Audit Notes: Warren v. Dimon, Fudging the Books, REACTionaries

Time’s Stephen Gandel has a great post on why he can’t find anyone to debate Elizabeth Warren on the proposed Consumer Financial Protection Agency: She’ll crush them.

This is also the woman that makes Jamie Dimon, the head of the largest bank in America, shake with fear at night. How do I know this? Because I called and asked. I tried to set up a debate on the topic between Elizabeth Warren and Jamie Dimon. My pitch was if you feel strongly about the topic just defend it in the pages of TIME magazine, and your side of the argument will be better for it. My proposal was that Jamie Dimon and Elizabeth Warren should go on a foreclosure bus tour together. Take a look at the damage that has been done by option ARM loans and 2/28 hybrids and then make the case why the proposed Consumer Financial Protection Agency would or would not have stopped the problems that led to the financial crisis.

Warren said yes. Dimon said no. To be fair to Dimon, I can’t find anyone of any stature (Bank CEO or otherwise) willing to debate Warren on the issue. Ed Yingling of the American Bankers Association won’t stand up for the banks on the topic. Even Chamber of Commerce’s Tom Donohue, whose organization runs a website dedicated to trying to stop the CFPA, is too much of wimp to debate Warren in person. What’s more, I realize that the setting of a foreclosure bus tour (where you look at houses that have been lost to banks by borrowers) might put him on the defensive, but I said I and Warren were flexible with the location. He could name his home court. Even so, Dimon said no. The PR person who was the go between said Dimon and his team decided arguing against consumer protection in the banking industry would make the CEO look bad. So I should understand why he would have to say no.

Yes, I totally understand. There’s no good argument against Warren’s proposed CFPA, so no one can make it. Mortgages and credit cards are confusing stuff and easy to be gamed by the bankers. Consumers need a watchdog. Our economy needs a watchdog. The financial crisis has shown that.


The New York Times has a good piece on window dressing today. And no, it’s not in T or the Home section or whatever.

This is a strong lede:

It’s an open secret on Wall Street that many big banks routinely — and legally — fudge their quarterly books.

A quote on how it’s done:

“Do financial institutions window-dress? Yes,” said Brad Hintz, an analyst with Sanford C. Bernstein & Company, who was Lehman’s chief financial officer in the 1990s. “You have close client relationships that you deal with to bring your balance sheet up and down. Absolutely. That’s part of the process.” This wizardry is typically carried out in a variety of ways on a bank’s trading floor.

In what is known as “netting,” for instance, banks that swap similar shares with each other, or their clients, can avoid recording those assets on their financial statements.

And check this out:

The Jefferies Group, a midsize investment bank, has gone so far as to shift the timing of its own financial reports this year so that, for a price, it can open its balance sheet to other banks looking to massage their numbers, industry analysts said.

I don’t quite understand why it’s not fraud to do these things. If the sole intent here is to deceive shareholders, how isn’t that illegal? Help me out here, accounting types.

The Los Angeles Times looks at the so-called REACT team, the cops who broke down Gizmodo journalist Jason Chen’s door recently in an attempt to find information on the site’s iPhone story.

“It’s the iPolice,” said Steve Meister, a former Los Angeles County deputy district attorney. “This whole thing appears, rightly or wrongly, to be law enforcement doing the bidding of a private company”…

But the recent raid has renewed worries about the close ties between the industry and specialized enforcement units such as REACT. One concern is that Apple and other high-profile tech companies, because of the economic benefits they bring to the state and their close relations with REACT, get a higher level of service and attention than other businesses and individuals.

Apple has worked with REACT in the past, the LAT reports, and it surely did here, too. In fact, it sits on REACT’s steering committee.

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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.