Audit Notes: NYT on JPM, The Guardian’s future, Big Lie of the crisis

Jamie Dimon's bank pressured brokers to steer clients into its own funds

The New York Times reports that JPMorgan Chase pressured its brokers to steer its retail clients into its own investment funds—even when they were worse than others on the market.

“I was selling JPMorgan funds that often had weak performance records, and I was doing it for no other reason than to enrich the firm,” said Geoffrey Tomes, who left JPMorgan last year and is now an adviser at Urso Investment Management. “I couldn’t call myself objective.”

JPMorgan, with its army of financial advisers and nearly $160 billion in fund assets, is not the only bank to build an advisory business that caters to mom and pop investors. Morgan Stanley and UBS have redoubled their efforts, drawn by steadier returns than those on trading desks.

But JPMorgan has taken a different tack by focusing on selling funds that it creates. It is a controversial practice, and many companies have backed away from offering their own funds because of the perceived conflicts…

“It said financial adviser on my business card, but that’s not what JPMorgan actually let me be,” said Mathew Goldberg, a former broker who now works at the Manhattan Wealth Management Group. “I had to be a salesman even if what I was selling wasn’t that great.”

And the NYT finds that press favorite Jamie Dimon’s firm inflated its funds’ returns in marketing documents.

Very nice piece by Susanne Craig and Jessica Silver-Greenberg.

— British GQ posts another good feature on Alan Rusbridger and the future of the The Guardian, which along with its Sunday paper, The Observer, lost $67 million in its last fiscal year, which was actually an improvement over the previous two (emphasis mine):

“I think it’s being run a bit recklessly, the Guardian,” says a former Observer journalist. “This perpetual ambition to take on America is another concern. I just think it’s a slow-motion car-crash, that particular venture.” (In 2008, the Guardian hired a dozen staff in Washington and leased office space. Almost all of those people were jobless again after two years. Now, former editor Janine Gibson is leading another team in New York.)…

Crucially, GQ was told by both Rusbridger and commercial director Adam Freeman that there are no revenue targets for the America project - just traffic targets. The advertising revenue, Rusbridger believes, will follow the traffic. “This is purely to build the audience.”

Juan Señor, a partner at Innovation Media Consulting, is critical. “It’s the same old strategy of going for volume when they should be going for value. They’re obsessed with volume. They can’t see past the old digital fable that ‘if you build it, they will come’. It’s almost become a messianic mission.”

He also says he thinks the New York Times paywall, which has just under 500,000 paying subscribers, is “an interesting model, which we wouldn’t rule out. But nor is it our priority at the moment.” In fact, profit, for the Guardian, isn’t a priority at all. According to Adam Freeman, the aim is for the paper division of GMG merely to make an annual loss of £15m in five years’ time. “That’s the sustainable point.”

The Guardian’s website reaches a stunning 60 million readers worldwide. But it brings in just $69 million a year, or about $1.15 per unique visitor. And that’s revenue, not profit.

American Banker’s Jeff Horwitz takes on the Big Lie of the crisis, reporting from the American Enterprise Institute propaganda fest to try to claim that the gubmint, not Wall Street, caused the financial crisis.

This is an actual quote from WSJ op-ed page favorite Peter Wallison: “We still read routinely in the press and hear on television that the financial crisis was caused by Wall Street. It’s stated as a fact as if there really wasn’t any doubt about it.”

And Horwitz picks apart the arguments of Oonagh McDonald, an ex-MP whose book blames Clinton’s housing policy for the crisis:

Yet for someone with such an excellent recollection of history, McDonald appeared to botch some extraordinarily basic elements of GSE securitization in her speech. How did the U.S. housing decline touch off a worldwide financial crisis, for example?
“Well, because Fannie and Freddie, having bought all these loans, packaged them into mortgage-backed securities, retained too many of them in their own portfolio, sold the rest to banks and mortgage banks, who packaged and repackaged them and sold them throughout the world,” she told the AEI gathering.

(Readers of American Banker probably don’t need to have the numerous errors in the sentence above corrected. For one thing, Fannie and Freddie never sold whole loans to banks. More broadly, investors in GSE-guaranteed securities never lost a penny on credit; it was the implosion of private-label MBS - packaged and sold by securities firms, diversified large banks and finance companies like Countrywide - that precipitated the crisis.)

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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: , , , ,