Audit Notes: JPMorgan and FERC, no NYT dividend, SEC filings

LAT's Hiltzik hits yet another Wall Street wrist-slap

Michael Hiltzik slams the Federal Electric Regulatory Commission for letting JPMorgan Chase off the hook with a $410 million fine, no admission of guilt, and no individual prosecutions:

Of the $410 million, $125 million represents the disgorgement of illicit profits from Morgan’s scheme — money the bank wouldn’t have collected at all if it operated within the law. (The sum is supposed to be returned to ratepayers.) So that doesn’t count. The real punishment is the balance of $285 million. How badly will that hurt JPMorgan Chase? Well, the big bank collected $97 billion in net revenue last year, so it represents a little more than a single day of intake.

Ask yourself: If you could steal $125 million, with the only downside being that if you got caught you might have to give the money back and lose a single day’s income, would you give it a go? Me too.

What’s worse is that even though FERC identified four JPMorgan employees as the perpetrators of the manipulation — Andrew Kittell and John Bartholomew of the bank’s Houston-based Principal Investments unit, their supervisor Francis Dunleavy, and his supervisor Blythe Masters, Morgan’s commodities mastermind — there’s no indication that these individuals will suffer any consequences for this rip-off.

Those four JPM employees responsible for the fraud? They’re still employed by Jamie Dimon. Read Hiltzik, as well, for the details on what exactly these folks were up to.

— The FT’s Lex column does its level best to sound like a short-term-thinking Wall Street analyst, telling The New York Times Company to start paying a dividend:

NY Times Co’s management could signal its confidence in the sustainability of the business by paying a dividend. The company generated enough free cash flow last year - $44m - to pay a dividend that would give the stock, at its current price, a 2.5 per cent yield.

Paying a dividend would be the absolute stupidest thing the Times could do right now—much less using all its free cash flow to fund one. The company needs to pay down debt and invest in growing its business. It is not out of the woods yet. Squandering its cash to prop up its short-term share price would threaten its existence should another downturn hit.

— Very few reporters know how to read securities filings. Believe it or not, not that many business reporters know how to, either.

What little I know I learned from being thrown in the fire at The Wall Street Journal at 24 with no instruction and no copy of SEC Filings for Dummies.

Fortunately for you, my former WSJ colleague Theo Francis, who knows this stuff backward and forward, has written a primer for the Reynolds Center on how to read the quarterly reports filed with the SEC.

Take a look.

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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: , , , ,