The banking industry is getting personal in its tireless fight against regulation.
Jamie Dimon, chief executive of JPMorgan Chase and the industry's regulation-basher in chief, has called for a sit-down next week between the heads of four of the nation's biggest banks -- JPMorgan, Goldman Sachs, Bank of America and Morgan Stanley -- and Federal Reserve Governor Daniel Tarullo, the Wall Street Journal is reporting.
The purpose of this friendly get-together will be to express the banks' displeasure about financial regulation, particularly a Fed plan to limit the banks' exposure to derivatives tied to the credit of foreign governments and other banks.
According to the WSJ:
bankers will tell regulators that the rule is based on "unrealistic" standards and could foster "potentially destabilizing" market shifts, according to two draft letters reviewed by The Wall Street Journal.
In other words: Nice economy you've got there. Shame if anything should happen to it.
Together the four too-big-to-fail banks attending this meeting had $166.2 trillion in "gross notional" exposure to derivatives and the end of 2011, according to the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency, or about 72 percent of the $230.8 trillion held by all U.S. banks and U.S. subsidiaries of foreign banks.
"Gross notional" exposure is the total face value of all derivatives contracts the banks have entered into. The vast majority of them -- possibly more than 90 percent of the face value, estimates the OCC -- may be offsetting or hedged, so a lot of this is not necessarily money that anybody will ever have to pay. One risk, however, is that during a crisis some of these offsets or hedges may not quite work out, leaving banks -- or, rather, taxpayers -- on the hook.
Demonocracy has put together a mind-blowing visualization of just how huge these derivatives exposures are (even if, again, the total amounts are not quite realistic).
And most of the derivatives exposure at Wednesday's meeting is concentrated in just three banks: JPMorgan -- arguably the most important/dangerous bank in the world and the originator of the whole credit-derivative concept -- along with Bank of America and Goldman Sachs.
Morgan Stanley, which will also attend the meeting, has a relatively small amount of notional derivatives exposure, at $1.72 trillion, according to the OCC.
The WSJ report does not say whether Citigroup will be attending next week's meeting, though it would seem to have a gigantic stake in the outcome. It has the second-biggest exposure to derivatives in the U.S., with $52.1 trillion, after JPMorgan's $70.15 trillion.
The presence of these giant banks at this meeting, with their huge piles of derivatives, ironically highlights the very problem the Fed rule is meant to address: Regulators are concerned that far too much derivatives exposure is concentrated in the hands of just a few banks, who also happen to be exposed to each other.
A pile-up of derivatives exposure in the insurance giant AIG nearly brought that company down during the financial crisis, dragging the whole financial system with it, through the risk of the big banks doing business with it.
Next week's meeting is only one of the most overt of the financial sector's efforts to fight regulations following the financial crisis that it created. As the WSJ points out, the banks have bombarded regulators with comments about the Volcker Rule, which bans them from trading with their own money, until that rule has been rendered incoherent and delayed for at least two years.Meanwhile, the industry has chipped away steadily at derivatives regulation in quieter ways, trying desperately to keep this massive business as far away from regulation and sunlight as possible.