The main item of business before JP Morgan Chase’s annual shareholder meeting, which will convene today in Tampa, is whether JPM CEO Jamie Dimon will be stripped of his additional post as chairman of JPM’s board of directors. A range of institutional investors concerned about the over-concentration of power atop the nation’s most powerful institutions, and upset by the $6 billion loss JPM took last year at its London trading desk, won roughly 40 percent shareholder support last year to separate the two positions. This year, they hope to do better, even though the bank’s public-relations offensive on Dimon’s behalf has made the prospect of winning a majority more difficult.
The financial services industry is second to none in dreaming up ways to rip off Americans. Show me a a financial product—credit cards, mortgages, checking accounts, 401(k)s, annuities—and I'll show you a stack of consumer complaints documenting how banks and other firms have sought to bleed dry the American public.
Three developments in finance cropped up in the last days that must be read as a single story.
First, Blankfein, Dimon, and the rest of the Wall Street bigwigs visited the White House to meet with the president and his team. That team consisted of Denis McDonough (Chief of Staff); Valerie Jarrett (Senior Adviser); Cecilia Munoz (Domestic Policy Adviser); Gene Sperling (National Economic Council Director); and Alan Krueger, (Chairman, Council of Economic Advisers). The meeting was secret, but we can deduce much from its attendance.
I recently published an article in response to a study of high-frequency trading (“HFT”) by Professor Charles M. Jones of Columbia Business School and an opinion piece he published simultaneously in Politico. My article focused on the funding of the research by Citadel LLP, a major HFT user. It also pointed out broad concerns about the study, which asserts that computer-based algorithmic trading provides substantial net value to the economy.
The big news today wasn’t Mitt Romney’s continued fumbling over foreign policy (for which Team Romney is surely grateful). It was the Federal Reserve’s decision to embark on a new round of quantatative easing. For the uninitated, quantatative easing—or QE to the cool kids—is a strategy for generating growth in the economy. Right now, the problem in the economy is a lack of demand. Consumers aren’t spending, and so businesses aren’t hiring, and so banks are not lending, and so on. One way to deal with this is to provide income to people, throw out benefits, tax cuts, or public works—i.e., stimulus.
Europe’s leaders emerged far apart at their summit dinner in Brussels Wednesday night. They could not even agree on relatively easy measures to contain the escalating crisis, such as Eurobonds or a greater role for the European Central Bank (ECB).
But at the core of the crisis is an issue that Europe’s leaders are even more reluctant to take on—the ease with which hedge funds and other speculators can drive a small economy into the ground.
ORLANDO, FLORIDA—Newt Gingrich often rails against the establishment elites who have conspired to sink his campaign. Sometimes it is Mitt Romney; others times he targets the liberals (an unlikely tag-team combination), but there is always someone to blame other than himself. I heard a new formulation of this theory at his "Crossing the Finish Line Rally" in Orlando last night. The event, held on the final eve before the primary, was intended as a pre-victory rally of sorts but took a much more subdued tone, as Gingrich's standing in the polls has evaporated over the past week. But angry Gingrich was in true form, lashing out at his opponent's vast wealth and the conspiracy to prevent Gingrich from gaining power:
At a time when legislators, consumer advocates and the Occupy movement batter big banks for their questionable business practices, J.P. Morgan Chase and Bank of America have gone soft and fuzzy. The nation’s two largest banks are running saccharine television commercials that portray the massive multinationals as the Bailey Building and Loan Association.
Bank of America recently rolled out its “Opportunity” campaign to highlight the company's nationwide bid to lend a hand—i.e., money— to small businesses. (Ironically, It’s A Wonderful Life director Frank Capra modeled the Bailey's bank on BoA.)
It's not a joke. In response to the Occupy Wall Street movement, a band of one-percenters—including JP Morgan Chase CEO Jamie Dimon, who made $23 million in 2012; and John A. Allison IV, a director of BB&T Corp.—has started a campaign to rescue rich CEOs' tattered image. Calling themselves the Job Creators Alliance, the group plans media appearances, pens op-eds, and comes up with talking points to defend executives from the 99 percent who, at least in terms of wages, has seen little trickle down from Wall Street for the last two decades. Bernard Marcus, a founding member of the alliance, isn't worried about Occupiers being offended by his organization's mission. “Who gives a crap about some imbecile? Are you kidding me?” he told Businessweek.
When a candidate from the party you dislike has no chance at all of being successful, it's hard to get too worked up about him or her. Yes, Rick Santorum is repellent, but how mad can you get at him? It's not as though he'll have the power to affect millions of lives anytime soon. But once the oddball longshot candidate starts getting some juice, exploring just what a jerk he or she is begins to seem more urgent.
Feeling like you haven't been disappointed by a Democrat in too long? Well let me help you with that. One of the suggestions that has been floated as part of a deal to reduce the deficit is the elimination of the "carried interest" loophole. It works like this: If you're a hedge-fund manager, you make your money by taking 20 percent of the profits of the fund you manage. This can be a lot of money -- hedge-fund king John Paulsonmade over $5 billion last year. But unlike the little people, hedge-fund managers don't pay federal income taxes on that income.
Peter Thiel, the founder of PayPal, is famous for predicting bubbles, first the Nasdaq crash in 2000 and next, the housing bubble in 2008. Now he argues that the next inflated market in the United States that's about to burst is education.
“A true bubble is when something is overvalued and intensely believed,” he says. “Education may be the only thing people still believe in in the United States. To question education is really dangerous. It is the absolute taboo. It’s like telling the world there’s no Santa Claus.”
In his New York Times column today, Joe Noceracalls for passing the Boone Pickens Act, which would create incentives for wider use of natural gas. Nocera presents this as a no-brainer: We need to stop using oil, and natural gas is an abundant resource in the United States and burns cleaner than coal. Also, you can use natural gas for cars, which isn't possible for wind or solar energy.
In lieu of defined benefits, some states and localities are mulling a shift to 401(k)-style pension plans, reportsJeannette Neumann for The Wall Street Journal:
Republicans have taken the lead in campaigns to make the switch. In February, Florida Gov. Rick Scott called for a shift to 401(k)-type plans when he proposed his budget. Former two-term Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty called for a shift before stepping down in January. Nevada Gov. Brian Sandoval also proposed a switch in his January State of the State address.