Audit Notes: Jamie’s WaMu Dud, Sloan on Foreclosuregate, Sorkin

Bloomberg Bloomberg Markets takes a long look at the troubles facing JPMorgan Chase, the latest of which is that Jamie Dimon’s bank is under investigation by the SEC in connection with a Magnetar deal.

But how about that Washington Mutual deal:

JPMorgan is now saddled with $74.8 billion in nonperforming home loans inherited from WaMu, a third of the $230.7 billion in mortgages on its books.

That’s almost one-third of its loans. Dang.

And it’s probably a lot worse than that:

There may be more bad news hidden in JPMorgan’s books. The bank set aside $30 billion against bad WaMu loans when it acquired the thrift in 2008. Dimon predicted that number could rise by $24 billion if unemployment hit 8 percent.

Unemployment was 9.6 percent in October, yet JPMorgan had only upped its reserves by an additional $3 billion.

“WaMu was a top-to-bottom subprime lender,” says Paul Miller, a bank analyst at FBR Capital Markets Corp. in Arlington, Virginia. And its branch network outside California is not worth much, he says. “They were very expensive branches, not well placed.”

Fortune’s Allan Sloan has an excellent column that gets at why the foreclosure scandal is so important:

The biggest danger to the U.S. capitalist system doesn’t come from communists or community activists or left-wing academics. It comes from some of the nation’s biggest financial institutions. These companies, which helped create the financial meltdown that touched off the Great Recession, have now found yet another way to undermine the public’s faith in capitalism and markets: the foreclosure fiasco.

Even before the foreclosure problem appeared, the level of public distrust of our financial and political systems was approaching the pathological. It’s going to get even worse when the true lesson of this episode sinks in. To wit: If you screw up big-time when you deal with a giant bank, you’re toast. If the giant bank screws up when it deals with you, it gets a do-over.


But how will the system deal with the big outfits that are found to have filed false information in court? They’ll be attacked, sued, and investigated, and you can bet that at some point their chief executives will be hauled in front of Congress for public show trials by posturing politicians. But in the end, I’m sure, these institutions and their CEOs will get what amounts to a slap on the wrist compared with what would happen to regular people who behaved the way these banks (and possibly other banks) did.

People in this country may be uninformed or misinformed — but they’re not stupid. They’ll catch on to the message soon, if they haven’t already: There’s one deal for average people, but a different, far better deal for the really big and powerful

Read the whole thing.

— Andrew Ross Sorkin raises a good point in his column today: Why are stock-ownership disclosure rules so outdated?

He points out two major recent examples where investors have exploited the old-school rules, which only kick in when one individual or group buys at least 5 percent of a company’s shares: Investor Bill Ackman and real estate group Vornado cobbled together a 27 percent stake in JCPenney before anyone knew, and LVMH Moët Hennessy Louis Vuitton (think they can throw any more luxe names in there?) snapped up 17 percent of Hermès.

Mr. Ackman took advantage of a rule giving investors 10 days to disclose their position after breaking the 5 percent ownership threshold. In his case, once he passed the threshold, he and Vornado sprinted to buy up tens of millions of shares before having to show their hand.

Mr. Arnault’s approach was perhaps more insidious: he used derivatives to build up a stealth position in Hermès starting in 2008 so that he would not have to declare ownership until he was ready to pounce.

Sorkin points out that the ten-days rule was promulgated in the pre-Web era. It’s out of date.

So is the 5 percent floor. In Britain, as Sorkin points out, disclosure is triggered when the 3 percent threshold is reached—and has to be public in 48 hours. But why not go even further and require investors to disclose when they own more than 1 percent of a company—or even less?

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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: , , , ,