Jamie Dimon, famous lover of giant banks, doubled down on that love today, at least in word. But in deed he may be building an escape pod, just in case the whole too-big-to-fail thing doesn't work out.
Dimon's bank, the largest in America with nearly $2.3 trillion in assets, announced a reshuffling of its organizational chart today, which should interest almost no one alive. But the Wall Street Journal sees what Jamie did there: He took what was once six different business lines and lumped them into three.
One line focuses on old-timey retail banking stuff, toasters and checking accounts and such. Another focuses on investment-bank stuff, like selling bonds and buying credit default swaps. A third focuses on just stone-cold managing other people's money.
What this seems to be doing, the WSJ notes, is drawing a much thicker line between investment banking and consumer banking. Which is the sort of thing you would do if you were getting ready to split the bank into two things -- a JPMorgan investment bank and a Chase consumer bank.
Some see this move as knitting the bank even more tightly together, partly because it crams all corporate banking together in one place. But I think the WSJ has the right idea on this one: If JPMorgan Chase ever does decide to split up, peeling off a consumer-y Chase from an investment-bank-y JPMorgan makes the most sense.
It would in a sense be turning the clock back to the days of Glass-Steagall, when commercial and investment banking were split by law. That Depression-era law was repealed, thanks to the vigorous efforts of Sandy Weill, who built Citigroup into a sprawling behemoth, because synergies!
But nobody believes in those synergies any more, including Sandy Weill, who earlier this week recanted his giant-bank religion, shockingly. Certainly bank shareholders aren't buying the big banks. Even JPMorgan, supposedly the most-awesome giant bank in the world, trades at less than the value of its net worth, partly for this reason.
When the WSJ asked Dimon if he was going to join Weill -- formerly Dimon's mentor -- in the small-bank movement, he said they would have to pry his giant bank away from his cold, dead hands.
"Being diversified is a good thing," he said. "When a client calls us up today, 'should we do a bond deal, or should we do a [revolving loan], and do we do it in Thailand or do we do it over here,' they don't care about Glass-Steagall," the law that separated commercial and investment banking until it was repealed in 1999.
So Dimon is apparently not going to break up his big bank without a fight. But the bank is readier today than ever to be broken up.
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