruptcy in 2009. The Colonial Bank bankruptcy trustee and the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. brought a lawsuit in 2012 against PwC for negligence as the auditor of Colonial Bank, claiming $1 billion in damages. That case is scheduled to go to trial in February.

The FDIC’s suit was its first against an auditor for a financial-crisis-era bank fraud or failure. Crowe Horwath LLP, Colonial’s outsourced internal audit firm, is also named in the Colonial suit. (Remember Arthur Andersen internal and external auditor for Enron?)

Tanis, in her opening statement at the trial on Aug. 9, said that no one at Taylor Bean relied on PwC’s audit of Colonial Bank, even though Colonial was Taylor Bean’s biggest mortgage buyer.

“There will be no document showing you that these directors or anybody else at Taylor Bean ever received these Pricewaterhouse audit reports, actually read these Pricewaterhouse audit reports and relied on them,” she said.

Largest Banking Regulatory Fines (2008 – 2015)

Bank

Date

Fine Amount

Description

Bank of America

August 2014

$16,650,000,000

Settlement to resolve allegations of misselling mortgage-backed securities. The … Show More

Bank of America

February 2012

$11,820

Part of the National Mortgage Settlement; $8.6bn paid as relief to borrowers, $3 … Show More

Bank of America

January 2013

$11,600

Settlement resolving repurchase requests of faulty mortgage sales. Bank agreed t … Show More

Bank of America

March 2014

$9,330

Settled charges of misleading investors over mortgage backed securities.

Citigroup

July 2014

$7,000,000,000

Settled charges of misleading investors over mortgage backed securities. $4bn pa … Show More

JPMorgan Chase

November 2013

$13,000,000,000

Part of $13bn settlement; $4bn paid as relief to consumers, $2bn paid as civil penalty

Wells Fargo

February 2012

$5,350

Part of the National Mortgage Settlement; $4.3bn paid as relief to borrowers, $1 … Show More

JPMorgan Chase

February 2012

$5,290

Part of the National Mortgage Settlement; $4.2bn paid as relief to borrowers and … Show More

JPMorgan Chase

October 2013

$4,000

Part of $13bn settlement; settles federal and state claims by FHFA.

JPMorgan Chase

October 2013

$4,000

Settlement over securities laws violations in connection with mortgage-backed se … Show More

Bank

Date

Fine Amount

Description

Data collected from the Financial Times on May 20, 2015.

See more details ›

Taylor Bean’s employees, customers and creditors, who all lost something when the firm went bankrupt, were relying on Colonial Bank to operate as an honest business partner that was accurately reflecting its financial obligations to Taylor Bean, a point emphasized by Steve Thomas, the attorney for the Taylor Bean trustee, in his opening statement on Tuesday.

Thomas told the jury that PricewaterhouseCooper’s failure mattered, because many people were counting on it to do its job. “PwC was lending credibility to Colonial’s financial statements. PwC’s failure mattered because Taylor Bean and Whitaker, and others, relied on PwC to do its job,” he said.

‘PwC was lending credibility to Colonial’s financial statements. PwC’s failure mattered because Taylor Bean and Whitaker, and others, relied on PwC to do its job.’

Steve Thomas, attorney for Taylor Bean trustee

PwC and the other Big Four accounting firms all had major clients that failed, were bailed out or were effectively nationalized during the crisis. None of those cases went to trial. Ernst & Young LLP paid $99 million to investors and $10 million to the New York attorney general’s office for its role as auditor of Lehman Brothers Holdings Inc. KPMG settled its exposures early, and within a week of each other in 2010 settled for an undisclosed amount for its audit of New Century, another big mortgage originator, and paid $24 million for its audits of Countrywide Bank, which was distressed when it was sold to Bank of America BAC, +0.74% .

Deloitte settled its exposure as auditor of Bear Stearns for $19.9 million. Bear Stearns was bought for a relative pittance by J.P. Morgan JPM, +0.61%  during the crisis. Deloitte was also the auditor of Washington Mutual and contributed $18.5 million to a settlement with investors for its negligent audits. Deloitte went on to earn hundreds of millions of dollars reviewing J.P. Morgan’s exposure to foreclosure fraud claims for Bear Stearns and Washington Mutual mortgages it inherited as part of those purchases.

The litigation hit

Those settlements pale in comparison to the total of $6.5 billion that Taylor Bean and Colonial Bank trustees are looking for from PwC. On Aug. 5 U.S. District Judge Victor Marrero in Manhattan rejected PwC’s request to dismiss MF Global’s lawsuit alleging professional malpractice that contributed to the October 2011 bankruptcy of the brokerage firm once run by former New Jersey Gov. Jon Corzine. That suit is seeking $1 billion in damages, bringing the total potential claims PwC is facing over a very short period to $7.5 billion.

Jim Peterson, a former in-house attorney for Arthur Andersen and the author of the book “Count Down: The Past, Present and Uncertain Future of the Big Four Accounting Firms,” has periodically asked the question on his blog: “How big is the ‘worst case’ litigation hit that would disintegrate one of the surviving Big Four?”

Back in September 2006, a report by the consulting firm London Economics to the EU markets commissioner modeled the collapse of a Big Four partnership in the U.K. That model quantified the level, according to Peterson, “of personal sacrifice, beyond which the owner-partners would lose confidence, withdraw their loyalty and their capital, and vote with their feet.”

Peterson’s analysis concluded that critical numbers of partners would defect and put a firm into a death spiral, if they faced a partner-income-distribution reduction of 15% to 20% that extended over three or four years. Peterson extended the figures to the global level to calculate breakup figures for the Big Four. That brought the number down from an optimistic maximum of about $7 billion to about $3 billion.

However, global numbers assume that a Big Four network under deadly financial threat could hold it together and count on the support of its member firms and partners around the world. But that’s not what happened to Arthur Andersen after the bankruptcy of client Enron and an indictment for obstruction of justice in 2001. Instead, Andersen’s non-U.S. member firms flew the coop in 2002, and the firm itself was forced to fold.

Based on the experience of Arthur Andersen, it is unlikely, Peterson told MarketWatch, that PwC’s non-U.S. member firms would pitch in to pay a U.S.-based catastrophic court judgment or a series of them. Peterson’s most recent update of his tipping-point calculation, completed in early 2015, assumes the U.S. firm is left to pay its own way out, as was Andersen’s U.S. firm. The worst-case tipping points for the U.S. practices shrinks from the $3 billion global number down to $900 million for the most financially vulnerable of the four firms.

These numbers matter, according to Peterson, because the loss of another Big Four firm would throw the entire system into chaos.“There is no contingency plan or readiness among the three survivors to stay in an even more risky business or take on the failed firm’s risky clients or outstanding litigation claims,” he said.

The Petrobras angle

The three lawsuits against PwC that are on trial or going to trial in the next year all name only the U.S. firm as a defendant. Another large case names PwC’s Brazil member firm for its allegedly negligent audits and failure to detect a multibillion-dollar bribery and corruption fraud at the state-sponsored oil company Petrobras.

Those plaintiffs, which include the Bill Gates Foundation, could decide to name PwC U.S. as a defendant or eventually require the U.S. firm to ante up to pay a verdict that would otherwise knock out the Brazilian firm, a key cog in its service network for multinational clients.

MarketWatch asked Rohback why PwC would choose to go to trial given the stakes. “Oh, they probably didn’t choose to try the case. They just haven’t hit on a settlement number they can stomach yet,” he said.

PwC has few options at this point, Rohback said. “There’s still time to settle, and they could win it. If they lose, they can ask the judge for a stay in enforcing any judgment until an appeal can be heard.”

Florida law prohibits judgments that would bankrupt a defendant. PwC would probably be reluctant to go to court and open its books to prove it was too poor to pay a judgment. However, in a previous case against an audit firm in Florida tried by Taylor Bean trustee attorney Thomas, the court allowed audit-firm partners to be paid “profits” each year before considering claims of any parties damaged by the firm’s frauds or gross negligence.

Audit firms have no duty to reserve for or disclose serious legal contingencies, since they are partnerships. Thomas had to file a motion to force discovery because he suspected that while the case was under appeal “assets have been or are being dissipated or diverted while such a stay is in place.”

Francine McKenna

Francine McKenna is a MarketWatch reporter based in Washington.

Email Francine at fmckenna@marketwatch.com

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New From Credit Suisse: Bonds for Self-Inflicted Catastrophes

Sagacious LLC will help customize a similar program to save op risk regulatory capital at your institution. 

By ANUPREETA DAS and LESLIE SCISM
May 16, 2016 1:21 p.m. ET WSJ

Credit Suisse Group AG is going to give it a try in the bond market. The bank plans as early as this week to launch unusual new securities that would pay investors relatively high interest rates. The catch is Credit Suisse could take their principal if incidents like rogue trading, information-technology breakdowns or even accounting errors lead to massive losses for the bank, people familiar with the offering said.

The deal is a first-of-its-kind twist on the “catastrophe bonds” that insurers have used for years to lay off the risk of natural disasters like hurricanes. Credit Suisse’s offering covers self-inflicted disasters as well as external events and has been marketed to hedge funds and other big investors.

The insurance feature of the bonds would be triggered if Credit Suisse’s annual operational risk-related losses cross $3.5 billion. Buyers have a level of comfort, however, because it’s a “second-event” bond. The most any single event could contribute to the trigger is $3 billion, meaning it would take more than one event to cross the threshold. The odds of that are remote: Credit Suisse has put them at roughly 1 in 500, the people said.

A Credit Suisse spokeswoman declined to comment.
The appetite for such offerings in the capital markets, as persistently low interest rates send investors searching for higher yields, is encouraging Wall Street companies to test new uses for the structure.

MORE

Heard on the Street: Credit Suisse Takes Out Insurance on Itself
Insurance-industry executives said that they haven’t previously seen a bank attempting to tap capital markets to cover this type of risk. The move has its roots in regulation. Under European bank rules, banks must calculate operational risk and may use insurance products as part of meeting their capital requirements, according to industry participants.

In general, operational risk is the possibility of losses resulting from insufficient internal controls, errant systems or rogue employees. The Credit Suisse offering doesn’t cover market losses from trading that is authorized by the bank, some of the people familiar with the matter said.

Paul Schultz, chief executive of the Aon Securities unit of global insurance brokerage Aon PLC, said an offering like Credit Suisse’s reflects “growing investor sophistication on the underwriting side and a general view that to continue to grow the asset class, investors are going to have to expand from simply writing property risk.”

Zurich-based Credit Suisse, via a Bermuda company called Operational Re, plans to issue a five-year bond of up to 630 million Swiss francs ($646 million) to qualified institutional buyers such as hedge funds, asset managers and firms that pool together capital from pension funds. The bonds are part of a planned package that includes an insurance policy of up to 700 million francs issued by Zurich Insurance Group. Most of the cost of any claim would be paid for by the bonds. The size of the bond offering and the policy limits ultimately will be determined by investor interest, the people said. A spokeswoman for Zurich said the company’s policy is not to comment on current or potential commercial relationships.

The coupon is expected to be in the “mid-single digits,” one of the people said—higher than what Credit Suisse was initially planning, in order to entice investors to buy the novel security.

Credit Suisse last week reported a first-quarter net loss of 302 million francs, compared with a profit of 1.05 billion francs in the same period last year. The bank’s new chief executive, Tidjane Thiam, has been retooling the bank away from its investment-banking business toward its more stable wealth-management unit.

European banks have long used insurance products to meet capital requirements set by regulators or to unload risk from their balance sheets. Before the financial crisis, giant insurer American International Group Inc. sold financial derivatives known as credit-default swaps to major European banks as insurance against losses in their holdings of subprime mortgage assets. AIG’s near collapse in 2008 in the wake of the housing-bubble burst was tied to the massive volume of credit-default swaps it had sold.

As for Credit Suisse’s new bond, the bank can’t call on the money to cover regulatory liabilities or government fines, the people said. Losses from rogue trading, which have hobbled large banks such as Société Générale and UBS Group AG in recent years, could be covered by the insurance provided by the bond, but any fines stemming from it wouldn’t be, they said.

Write to Anupreeta Das at anupreeta.das@wsj.com and Leslie Scism at leslie.scism@wsj.com

Sagacious LLC can customize a disaster bond for your institution.

What is the amount of Operational Risk Capital at Your Bank?

Civil Antitrust Lawsuits Reinstated Against 16 Banks in Libor Case
May 23, 2016 By Nicole Hong, WSJ
Appeals court restores private suits against Bank of America, J.P. Morgan Chase, Citigroup and others
The lawsuits accuse 16 major banks—including Citigroup, J.P. Morgan and Bank of America—of collusion in manipulating the London interbank offered rate, or Libor, to the detriment of the banks’ consumers.

In a setback for some of the world’s largest financial institutions, a U.S. appeals court on Monday reinstated the private antitrust lawsuits filed against 16 banks for allegedly rigging Libor interest rates.

The ruling from the Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit reverses a lower court decision from 2013, in which U.S. District Judge Naomi Buchwald dismissed the claims because she said the banks’ alleged conduct did not violate federal antitrust laws.

The lawsuits accuse 16 major banks—including J.P. Morgan Chase & Co., Bank of America Corp. and Citigroup Inc.—of collusion in manipulating the London interbank offered rate, or Libor, to the detriment of the banks’ consumers.

The plaintiffs, who owned various financial instruments that were affected by Libor, claim the returns on their investments were depressed by the banks’ collusion. The lawsuits were filed by several groups of plaintiffs, including the local governments of cities like Baltimore, San Diego and Houston.

Judge Buchwald had dismissed the antitrust claims, saying the plaintiffs failed to show they were injured by the alleged rate manipulation. She said that because setting Libor was a “cooperative endeavor,” there could be no anticompetitive harm to consumers.

But the appeals court Monday disagreed and kicked the case back to the lower court for further proceedings. A three-judge panel found that the plaintiffs did show an antitrust injury “by alleging that they paid artificially fixed higher prices.”

Judge Buchwald in 2013 had allowed other claims by the plaintiffs to proceed, including allegations that the banks breached commodities laws, but the antitrust claims were a central part of the litigation, as violations can require a defendant to pay triple damages.

The appellate judges noted that the plaintiffs will still have to prove at a later stage whether the allegedly corrupt Libor rate did have an influence on the prices of their financial investments.

If this litigation is ultimately successful, the potential total bill to banks could be in the billions, analysts have estimated.

A lawyer representing the banks declined to comment, while a lawyer for the plaintiffs did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Libor, a widely used benchmark that helps set interest rates for everything from mortgages to corporate loans, is calculated daily for different currencies based on estimated borrowing rates submitted by banks on panels. The lawsuits are targeting banks on the panel that sets U.S. dollar rates under Libor.

These private lawsuits are separate from the sprawling criminal and civil probes around Libor rigging, which began in 2008 and have implicated traders around the world. Regulators have accused big banks of letting their traders and executives raise Libor rates up or down to benefit their trading positions.

About a dozen financial firms have settled charges of manipulating Libor, and many have pleaded guilty to criminal charges. The largest penalty imposed was the $2.5 billion paid by Deutsche Bank AG last year.

In total, U.K. and U.S. authorities have imposed sanctions of more than $6 billion in the Libor cases. A series of global investigations are still ongoing, but The Wall Street Journal reported in February that regulators in the U.S. and U.K. are preparing to bring a final round of civil charges against several banks in the probe.

Write to Nicole Hong at nicole.hong@wsj.com

JPMorgan Chase Chief Says ‘Banks Are Under Assault’

By NATHANIEL POPPER
JANUARY 14, 2015

As JPMorgan Chase reported sluggish earnings and potential new legal costs on Wednesday, its chief executive, Jamie Dimon, lashed out at regulators and analysts, including some who are calling for the breakup of what is the nation’s largest bank.

The bank announced that both its revenue and profit were down during the fourth quarter of 2014, with few bright spots across its many business lines.

The bank’s profits were also dragged down by $1 billion it put aside to deal with a government investigation of wrongdoing on its foreign currency trading desks. The bank has also begun preparing for new rules that are expected to be tougher on JPMorgan than any other financial firm.

During conference calls with reporters and analysts, Mr. Dimon sounded like a chief executive under siege.

“Banks are under assault,” Mr. Dimon said in the call with reporters. “In the old days, you dealt with one regulator when you had an issue. Now it’s five or six. You should all ask the question about how American that is, how fair that is.”

This is not the first time that Mr. Dimon has publicly criticized the new scrutiny and rules that banks have dealt with since the financial crisis. But in the past, Mr. Dimon was often confronting skeptics from outside the banking world. On Wednesday, he faced off against several industry analysts who questioned whether the costs associated with JPMorgan’s heft are outweighing the benefits.

“This is not Elizabeth Warren asking the questions,” said Mike Mayo, a bank analyst at CLSA, referring to the Massachusetts senator and outspoken critic of big banks. “Investors are talking about this.”

Mr. Dimon and Marianne Lake, JPMorgan’s chief financial officer, rebutted any suggestion that JPMorgan would need to be broken into smaller parts to be more valuable, and argued that the bank’s size gave it many advantages against competitors — “the model works from a business standpoint,” Mr. Dimon said.

But some of the analysts questioning Mr. Dimon and Ms. Lake did not seem to be satisfied by the answers and suggested that they expected to hear more about the bank’s efforts to change itself.

The company’s share price ended the day down 3.5 percent, at $56.81.

Mr. Mayo, who was one of the first analysts to call for the big banks to be broken up, pointed out on Wednesday that as JPMorgan had continued to grow it had actually become somewhat less efficient, as measured by the ratio between its expenses and revenue.

When the questions about the bank’s future kept coming on Wednesday morning, Mr. Dimon sounded increasingly frustrated with the analysts.

“This company has been a fortress company,” he said. “It has delivered to clients and its diversification is the reason why it’s had less volatility of earnings and was able to go through the crisis and never lost money ever, not one quarter.”

The bank’s fourth-quarter results, while disappointing, were not terrible for shareholders. The bank said its earnings fell 7 percent, to $4.9 billion, or $1.19 a share, from $5.6 billion, or $1.30 a share, in the period a year earlier. The results fell short of the $1.31 a share expected by analysts surveyed by Thomson Reuters.

Net revenue at the bank dropped 3 percent, to $22.5 billion, from the fourth quarter of 2013. On a so-called managed basis, revenue was $23.55 billion, slightly below the $23.6 billion anticipated by analysts.

For 2014 as a whole, JPMorgan reported profit of $21.8 billion, a 21 percent increase over 2013, and the highest ever annual profit for the company.

In the third quarter of 2014, JPMorgan’s Wall Street operations bolstered the results of the bank. But in the fourth quarter, the difficult trading conditions that have hurt profits at Wall Street firms over the last few years returned.

Revenue from JPMorgan’s once-lucrative fixed-income trading business fell 32 percent from the previous quarter and was down 23 percent from the period a year earlier. Much of the decline was because of businesses that JPMorgan had sold. But core trading was also down 14 percent.

“Banks are under assault,” Mr. Dimon said in the call with reporters. “In the old days, you dealt with one regulator when you had an issue. Now it’s five or six. You should all ask the question about how American that is, how fair that is.”

This is not the first time that Mr. Dimon has publicly criticized the new scrutiny and rules that banks have dealt with since the financial crisis. But in the past, Mr. Dimon was often confronting skeptics from outside the banking world. On Wednesday, he faced off against several industry analysts who questioned whether the costs associated with JPMorgan’s heft are outweighing the benefits.

“This is not Elizabeth Warren asking the questions,” said Mike Mayo, a bank analyst at CLSA, referring to the Massachusetts senator and outspoken critic of big banks. “Investors are talking about this.”

Mr. Dimon and Marianne Lake, JPMorgan’s chief financial officer, rebutted any suggestion that JPMorgan would need to be broken into smaller parts to be more valuable, and argued that the bank’s size gave it many advantages against competitors — “the model works from a business standpoint,” Mr. Dimon said.

But some of the analysts questioning Mr. Dimon and Ms. Lake did not seem to be satisfied by the answers and suggested that they expected to hear more about the bank’s efforts to change itself.

The company’s share price ended the day down 3.5 percent, at $56.81.

Mr. Mayo, who was one of the first analysts to call for the big banks to be broken up, pointed out on Wednesday that as JPMorgan had continued to grow it had actually become somewhat less efficient, as measured by the ratio between its expenses and revenue.

When the questions about the bank’s future kept coming on Wednesday morning, Mr. Dimon sounded increasingly frustrated with the analysts.

“This company has been a fortress company,” he said. “It has delivered to clients and its diversification is the reason why it’s had less volatility of earnings and was able to go through the crisis and never lost money ever, not one quarter.”

The bank’s fourth-quarter results, while disappointing, were not terrible for shareholders. The bank said its earnings fell 7 percent, to $4.9 billion, or $1.19 a share, from $5.6 billion, or $1.30 a share, in the period a year earlier. The results fell short of the $1.31 a share expected by analysts surveyed by Thomson Reuters.

Net revenue at the bank dropped 3 percent, to $22.5 billion, from the fourth quarter of 2013. On a so-called managed basis, revenue was $23.55 billion, slightly below the $23.6 billion anticipated by analysts.

For 2014 as a whole, JPMorgan reported profit of $21.8 billion, a 21 percent increase over 2013, and the highest ever annual profit for the company.

In the third quarter of 2014, JPMorgan’s Wall Street operations bolstered the results of the bank. But in the fourth quarter, the difficult trading conditions that have hurt profits at Wall Street firms over the last few years returned.

Revenue from JPMorgan’s once-lucrative fixed-income trading business fell 32 percent from the previous quarter and was down 23 percent from the period a year earlier. Much of the decline was because of businesses that JPMorgan had sold. But core trading was also down 14 percent.

JPMorgan’s enormous consumer bank also had a drop in revenue in several areas, including credit cards and mortgages, which has slowed down as the national housing market has cooled off.

The bank has been able to attribute some of its disappointing results in recent years to the enormous fines that it has had to pay for wrongdoing before and during the financial crisis.

But while those legal expenses were expected to eventually recede, they have kept coming. This quarter, JPMorgan set aside $1.1 billion — $990 million after taxes — to deal primarily with an industrywide investigation of manipulation in the foreign currency markets. It set aside a similar amount in the previous quarter, but the potential severity of the wrongdoing appears to have increased since then.

Mr. Dimon said that the bank was still bracing for more fines. “It’s going to cost us several billion dollars more somehow plus or minus another couple billion before we get to normal.”

Mr. Dimon said the bank took responsibility for some of the problems that have led to penalties, but he complained that it had been unfair when multiple regulators had come after the bank for the same issue.

The more enduring challenge for the bank, though, may be the new requirements that the bank maintain higher levels of capital than other banks because of its size.

A Federal Reserve official said in December that JPMorgan would most likely to have to raise over $20 billion of new capital, either by holding on to profits or selling more shares to investors. The bank is the only one that is expected to have to raise significant amounts of new capital.

A bank analyst at Goldman Sachs said this month that because of the price that JPMorgan was paying for its size, it may be worth less in its current form than it would be if it was broken apart. On Wednesday, multiple analysts said that regulators seemed to want JPMorgan to be smaller.

Mr. Dimon acknowledged that there could be a point when the additional costs could force it to spin off some businesses. “If the regulators at the end of the day want JPMorgan to be split up, then that’s what will have to happen,” he said. “We can’t fight the federal government if that’s their intent.”

But Mr. Dimon said that his team was confident that the bank would manage to comply with the rules as they have currently been outlined without any major changes. Invoking patriotism, he warned that if his company was forced to shrink, it could open the door for foreign competitors, especially those from China.

“America has been the leader in global capital markets for the last 50, 100 years,” he said. “I look at it as a matter of public policy. I wouldn’t want to see the next JPMorgan Chase be a Chinese company.”

JIM ROGERS: I Warned You The Swiss Central Bank’s Currency Policy Would End Disastrously

JIM ROGERS: I Warned You The Swiss Central Bank’s Currency Policy Would End Disastrously
Business Insider

Global currency markets are roiling in the aftermath of Thursday’s surprise decision by Switzerland’s central bank to end a 3-year policy that limited the franc from appreciating too much against the euro.

The move sent the franc soaring, triggering hundreds of millions of dollars of losses at banks including Barclays and Deutsche Bank, and bankrupted several currency brokers overnight. Many financial observers have lambasted the Swiss central bank for failing to signal the move was coming.

Jim Rogers, however, saw all of this coming, and he wrote about it in his 2013 book Street Smarts.

“I explained carefully and at length that it was coming and why,” he said in an email to Business Insider. “I am still astonished they would ever have done something so foolish, but politicians throughout history have always done some amazingly foolish things.”

Here’s the excerpt from the book:

Some of Switzerland’s most prestigious banks were established in the aftermath of the French Revolution, during the turmoil that gripped France under Napoleon. Bank people fled France and took their money over the mountains to Geneva, which was not very far away. You will see that some of the great old Swiss banks, the private banks, were founded in 1795, 1803, years like that. But by then Swiss banking traditions were already well established.

Switzerland has been an international center of finance since the end of the Renaissance. Known since then for its stability, sound economy, sound currency, and privacy in financial matters, it has long provided monetary refuge from the wealthy evading the consequences of political turmoil in Europe, from French nobility fleeing the guillotine to the Jews escaping Germany a century and a half later. It has, for the same reasons, in modern times, attracted the money of numerous despots, criminal organizations, and scoundrels.

Switzerland, traditionally, has been unconditional in its offer of bank secrecy. Of course, all banks are supposed to keep your affairs quiet. If you put your money in a bank in Chicago fifty years ago, you would have done so with the assumption that it was confidential. In America, as we have seen, that is no longer the case. The government can look into your bank account, your bedroom, your mail … anywhere it wants. And in much the way that our privacy has been taken away from us, the Swiss have recently surrendered some of theirs, succumbing to pressure from the United States. Bank secrecy in Switzerland is not as sacrosanct as it once was.

Nonetheless, the first thing people look for when seeking monetary refuge is safety. They want stability. They want the security of knowing they will get their money back, and that they will get back at least as much as they put there in the first place. That depends entirely on a sound currency. And that is something the Swiss franc has always offered. The question, now, is whether that is going to last.

I had opened my first Swiss bank account in 1970 in the face of coming turmoil in the currency markets. By the end of the decade, as the markets grew more volatile, people all over the world were trying to open Swiss accounts. And the same thing is happening today. The dollar is suspect, the euro is suspect, and again people are rushing to the franc. In 2011, the CHF (the Swiss franc) escalated to record highs against both the euro and the dollar, rising 43 percent against the euro in a year and a half as of August 2011.

It was a “massive overvaluation,” according to the country’s central bank, the Swiss National Bank (SNB). Under pressure from the country’s exporters, the SNB announced that “the value of the franc is a threat to the economy” and said it was “prepared to purchase foreign exchange in unlimited quantities” in order to drive the price down.

A threat to the economy? It was the exporters who were doing the screaming, but everybody else in Switzerland was better-off. When the franc rises, everything the Swiss import goes down in price, whether it is cotton shirts, TVs, or cars. The standard of living for everybody goes up. Every citizen of Switzerland benefits from a stronger currency. Our dental technician down in Geneva is not calling up and moaning. She is happy. Everything she buys is cheaper. But the big exporters get on the phone and the government takes their call.

The franc went down 7 or 8 percent the day of the SNB announcement. Nobody, at least in the beginning, wanted to take on the central bank. But the bank’s currency manipulation will turn out to be disastrous. One of two things is going to happen.

Here’s the excerpt from the book:

Some of Switzerland’s most prestigious banks were established in the aftermath of the French Revolution, during the turmoil that gripped France under Napoleon. Bank people fled France and took their money over the mountains to Geneva, which was not very far away. You will see that some of the great old Swiss banks, the private banks, were founded in 1795, 1803, years like that. But by then Swiss banking traditions were already well established.

Switzerland has been an international center of finance since the end of the Renaissance. Known since then for its stability, sound economy, sound currency, and privacy in financial matters, it has long provided monetary refuge from the wealthy evading the consequences of political turmoil in Europe, from French nobility fleeing the guillotine to the Jews escaping Germany a century and a half later. It has, for the same reasons, in modern times, attracted the money of numerous despots, criminal organizations, and scoundrels.

Switzerland, traditionally, has been unconditional in its offer of bank secrecy. Of course, all banks are supposed to keep your affairs quiet. If you put your money in a bank in Chicago fifty years ago, you would have done so with the assumption that it was confidential. In America, as we have seen, that is no longer the case. The government can look into your bank account, your bedroom, your mail … anywhere it wants. And in much the way that our privacy has been taken away from us, the Swiss have recently surrendered some of theirs, succumbing to pressure from the United States. Bank secrecy in Switzerland is not as sacrosanct as it once was.

Nonetheless, the first thing people look for when seeking monetary refuge is safety. They want stability. They want the security of knowing they will get their money back, and that they will get back at least as much as they put there in the first place. That depends entirely on a sound currency. And that is something the Swiss franc has always offered. The question, now, is whether that is going to last.

I had opened my first Swiss bank account in 1970 in the face of coming turmoil in the currency markets. By the end of the decade, as the markets grew more volatile, people all over the world were trying to open Swiss accounts. And the same thing is happening today. The dollar is suspect, the euro is suspect, and again people are rushing to the franc. In 2011, the CHF (the Swiss franc) escalated to record highs against both the euro and the dollar, rising 43 percent against the euro in a year and a half as of August 2011.

It was a “massive overvaluation,” according to the country’s central bank, the Swiss National Bank (SNB). Under pressure from the country’s exporters, the SNB announced that “the value of the franc is a threat to the economy” and said it was “prepared to purchase foreign exchange in unlimited quantities” in order to drive the price down.

A threat to the economy? It was the exporters who were doing the screaming, but everybody else in Switzerland was better-off. When the franc rises, everything the Swiss import goes down in price, whether it is cotton shirts, TVs, or cars. The standard of living for everybody goes up. Every citizen of Switzerland benefits from a stronger currency. Our dental technician down in Geneva is not calling up and moaning. She is happy. Everything she buys is cheaper. But the big exporters get on the phone and the government takes their call.

The franc went down 7 or 8 percent the day of the SNB announcement. Nobody, at least in the beginning, wanted to take on the central bank. But the bank’s currency manipulation will turn out to be disastrous. One of two things is going to happen.

In the first scenario, the market will continue to buy Swiss francs, which means that the Swiss National Bank will just have to keep printing and printing and printing, and that will of course debase the currency. Now, there are major exporters in Switzerland who might benefit, but the largest industry in Switzerland, the single largest business, is finance. The economy rises or falls on the nation’s ability to attract capital. And the reason people put their money there is their trust in the soundness of the currency- they not that their money will be there when they want it, and that it will not be worth significantly less than when they put it there in the first place.

But people will stop rushing to put their money into a country where the value of the currency is deliberately being driven down. After the Second World War and for the next thirty years, people took their money out of the United Kingdom because the currency plummeted. (Politicians blamed it on the gnomes of Zurich.) London ceased to be the world’s reserve financial center because Britain’s money was no good. Similarly, if you debase the franc, eventually nobody will want it. You will have eroded its value, not simply as a medium of exchange, but also a monetary refuge. The money will move to Singapore or Hong Kong, and the Swiss finance industry will wither up and disappear.

The alternative scenario is what happened in July 2010, the last time the Swiss tried to weaken their currency. They did so by buying up foreign currencies to hold against the franc-selling the franc to keep the price down. But the market just kept buying the francs, and the Swiss central bank, after quadrupling its foreign currency holdings, abandoned the effort. At that point, when the bank stopped selling it, the Swiss franc rose in value, all the currencies the Swiss had bought (and were now holding) declined in value, and the country lost $21 billion. In the end, the market had more money than the bank, and market forces inevitably prevailed.

In the late 1970s when everyone was rushing to the franc, the Swiss National Bank, to stem the tide, imposed negative interest rates on foreign depositors. The government levied a tax on anybody who bought the currency. It was their form of exchange controls back then. If you bought 100 Swiss francs, you wound up with 70 in your pocket. Today, with the rush on again, The Economist has described the Swiss currency as “an innocent bystander in a world where the eurozone’s politicians have failed to sort out their sovereign-debt crisis, America’s economic policy seems intent on spooking investors and the Japanese have intervened to hold down the value of the yen.”

All of which is true, but I think the problem runs deeper than that. The Swiss for decades had a semi monopoly on finance. And as a result they have become less and less competent. The entire economy has been overprotected. The reason Swiss Air went bankrupt is because it never really had to compete. Any monopoly eventually destroys itself, and Switzerland, in predictable fashion, is corroding from within. As a result, other financial centers have been rising: London, Lichtenstein, Vienna, Singapore, Dubai, Hong Kong.

I still have those original Swiss francs that I bought in 1970, and since then the franc is up about 400 percent. Granted, it has been over forty years, but 400 percent is nothing to sneeze at. Plus I have been collecting interest. Had I kept the money in an American savings account, it would have gone down 80 percent against the franc.

Reprinted from “Street Smarts” Copyright © 2013 by Jim Rogers. Published by Crown Business, an imprint of The Crown Publishing Group, a division Random House LLC, a Penguin Random House Company.

Hoeing: Too-Big-to-Fail May Lead to US Bank Pay Rules

U.S. lawmakers may follow their European counterparts and regulate bankers’ pay if reforms aimed at ending government bailouts for lenders stall, Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation Vice Chairman Thomas Hoenig said.

Regulatory focus on bankers’ pay “will become more of an issue in the U.S. if we don’t solve the too-big-to-fail problem,” Hoenig said in an interview in Amsterdam today. “If we focus on that and get that solved, then the remuneration issue will become less significant and we’ll just see how that plays.”

U.S. lawmakers have so far avoided imposing limits on bankers’ pay, while regulators in the European Union this year cracked down on discretionary payments, known as allowances, which were used to sidestep rules banning bonuses that exceed fixed salary.

“I think it could change — there is some legislation where compensation is an area where there could be a focus, compensation methods and so forth,” Hoenig said. “The reason there’s a little recalcitrance is it’s so unlike the U.S., where you think of markets and if you’re successful then you get rewarded.”

Regulators on the Financial Stability Board last month proposed that the world’s largest banks hold buffers of loss-absorbing liabilities to be written down in a crisis, forcing losses on to bank creditors rather than relying on government bailouts to avoid economic catastrophe. Final rules on the so-called TLAC measures are due next year.

Restrictions on U.S. banker pay may “catch if the reform doesn’t proceed,” Hoenig said. “Americans intuitively think markets are good if they’re symmetric. If we bring that balance back, they don’t care about the pay so much.”

To contact the reporter on this story: Ben Moshinsky in Amsterdam at bmoshinsky@bloomberg.net

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Patrick Henry at phenry8@bloomberg.net Zoe Schneeweiss

U.S. Regulator Flags Concerns About Growing Auto-Loan Market

 

WASHINGTON — A U.S. financial regulator is growing worried about increasingly risky practices in the auto-lending market, an area of growth for banks.

The Office of the Comptroller of the Currency, in a report released Wednesday, singled out concerns in the “indirect” auto lending market, in which banks buy up loans originated by car dealers. The regulator said it’s concerned about signs of loosening lending standards, including more loans to borrowers with weaker credit.

“These early signs of easing terms and increasing risk are noteworthy,” the banking regulator said.

Associated Press

Banks saw auto lending grow nearly 13% compared with a year earlier in the fourth quarter of last year and the OCC said it’s worried about growing losses in the industry. Average losses per vehicle have “risen substantially in the past two years.”

The average loss on a defaulted auto loan rose to more than $8,500 in the first quarter of this year, compared with $7,400 a year earlier, according to a May report by Experian PLC.EXPGY +0.18%

Auto lending has been a big area of growth for banks as demand for credit cards and other consumer loans has remained tepid.

U.S. Bancorp USB +0.14%, the largest U.S. regional bank by assets, has been “moving more aggressively in auto loans,” Chief Executive Richard Davis said during an investor conference earlier this month.

Wells Fargo WFC +0.21% & Co., the fourth-largest U.S. bank by assets, has expanded its auto-lending business significantly. The San Francisco-based bank’s auto-loan portfolio increased 11.3% in the first quarter to $52.6 billion.

Wells Fargo has improved its credit quality in the auto-lending business in recent years, Thomas Wolfe, executive vice president of consumer credit solutions for the bank, said during an investor presentation in May. “We have moved upstream slightly,” he said, adding that the bank does “a lot more prime financing than we do non-prime or subprime financing.”

Total outstanding U.S. auto loans have risen to $875 billion in the first quarter of 2014, the highest level in more than a decade, according to Federal Reserve Bank of New York data.

Earlier this month, General Motors Financial Co. sold off its largest bond backed by subprime auto loans since 2007, garnering the lowest yields in more than a year compared with an interest rate benchmark.

Bond investors have gravitated to auto loans because delinquencies are low and the bond deals weathered the financial crisis with few rating downgrades, a stark difference from bonds backed by home mortgages.

The auto-lending market faces regulatory inquiries as well, The Justice Department and Consumer Financial Protection Bureau have been investigating whether lenders’ practices have led to discrimination against women and minorities.