Audit Notes: Euro dissolution risk, Reuters tailed, Exxon and the press

Simon Johnson, who has warned loudly for years about the critical danger posed by too-big-to-fail banks, as well as their chokehold on the government and the economy, writes at Bloomberg View that the U.S. financial system isn’t prepared to withstand a breakup of the euro:

Very few people seem to have gotten their heads around dissolution risk. Here’s what it means: If you have a contract that requires you to be paid in euros and the euro no longer exists, what you will receive is unclear.

Johnson also has some interesting numbers on JPMorgan Chase, which he notes recently said itself that a $50 billion loss could sink it:

According to my calculations with John Parsons, a senior lecturer at MIT and a derivatives expert, JPMorgan’s balance sheet using the European method isn’t $2.3 trillion but closer to $4 trillion. That would make it the largest bank in the world.

What are the odds that JPMorgan would lose no more than $50 billion on assets of $4 trillion, much of which is complex derivatives, in a euro-area breakup, an event that would easily be the biggest financial crisis in world history?

Reuters reports that a private security firm in Athens has been following its reporter Stephen Grey, who has written major investigative pieces on corruption in Greek banks:

The man who tailed Grey at the hotel also said his firm was involved in taking photographs of Grey, Telloglou and Nikolas Leontopoulos - a freelance journalist working for Reuters on the investigation into banks - when they had previously met at a private hospital.

“You have no idea how much we’ve been doing,” the man told Telloglou. The photographs from the hospital were passed to Greek blogs.

It’s unknown who commissioned the tails, but this is worth noting:

Piraeus, one of Greece’s biggest banks, has filed a lawsuit against Reuters, claiming 50 million euros ($62 million) in damages after Reuters published a report about a series of property deals between the bank and companies run by the family of its executive chairman.

That excellent report is here.

— Steve LeVine reports that Exxon Mobil CEO Rex Tillerson admits that carbon emissions are “going to have an impact.”

But rather than, say, advising us to use less of his product, Tillerson says we’ll just have to deal with higher sea levels. Oh, also: Journalists are lazy:

The impacts “do require us to begin to exert — or spend more policy effort on adaptation: What do you want to do if we think the future has a sea level rising 4 inches, 6 inches? Where are the impacted areas, and what do you want to do to adapt to that?” Tillerson said. “And as human beings, as a species, that’s why we’re all still here. We have spent our entire existence adapting, OK? So we will adapt to this. Changes to weather patterns that move crop production areas around — we’ll adapt to that. It’s an engineering problem, and it has engineering solutions. And so I don’t — the fear factor that people want to throw out there to say, ‘We just have to stop this,’ I do not accept”…

The media by and large fall down at the job of separating truth from fiction, Tillerson said, presenting a business risk to Exxon Mobil, since public perceptions affect its ability to do business. “For whatever reason, a large number of people in the journalism profession simply are unwilling to do their work. They’re unwilling to do the homework,” he said. “And so they get something delivered to them from the manufacturers of fear. It makes a great story.”

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Ryan Chittum is a former Wall Street Journal reporter, and deputy editor of The Audit, CJR's business section. If you see notable business journalism, give him a heads-up at Follow him on Twitter at @ryanchittum. Tags: , , , ,