Monday, December 06, 2010

Lowenstein Loses It

    "Over the past few months," fawns reports Roger Lowenstein, "[J.P. Morgan Chase CEO Jamie] Dimon allowed me into his inner sanctum, giving me an insider’s view of how he thinks about banking and how he runs the bank." And guess what: the soft lights, the incense and the Johnny Mathis CD just fuddled Lowenstein's judgment:
Instead of reviewing brief summaries of the bank’s operations, as his predecessor had, Dimon demanded to see the raw data — hundreds of pages detailing J. P. Morgan’s businesses every month. Instead of simply trusting his traders, Dimon put himself through a tutorial, so that he would understand the complex trades the bank was exposed to. And rather than run its mortgage machine at full throttle for as long as possible, Dimon reined in lending earlier than did others and warned his shareholders of looming trouble.
You got that, Roger, raw data? It must have been toxic raw data because it apparently blinded Dimon from the oncoming train wreck of $51 billion in losses over the last couple of years--saying nothing of the "cutting corners" (aka "grand theft notary fraud") "in processing home foreclosures."   And forget how it was "embarrassed by" its piratical overdraft fees--"embarrassed by," as if the fees plopped out of the sky onto Dimon's well-coiffed pate.  For all those of you assembling a thesaurus entry on "gush," we offer the following compendium:
The popular animus has come as a shock to Dimon. ... Dimon sees himself as a patriotic citizen. ... At home, Jamie absorbed a first-generation reverence for America ... Like the mechanic who grew up in a body shop, Dimon today is intimately familiar with the details of his trade.... DIMON’S LIFE IS WORK and family (he has three 20-something daughters). On weekends, he consumes a mountain of printed material; he arrives on Monday with a penned list of questions for subordinates (he carries the list in his breast pocket, crossing off items as he grabs people in the hallways). ...
Oh, you get the drift. Yes, yes I know. Lowenstein does slip in a bit of useful background here and there among the spasms. But here is a  guy who made his bones in a biography of Warren Buffett, iconic as our most successful investor, in which Lowenstein positioned himself as informed, inquisitive, dogged and sympathetic, yet ultimately undazzled. Somewhere between Buffett and Dimon, some Friday night in a bar in Soho, he seems to have dropped his crap detector. Read the piece if you want: it is not a 100 percent waste of time.  But keep reminding yourself: this is a guy who lost $51 in two years. I hate to think what Lowenstein would have written had he lost just $50 billion.

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