WASHINGTON — Two former high-ranking executives at JPMorgan Chase faced tough questions from senators Friday about why the bank played down risks and hid losses from regulators when it was losing billions of dollars.
The hearing was held a day after the Senate Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations issued a scathing report that ascribed widespread blame for $6.2 billion in trading losses to key executives at the nation's biggest bank.
Douglas Braunstein, the former chief financial officer, and Ina Drew, the former chief investment officer overseeing trading strategy, were pressed to explain why bank executives gave federal examiners in April information that significantly understated losses for the first quarter of 2012.
"The number I reported (to the regulators) was the number that was given to me," said Drew, who resigned last spring after the losses became public.
Drew blamed the losses on executives under her watch who failed to control risks out of the London office. She said that undermined her oversight and kept her from preventing the losses.
The report also suggested that CEO Jamie Dimon was aware of the losses in April, even while he played them down publicly. And Sen. Carl Levin, the chairman of the panel, implied that Dimon set a precedent at the bank for withholding information.
Dimon acknowledged in May 2012 that the firm had lost $2 billion on risky trades out of its London office. The losses have since been revised to more than $6 billion.
After reading the report and hearing executives testify that they didn't know who was responsible for informing regulators, members of the panel questioned whether the nation's biggest bank had become too large to manage.
The "trading culture at JPMorgan ... piled on risk, hid losses, disregarded risk limits, manipulated risk models, dodged oversight and misinformed the public," Levin said Friday at the hearing.
New York-based JPMorgan acknowledges that it made mistakes but rejects any assertions that it concealed losses or risks.
The bank said in a statement Friday, "We have made regrettable errors and overhauled our risk policies to correct these mistakes, but senior executives always provided information to regulators and the public that they believed to be accurate."
Dimon was not a witness at Friday's hearing.
In April, news reports said a trader in JPMorgan's London office known as "the whale" had taken huge risks that were roiling the markets. Dimon immediately dismissed the reports as a "tempest in a teapot" during a conference call with analysts.
But Dimon acknowledged the losses a month later. And he told a separate Senate committee in June that the bank showed "bad judgment," was "stupid" and "took far too much risk." He also had his compensation last year reduced by 50 percent, as did Braunstein.
After the trading loss came to light, Drew resigned after 30 years with the firm and voluntarily paid back two years of salary.
Drew said Friday that while she doesn't believe she bore personal responsibility for the losses, she decided to step down to make it easier for JPMorgan "to move beyond these issues." Her comments were her first public remarks since leaving the firm.
Braunstein acknowledged that risk models for the trading operation were changed in a way that was improper early last year. The changes made the bank's trading losses appear smaller than they were.
The loss came less than four years after the 2008 financial crisis and hurt the reputation of a bank that had come through the crisis known for taking fewer risks than its competitors. Three employees in the London office were fired – two senior managers and a trader. It also led to Drew's resignation.
The subcommittee report was also critical of the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency, JPMorgan's primary regulator. It said the Treasury agency failed to investigate the trading even when the London operation repeatedly blew through pre-set risk limits and it failed to notice when the unit didn't submit required reports for several months.
The agency acknowledged that there were shortcomings in its oversight of JPMorgan.
"There were red flags that we failed to notice and act upon," Comptroller Thomas Curry testified at Friday's hearing.
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The bank's chief investment office gambled on credit derivatives, <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/07/13/jpmorgan-chase-q02-earnings-2012_n_1670629.html" target="_hplink">losing $5.8 billion</a> (so far), and its trading desk may have tried to hide the losses from the home office. The bank says it is being sued by shareholders over the losses and has gotten subpoenas and requests for information from "Congress, the OCC, Federal Reserve, DOJ, SEC, CFTC, UK Financial Services Authority, the State of Massachusetts and other government agencies, including in Japan, Singapore and Germany."
Milan Swap Deal
The bank has faced <a href="http://www.bloomberg.com/news/2012-07-18/milan-swaps-prosecutor-seeks-ban-on-4-banks-from-government-work.html" target="_hplink">lawsuits and criminal investigations</a> over an interest-rate swap deal it made with the city of Milan, Italy, back in 2005. The bank settled a civil suit, but criminal charges are still pending against the bank and several employees, with hearings in the trial "occurring on a weekly basis since May 2010."
The bank and some of its executives are still being sued over the bank's relationship with the failed, fraud-ridden energy giant, more than a decade after its failure.
Speaking of Enron, the <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/mark-gongloff/jpmorgan-chase-power-market_b_1647131.html" target="_hplink">Federal Energy Regulatory Commission is investigating</a> charges that JPMorgan manipulated power markets in California and the Midwest.
Credit Card Swipe Fees
The bank said in the filing that <a href="http://www.bloomberg.com/news/2012-08-09/jpmorgan-says-credit-card-swipe-case-cost-1-2-billion.html" target="_hplink">it will pay about $1.2 billion</a> to settle charges that it conspired with MasterCard and Visa to rig credit-card swipe fees.
The bank is being investigated by regulators all over the world for its <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/08/09/jpmorgan-chase-libor-subpoenas_n_1760015.html" target="_hplink">alleged involvement in manipulating Libor</a>, a short-term interest rate that affects borrowing costs for people, businesses and governments all over the world.
Madoff Ponzi Scheme
Several lawsuits have accused the bank of aiding and abetting Bernie Madoff's Ponzi scheme, the biggest in history. The Madoff bankruptcy trustee and others have also sued the bank to get back some Madoff clients' money.
The bank is under investigation by regulators for its <a href="http://www.google.com/url?sa=t&rct=j&q=&esrc=s&source=web&cd=1&ved=0CFEQFjAA&url=http%3A%2F%2Fwww.forbes.com%2Fsites%2Fhalahtouryalai%2F2012%2F06%2F04%2Fjpmorgans-other-messy-problem-mf-globals-missing-money%2F&ei=Ui0lUNP7Eqe96QHP94CABA&usg=AFQjCNEJVDksnFTh3KP1uS3u73bLgoSfZQ" target="_hplink">relationship with the failed brokerage firm MF Global</a>. It is also being sued for allegedly aiding and abetting MF Global misuse of customer money.
Mortgage Backed Securities
The bank is being sued by hordes of investors for its bundling and selling of mortgage-backed securities packed with bad mortgage debt before the financial crisis. "There are currently pending and tolled investor claims involving approximately $130 billion of such securities," the bank says.
The bank was part of the big <a href="http://nationalmortgagesettlement.com/" target="_hplink">$25 billion settlement</a> with the government over mortgage-foreclosure abuses. But there are still several lawsuits and regulatory actions pending against the bank over its foreclosure practices.
The bank didn't mention this in its regulatory filing, but it is also involved in the failure of the Iowa brokerage firm Peregrine Financial. JPMorgan <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/07/12/pfg-customer-account-jpmorgan-chase_n_1668386.html" target="_hplink">holds some customer money for the firm</a>, and recently <a href="http://www.foxbusiness.com/news/2012/08/06/jp-morgan-objects-to-terms-proposed-by-peregrine-trustee/" target="_hplink">tussled in court</a> with the PFG bankruptcy trustee.