JPMorgan’s Dimon Says Violent Moves in Treasuries Are Possible – Bloomberg Business

Jamie Dimon, chairman and chief executive officer of JPMorgan Chase CEO says the Treasury market is one thing he worries about

Comments aren’t a prediction, just a possibility, Dimon says

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Jamie Dimon, JPMorgan Chase & Co.’s chief executive officer, said the bank will be prepared for the possibility that Treasury prices move violently when interest rates rise.
“The one thing I do worry a little bit about, by the way, is Treasuries,” Dimon said Friday at a conference in New York sponsored by Barclays Plc. “Interest rates have been so low, for so long,” he said, adding that some traders and their managers have never experienced a rising interest-rate environment.
The U.S. banking system is much safer now because of higher capital and business diversification, said Dimon, 59, responding to a question about whether the next U.S. credit downturn would come from banks or non-banks. In April, he called volatility in the Treasury market in late 2014 a “warning shot” to investors.
“So I wouldn’t be shocked to see 10-year Treasuries, when rates are going up, people change their mind, they change direction, that they will be violently volatile and go up much faster than people think,” Dimon said. “I’m not predicting that. I’m simply saying in the back of my mind, I think that’s a possibility.”
His comments followed the biggest single-day rally in six years for two-year Treasuries. After the Federal Reserve announced Thursday it would keep interest rates near zero, yields on the policy-sensitive note dropped by 13 basis points, the steepest decline since the central bank announced it would expand its bond-buying program in March 2009. The rate on 10-year notes fell 10 basis points to 2.19 percent.
JPMorgan has “about the same” third-quarter trading-revenue trends as other banks that have disclosed expectations at the conference, Dimon said. Executives from Bank of America Corp. and Citigroup Inc. have said they probably will report a 5 percent drop in third-quarter trading revenue.
“September is still to go, so who knows,” Dimon said. “I think people are massively over-focused on those numbers.”
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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.”

Will Wildcatter’s ‘Naked’ Gamble on Oil Prices Pay Off? Continental Resources CEO Hamm Sells Hedges, Betting on Quick Rebound in Crude

By ERIN AILWORTH, GREGORY ZUCKERMAN and DANIEL GILBERT WSJ
Dec. 9, 2014 12:35 p.m. ET

Harold Hamm ’s willingness to make risky bets helped him build Continental Resources Inc. into the one of the biggest oil producers in North Dakota’s Bakken Shale and a symbol of the U.S. energy boom. But his latest gamble—a quick rebound in crude prices—is rubbing some investors and analysts the wrong way.

Mr. Hamm, who founded Continental and owns 68% of its shares, announced in early November that the company had cashed in almost all of its financial hedges that guaranteed it could sell millions of barrels of oil for about $100 apiece. The company said it had realized $433 million in cash from selling the hedges, some of which ran through 2016.

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“We feel like we’re at the bottom rung here on prices and we’ll see them recover pretty drastically, pretty quick,” Mr. Hamm said on a Nov. 5 call with analysts. He said the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries was pushing down oil prices to slow America’s expanding energy output.

Now, removing the hedges, known in the industry as “going naked,” looks misguided even to some of the company’s fans, after the recent tumble for oil prices. The benchmark price for U.S. oil has continued to slide, falling from $81 in late October to $63.82 on Tuesday.

If Continental had kept the contracts that insured it against lower crude prices, it could have reaped $52 million more for its oil in November, according to a Wall Street Journal review of company disclosures. And it might have received $75 million more this month, assuming current conditions continue.

The Journal’s calculation of about $127 million in forgone revenue is similar to projections by several Wall Street analysts, and those projections would continue to rise in the coming months if oil prices remain below $96 a barrel.

ENLARGE
The company said it disagreed with the Journal’s figures but wouldn’t provide its own, except to say that after figuring in revenue it received for selling its hedges, it expects the “net negative effect” to be $25 million to $30 million in November and December. It sold nearly $1.2 billion of oil and gas in the third quarter and reported net income of $533 million.

“It was a bad move with terrible timing,” said Gregg Jacobson, a portfolio manager at Caymus Capital Partners LP, a $200 million Houston hedge fund manager that had about 4.5% of its portfolio in Continental shares as of the end of the third quarter. Though he thinks the hedging sale will prompt some investors to view the company as unusually risky, Mr. Jacobson said he remains a supporter because of its executives’ skill in finding and drilling for oil.

“In the long run, the stock will respond to how they perform in the field,” he said.

While shares of many U.S. energy producers have had double-digit percentage declines since oil prices began falling in late June, Continental’s stock has been hammered. Its shares, which closed up 7.2% at $36.18 on Tuesday, have fallen by more than half since the end of August, and more than 25% since Mr. Hamm disclosed on Nov. 5 that the company had sold the hedges.

Mr. Hamm said in an interview that he still believes his bet could pay off but that it might take as many as two years to tell. “You can’t condemn that as a bad decision,” he said. “You haven’t seen it play out.”

Companies like Continental can react quickly to market changes, he said, which gives them an advantage over OPEC’s members. The cartel is discounting “the resiliency of U.S. producers,” he said, adding that investors “need to look at Continental long-term.”

A wildcatter—he has called himself an “explorationist”—Mr. Hamm started the company that would become Continental in 1967 and first struck oil in 1971 in Oklahoma. More than two decades ago, he began focusing on exploring the then-little-known Williston Basin, which stretches from South Dakota to the Canadian province of Saskatchewan. Over time, his company became a leader in the Bakken formation in North Dakota, which has become one of the biggest oil fields in the U.S.

Continental produced nearly 35 million barrels of oil last year, almost four times what it was producing five years earlier. That growth has helped push U.S. oil output to more than 9 million barrels of crude a day, up from 5 million in 2008.

Though Continental has become a leader of the U.S. energy boom, it is unusual. Institutional and activist investors have curbed some of the risk-taking of wildcatters at other energy outfits, and few companies of Continental’s size remain controlled by their founders.

Continental said it had 5.2 million barrels insured in November and December at an average price of about $100.

When oil prices are falling, hedges—contracts that many energy companies buy to protect against declining prices by guaranteeing a minimum price for the oil and gas they produce—become much more valuable. Continental notes that several of its competitors aren’t hedged, including Apache Corp. , which has no hedges on the books in 2015. Apache said it does have some production insured through the end of this year.

Mr. Hamm isn’t the first energy executive to abandon hedges. Under the leadership of former CEO Aubrey McClendon , Chesapeake Energy Corp. dropped its natural-gas hedges in 2011, leaving it exposed to a dismal gas market and dealing with a cash crunch the following year.

‘It was a bad move with terrible timing… In the long run, the stock will respond to how they perform in the field’
—Gregg Jacobson, a portfolio manager at Caymus Capital Partners
Continental isn’t likely to face a liquidity crisis—its debt is smaller than many of its competitors at about 1.7 times its cash flow, according to S&P Capital IQ. And the company has $1.75 billion in unused credit, recent financial filings show.

“They’ve built such a good balance sheet, they have the luxury of making this gamble,” said Jason Wangler, an analyst for Wunderlich Securities, who called the move a speculative bet. “They left money on the table in the short term.”

Mr. Hamm, he said, is “the guy you’re investing in, as much as the company.”

Since selling Continental’s hedges, Mr. Hamm has lost about $4.4 billion of his personal fortune as Continental’s shares have fallen—a loss that could be compounded by Mr. Hamm’s divorce. A judge recently awarded the former Mrs. Hamm, Sue Ann Arnall, a nearly $1 billion settlement; she appealed that decision on Friday. Mr. Hamm now owns about $9.2 billion of company stock.

Some investors say Continental’s primary acreage in the Bakken and elsewhere renders the hedging decision less important in the long-term.

“Cash flow next year will be lower and more volatile, assuming prices stay under pressure,” said Joe Chin, an analyst at Obermeyer Wood Investment Counsel LLLP, an Aspen, Colo., firm that owned 340,000 Continental shares at the end of the third quarter. “But we remain confident about management’s ability to deploy capital.”

Write to Erin Ailworth at Erin.Ailworth@wsj.com, Gregory Zuckerman at gregory.zuckerman@wsj.com and Daniel Gilbert at daniel.gilbert@wsj.com

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

5 U.S. Banks Each Have More Than 40 Trillion Dollars In Exposure To Derivatives

5 U.S. Banks Each Have More Than 40 Trillion Dollars In Exposure To Derivatives
SEPTEMBER 25, 2014 AT 9:11 PM
Zero Hedge / Tyler Durden
Submitted by Michael Snyder of The Economic Collapse blog,

When is the U.S. banking system going to crash? I can sum it up in three words. Watch the derivatives. It used to be only four, but now there are five “too big to fail” banks in the United States that each have more than 40 trillion dollars in exposure to derivatives. Today, the U.S. national debt is sitting at a grand total of about 17.7 trillion dollars, so when we are talking about 40 trillion dollars we are talking about an amount of money that is almost unimaginable. And unlike stocks and bonds, these derivatives do not represent “investments” in anything. They can be incredibly complex, but essentially they are just paper wagers about what will happen in the future. The truth is that derivatives trading is not too different from betting on baseball or football games. Trading in derivatives is basically just a form of legalized gambling, and the “too big to fail” banks have transformed Wall Street into the largest casino in the history of the planet. When this derivatives bubble bursts (and as surely as I am writing this it will), the pain that it will cause the global economy will be greater than words can describe.

If derivatives trading is so risky, then why do our big banks do it?

The answer to that question comes down to just one thing.

Greed.

The “too big to fail” banks run up enormous profits from their derivatives trading. According to the New York Times, U.S. banks “have nearly $280 trillion of derivatives on their books” even though the financial crisis of 2008 demonstrated how dangerous they could be…

American banks have nearly $280 trillion of derivatives on their books, and they earn some of their biggest profits from trading in them. But the 2008 crisis revealed how flaws in the market had allowed for dangerous buildups of risk at large Wall Street firms and worsened the run on the banking system.

The big banks have sophisticated computer models which are supposed to keep the system stable and help them manage these risks.

But all computer models are based on assumptions.

And all of those assumptions were originally made by flesh and blood people.

When a “black swan event” comes along such as a war, a major pandemic, an apocalyptic natural disaster or a collapse of a very large financial institution, these models can often break down very rapidly.

For example, the following is a brief excerpt from a Forbes article that describes what happened to the derivatives market when Lehman Brothers collapsed back in 2008…

Fast forward to the financial meltdown of 2008 and what do we see? America again was celebrating. The economy was booming. Everyone seemed to be getting wealthier, even though the warning signs were everywhere: too much borrowing, foolish investments, greedy banks, regulators asleep at the wheel, politicians eager to promote home-ownership for those who couldn’t afford it, and distinguished analysts openly predicting this could only end badly. And then, when Lehman Bros fell, the financial system froze and world economy almost collapsed. Why?

The root cause wasn’t just the reckless lending and the excessive risk taking. The problem at the core was a lack of transparency. After Lehman’s collapse, no one could understand any particular bank’s risks from derivative trading and so no bank wanted to lend to or trade with any other bank. Because all the big banks’ had been involved to an unknown degree in risky derivative trading, no one could tell whether any particular financial institution might suddenly implode.

After the last financial crisis, we were promised that this would be fixed.

But instead the problem has become much larger.

When the housing bubble burst back in 2007, the total notional value of derivatives contracts around the world had risen to about 500 trillion dollars.

According to the Bank for International Settlements, today the total notional value of derivatives contracts around the world has ballooned to a staggering 710 trillion dollars ($710,000,000,000,000).

And of course the heart of this derivatives bubble can be found on Wall Street.

What I am about to share with you is very troubling information.

I have shared similar numbers in the past, but for this article I went and got the very latest numbers from the OCC’s most recent quarterly report. As I mentioned above, there are now five “too big to fail” banks that each have more than 40 trillion dollars in exposure to derivatives…

JPMorgan Chase

Total Assets: $2,476,986,000,000 (about 2.5 trillion dollars)

Total Exposure To Derivatives: $67,951,190,000,000 (more than 67 trillion dollars)

Citibank

Total Assets: $1,894,736,000,000 (almost 1.9 trillion dollars)

Total Exposure To Derivatives: $59,944,502,000,000 (nearly 60 trillion dollars)

Goldman Sachs

Total Assets: $915,705,000,000 (less than a trillion dollars)

Total Exposure To Derivatives: $54,564,516,000,000 (more than 54 trillion dollars)

Bank Of America

Total Assets: $2,152,533,000,000 (a bit more than 2.1 trillion dollars)

Total Exposure To Derivatives: $54,457,605,000,000 (more than 54 trillion dollars)

Morgan Stanley

Total Assets: $831,381,000,000 (less than a trillion dollars)

Total Exposure To Derivatives: $44,946,153,000,000 (more than 44 trillion dollars)

And it isn’t just U.S. banks that are engaged in this type of behavior.

As Zero Hedge recently detailed, German banking giant Deutsche Bank has more exposure to derivatives than any of the American banks listed above…

Deutsche has a total derivative exposure that amounts to €55 trillion or just about $75 trillion. That’s a trillion with a T, and is about 100 times greater than the €522 billion in deposits the bank has. It is also 5x greater than the GDP of Europe and more or less the same as the GDP of… the world.

For those looking forward to the day when these mammoth banks will collapse, you need to keep in mind that when they do go down the entire system is going to utterly fall apart.

At this point our economic system is so completely dependent on these banks that there is no way that it can function without them.

It is like a patient with an extremely advanced case of cancer.

Doctors can try to kill the cancer, but it is almost inevitable that the patient will die in the process.

The same thing could be said about our relationship with the “too big to fail” banks. If they fail, so do the rest of us.

We were told that something would be done about the “too big to fail” problem after the last crisis, but it never happened.

In fact, as I have written about previously, the “too big to fail” banks have collectively gotten 37 percent larger since the last recession.

At this point, the five largest banks in the country account for 42 percent of all loans in the United States, and the six largest banks control 67 percent of all banking assets.

If those banks were to disappear tomorrow, we would not have much of an economy left.

But as you have just read about in this article, they are being more reckless than ever before.

We are steamrolling toward the greatest financial disaster in world history, and nobody is doing much of anything to stop it.

Things could have turned out very differently, but now we will reap the consequences for the very foolish decisions that we have made.

After Crisis, Risk Officers Gain More Clout at Banks U.S. Banking Industry Bends to Pressure to Make Operations Safer and Simpler

 

ByJAMES STERNGOLD WSJ

June 25, 2014 10:38 p.m. ET

At Wells Fargo WFC +0.21%& Co., some executives pushed last year to relaunch a program letting homeowners get a line of credit secured by the equity in their house—and pay only the interest due on the loan. Such credit lines have been scarce since the financial crisis, but the executives saw them as a way to boost revenue as housing prices climb.

The bank’s chief risk officer, Michael Loughlin, said no. He proposed requiring regular payments that shrink the borrower’s debt over time and didn’t budge when told Wells Fargo might lose business to other lenders. The other bankers agreed to go along with his decision.

“Five years ago, if the risk group recommended against a strategy or product, it might just be one part of a debate,” he says. Now, “when we say no, it’s usually no.”

Mr. Loughlin is an example of the naysayers who are gaining power and multiplying in number across the U.S. banking industry as financial institutions bend to pressure from regulators to make their operations safer and simpler following the financial crisis that began in 2008.

The ultimate goal is to reduce the likelihood of another round of catastrophic losses that could shake the financial system. In a report released Wednesday, the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency warned that “credit risk is now building after a period of improving credit quality and problem loan cleanup.”

Wells Fargo now has 2,300 employees in its core risk-management department, up from 1,700 two years ago, and the department’s annual budget has doubled to $500 million in the same period. The company’s overall workforce has remained flat.

In February, Goldman Sachs Group Inc. GS +0.09% put its chief risk officer on the company’s management committee for the first time in Goldman’s 145-year history. The 34-person group oversees the entire firm and is traditionally dominated by executives who made their name as traders or investment bankers.

Regulators say they don’t track the total number of risk-management or risk-control employees at the nation’s roughly 6,700 banks, though officials believe that big and small institutions everywhere are turning jobs long seen as ho-hum into front-line commanders.

Senior risk officers earn as much as 40% more than they did a few years ago, says the OCC, a federal agency that regulates units of Bank of America Corp. BAC -0.13%, Citigroup Inc., C +0.02%J.P. Morgan Chase & Co. and about 1,700 smaller institutions.

The number of people who passed a risk-management exam often required for jobs in the field nearly tripled in the four years that ended last year compared with 2004 to 2007, according to the Global Association of Risk Professionals.

“These are the basic regulations and the norms now,” says Thomas Curry, head of the OCC.

The changes are hugely expensive amid sluggish loan growth and a steep decline in trading revenue. But banks have no choice. The OCC and Federal Reserve are using leverage they got through the Dodd-Frank financial-overhaul law and other postcrisis changes to restrain risk-taking.

Under rules issued in February, the biggest U.S. bank-holding companies are required to have a chief risk officer and a risk committee on the company’s board of directors. The chief risk officer must get direct access to the board committee and chief executive to make sure the risk officer’s opinions aren’t watered down or whitewashed. The companies have until 2016 to comply, but most have already made the changes.

In addition, large banks are being prodded to produce detailed statements specifying how much risk—and what kinds—the banks are willing to take to meet financial goals. Risk officers are being urged to investigate large losses and question bankers who make unusually big profits. Either one could be a sign of risk-taking run amok, regulators say.

“We look for patterns of behavior that reinforce a strong or weak risk-management culture both within and across lines of business,” says Martin Pfinsgraff, who is in charge of large-bank examinations at the OCC.

To keep a closer eye on banks, the Federal Reserve Bank of New York says it has about 45 examiners, about twice the precrisis level, who just assess risk management at each bank-holding company overseen by the regulator. Those companies include Goldman and Morgan Stanley. MS +0.62%

Regional bank KeyCorp, KEY +0.92%based in Cleveland, has rewritten its compensation guidelines so that loan officers can lose a chunk of their bonus if they fall short of new risk-management standards. Before the financial crisis, bonuses were determined largely by profit goals.

“Before, you threw something over the wall, and the risk managers said yes or no,” says William Hartmann, KeyCorp’s chief risk officer. “Now we’re more involved in the development of the strategy or the plan.”

Partly as a result, KeyCorp has sharply reduced its loan commitments for construction and real-estate development. Bankers there also work harder to judge the overall riskiness of a borrower, instead of one project at a time.

It is too soon to tell if any of the changes will make a difference in the long run. Regulators say banks still have a long way to go before complying fully with the toughened standards, known as “heightened expectations.”

Last year, none of the 21 largest banks subject to the requirements were deemed “strong” overall by the OCC in all categories. The number climbed to two earlier this year.

Another big challenge is the slippery nature of risk itself. Before the financial crisis, for example, many lenders believed they had properly weighed the dangers of subprime mortgages—and had set aside a financial cushion of reserves that was big enough to absorb losses on the loans. Those predictions were disastrously wrong.

“Our abilities to measure market risk are akin to where medicine was in the 1700s,” says Damian Handzy, chairman and chief executive of Investor Analytics, a New York firm that operates risk-control systems. “Everyone is honestly trying to get better at this, but we’re still in the laboratory. The old systems do not address systemic risk at all. Traditional banking tools are just not designed for that.”

Jeffrey Wallis, president of SunGard Consulting Services, a unit of SunGard Data Systems Inc. that sells risk-management software and systems to banks, says financial firms are “still developing the right technology, the processes and the right people to do this.”

“At the individual bank level, I think we’re safer,” Mr. Wallis adds. “I don’t know that on the macro level we really have a better handle on things. A lot of the risks that could hurt us are still not fully understood, or we don’t know how to detect them.”

Other bank-industry veterans are more optimistic. Donald Lamson, a partner at law firm Shearman & Sterling LLP who worked for 30 years at the OCC, predicts that the rise of risk managers “will change the world for banks because now they have to speak this language, they have to go through this process.” Under the new rules, “the point is you cannot have a system where an intermediary manager can block a recommendation by the risk manager.”

By some measurements, the banking industry has become less vulnerable. At the end of 2013, five of the largest bank-holding companies by assets had $792.83 billion in combined equity capital, a buffer against possible losses. The total is up 19% from $666.91 million in 2009, according to the OCC.

The same companies’ combined value at risk, an estimate of a securities firm’s exposure to losses in any given trading day, fell 64% to $381 million from $1.05 billion during the same period.

Part of the shift reflects regulatory cudgels like the Volcker rule, part of Dodd-Frank that curbs banks’ ability to bet with their own capital and led to an exodus of swing-for-the-fences traders. The 30 largest institutions also must pass annual “stress tests” by the Federal Reserve to raise dividends and buy back shares. Inside those companies, chief risk officers help lead the grueling, anxious process.

For decades, risk managers spent most of their time worrying about types of trouble seen as relatively easy to measure, such as vulnerability to interest-rate changes, stock-market swings or loan losses. Ambitious young executives often saw the risk-management department as a dead end.

At many banks, the number of employees responsible for steering clear of bad surprises is now climbing by more than 15% a year, recruiters say. “This is a real career path now, something people want to get into, not something they fall into,” says Jeanne Branthover, a financial-industry recruiter at Boyden Global Executive Search in New York.

Near the top of the corporate ladder, chief risk officers can earn roughly as much as a chief financial officer or general counsel. Before the financial crisis, chief risk officers got about one-third less, according to Ms. Branthover.

Federal regulators are tracking the pay figures as a gauge of how serious banks are about improving risk oversight. “Pay is how we can ensure these are people of stature and they’re competent,” says Mr. Curry, the OCC chief.

At Goldman, Chief Risk Officer Craig Broderick’s ascent to the management committee in February signaled the growing importance of the New York securities firm’s risk police since it became a bank-holding company during the crisis.

Officials won’t say how many employees work in risk management or compliance, but managers in that unit are known throughout Goldman as the “Federation,” a nod to the benevolent forces in “Star Trek” responsible for protecting members from intergalactic marauders.

The nickname was around before the crisis but seldom used outside the group. “If anyone ever wondered how important the Federation is to the firm, they don’t have to wonder anymore,” Lloyd Blankfein, Goldman’s chairman and chief executive, wrote in an email to The Wall Street Journal.

Mr. Broderick, a 55-year-old former assistant scoutmaster of his son’s troop, says his duties have grown far beyond quantitative risk management. They also include areas such as assessing and controlling exposure from Goldman’s digital infrastructure, derivatives-clearing operation, litigation and malfeasance by traders and other employees.

“People sometimes talk about building an airplane while it’s flying,” Mr. Broderick says. “To me, it feels like we’re turning a two-engine plane into a four-engine plane in flight.”

Wells Fargo’s Mr. Loughlin, 58, has had his office near John Stumpf, the fourth-largest U.S. bank’s chairman, president and CEO, since before the financial crisis. But Mr. Loughlin has gained even more authority.

After being promoted to chief risk officer in 2010, his duties expanded to include oversight of market-related risks and potential dangers that could hurt the entire company. “I’m afraid I brought the mood of the party down somewhat,” Mr. Loughlin told investors at a meeting in May. “That is my job.”

He also knows how to say yes. In February, Mr. Loughlin agreed to lower the minimum credit score for certain mortgages eligible for backing by the Federal Housing Administration, which helps first-time and low-income families buy homes. Wells Fargo said it would make loans to borrowers with credit scores as low as 600, down from its previous limit of 640. Borrowers with scores below 620 have traditionally been considered subprime.

Mr. Loughlin says the move doesn’t expose Wells Fargo to greater risk because the bank requires ample documentation of an applicant’s income and carefully scrutinizes the ability to make loan payments.

Write to James Sterngold at james.sterngold@wsj.com

 

 

Most Banks Would Fail Real Stress Tests

From Bloomberg, Mar 19, 2014, 11:54:55 AM
This week, the Federal Reserve will present the results of stress tests designed to ensure that the largest U.S. banks won’t turn the next financial crisis into an economic disaster. There’s just one problem: If the tests were realistic, most of the banks would fail.

To read the entire article, go to http://bv.ms/1kIpdZm
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