Thing One: Regulators Inaction: Feckless U.S. financial-markets regulators are a lot like the referees in professional wrestling: They're only there for show, and to occasionally get hit in the face with a folding metal chair.
Case in point: An absolutely outrageous story in The New York Times about how a key bank regulator, the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency, told Senator Bob Corker (R-Tenn.) that it "hoped the final version of the [Volcker] rule would not interfere" with the sort of trading that ended up losing JPMorgan Chase $2 billion. Corker said JPMorgan's OCC examiner was in fact "adamant" that this sort of thing wouldn't violate the Volcker Rule, according to Reuters. And "other regulators emphasized caution" in responding to JPMorgan's big loss, the NYT writes.
To which you can only respond: What is wrong with these people? JPMorgan's trades, as even the bank has come close to conceding, clearly violated the spirit of the Volcker Rule, even in its current watered-down form, that banks with federally insured deposits should not be gambling with their money. The trades were not risk hedges at all, as some people, including the bank's regulators, still believe. They were speculative bets that would not be permitted under Volcker or in any sane financial system. Speculative bets insured by your tax dollars, dear American reader.
Regulators are captured by the industry -- beyond even the presence of JPMorgan CEO Jamie Dimon and other banking bigwigs on the board of the New York Federal Reserve, a practice The Huffington Post's Peter Goodman suggests needs to end. Regulators do not want to upset the status quo and give banks every benefit of the doubt, despite their long ago proving they're not deserving of it. That's why, 14 years after Brooksley Born, a rare regulator with actual guts, warned of the need for regulating derivatives, they still aren't regulated, leading to JPMorgan's $2 billion blowup, as she told HuffPost's D.M. Levine.
The real problem with the Volcker Rule and Dodd-Frank is that they don't go nearly far enough in reducing the risks these behemoths pose to the economy and giving regulators less room to coddle them. As Joe Nocera writes today in the NYT, banks should be de-risked until they are boring, the way they were for several decades in this country -- decades of financial peace and prosperity.
Thing Two: JPMorgan's Florida Vacation: Meanwhile, down in Tampa, JPMorgan holds its annual shareholders meeting, which will be, how do you say, interesting? A whole mess of shareholders are probably going to vote in favor of a proposal to take the chairmanship of the board away from Dimon, Reuters writes. But the proposal will almost certainly fail, and the bank is backing Dimon all the way, the Wall Street Journal writes -- despite the company having lost some $20 billion in this debacle so far. How much longer the bank's tolerance will last depends partly on how many more stories we see like the one in The New York Times today, about how Dimon himself urged his risk-management office to take bigger risks. Bloomberg has written this story several times already, but it can't be emphasized enough: These losses were not due to simple hedging and risk-management. They were the result of a focus, from the very top of the company, on making more money, risks be damned.
Thing Three: Happy Facebook: People just can't get enough of this Facebook stock, apparently. Its initial public offering, which may start trading on Friday, is in such hot demand that the company has raised the price range for the stock, The New York Times writes. This despite the fact that the company still hasn't quite figured out how to turn its goldmine of user data into more revenue, as the NYT writes elsewhere, and also hasn't quite yet figured out this whole mobile-phone thing, as the Financial Times notes. Details!
Thing Four: Market Meltdown: Oh, and we almost forgot with all of this other stuff is going on -- global financial markets are starting to melt down again! Good times. It's because of Europe again, as usual for the past two years. Greece is on the verge of leaving the euro zone, writes Charles Forelle of the Wall Street Journal, raising the risk of financial contagion to the rest of Europe and the world. Spanish bonds are tumbling to their at worst levels since last fall, et cetera et cetera. You know, the usual. Greek politicians continue to talk today about forming a new government, and European economic data were better than expected. But any market reprieve will likely be temporary.
Thing Five: Federally Subsidized Debt Collector: Nothing starts your day off quite like a good blood-boiling rage, so check out this Bloomberg story: Apparently your tax dollars are helping subsidize debt-collection agencies that hound people to pay their exorbitant student loans. What's truly awesome is that many of the debt collectors are themselves quite wealthy -- one of these people actually makes two times the salary of the U.S. Secretary of Education.
Thing Six: Rebekah Brooks Charged: Rebekah Brooks, former News International CEO and a close friend of both her ex-boss Rupert Murdoch and British Prime Minister David Cameron, was charged today with interfering with the police investigation of the News Corp. phone-hacking scandal. The charges, Reuters writes, could theoretically put her away for life, though such a sentence is unlikely. "The news is a personal blow for the world's most powerful media boss and also embarrassing for British Prime Minister David Cameron, who was close friends with Brooks and sent her text messages of support when the alleged offences took place."
Thing Seven: Coty Says Never Mind On Avon: Coty has dropped its $10.7 billion bid to buy Avon, the Wall Street Journal writes, ending a long drama that briefly involved Warren Buffett. "Fragrance maker Coty said in a letter to Avon's board it was moving on to pursue other opportunities, after Coty said the door-to-door beauty seller didn't explain to Coty why it was taking more time to respond to its proposal."
Thing Seven And One Half: Afghan Flashback: On this day in 1988 the Soviet Union started pulling its troops out of Afghanistan.
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Calendar Du Jour:
8:30 a.m. ET: Retail sales for April
8:30 a.m. ET: Consumer Price Index for April
8:30 a.m. ET: Empire State manufacturing index for May
10:00 a.m. ET: Business Inventories for March
10:00 a.m. ET: NAHB Housing Market Index for May
Before Market Open:
After Market Close:
J. C. Penney
Heard On The Tweets:
@LaMonicaBuzz: If you are long Mr. Dimon's bank, you can be forgiven if you thought ticker stood for Just Punch Me. $JPM down another 2% this morning.
@zerohedge: The only good news if Russia collapses due to a plunge in oil prices: NY real estate becomes affordable again
@EddyElfenbein: The bad news is that Greece hasn't been able to form a new government. On the bright side, Greece hasn't been able to form a new govt. $$
@MacroRecon: "Zuckerberg's hoodie: An investor concern?" No idea how the media missed the housing bubble.
@ReformedBroker: Facebook co-founder Saverin drops US citizenship, will become full-time resident of Farmville. $FB
-- Calendar and tweets rounded up by Khadeeja Safdar.