by David Dayen, The Intercept:
JPMORGAN CHASE WILL not benefit from a recent bipartisan bank deregulation bill that passed in the Senate, the bank’s CEO Jamie Dimon claimed to The Intercept last week after an event in Washington.
“The banking bill is only really affecting smaller banks, so it doesn’t really have anything to do with us,” Dimon said after an event organized by Axios at Howard University titled, “Smarter Faster Revolution.”
“I think if they get a little bit of relief, it’s probably good for them and their ability to finance America,” Dimon added.
Dimon’s assertion calls into question why JPMorgan has spent resources to lobby for the bill and could shape the way that federal rule-makers interpret the statute and translate it into regulations.
JPMorgan Chase has been active on the bill, S.2155, which the Senate cleared on March 14 on the strength of 50 Republicans, 16 Democrats, and one Democratic-leaning independent. A look at lobbying disclosure forms shows that JPMorgan spent $810,000 on lobbying for financial issues in the fourth quarter of 2017, including on S.2155, the Economic Growth, Regulatory Relief, and Consumer Protection Act. The bank was one of 119 separate organizations that have lobbied on the bill.
In particular, JPMorgan “discussed proposals related to bank structure, capital requirements, capital formation, market structure, and market liquidity,” as well as “issues related to the treatment of custody in capital and liquidity requirements.” That latter activity is important because it refers to what has become known as the “Citigroup carveout.” (A chief lobbyist registered by JPMorgan to lobby on the bill is Jason Rosenberg, a former banking aide to Sen. Jon Tester, D-Mont., a lead author of the bill.)
The provision, contained in Section 402 of S.2155, exempts money placed in central bank reserves from the calculation of the supplementary leverage ratio, one capital requirement for banks. This would enable banks to earn larger returns with borrowed money, but would also increase risk of failure because the bank would have less money to absorb losses.
The reform was intended to apply only to so-called custodial banks, which primarily manage assets for clients, rather than making loans. However, Senate leaders changed the provision’s wording so it could potentially affect two large banks, Citigroup and JPMorgan Chase. Both engage in custodial activities, but it’s not their main business line. The language change took place sometime in the fourth quarter of 2017, the same time that JPMorgan Chase engaged in lobbying on the bill.
After the revisions, the Congressional Budget Office estimated that there was a 50 percent chance that JPMorgan Chase and Citigroup would be able to take advantage of the custodial bank provision. That number is likely an underestimate considering that Donald Trump’s industry-friendly regulators would be the ones making the determination.
If JPMorgan Chase could convince regulators that it was eligible for Section 402 capital relief, then it would be able to lower its capital requirement by $21.4 billion, the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation has calculated in an internal report. While that’s around 0.8 percent of JPMorgan’s $2.6 trillion in assets, it would be a 13.4 percent reduction in the bank’s capital requirement. Sen. Bob Corker, R-Tenn., offered an amendment to strike all of Section 402 from the bill, but it never got a vote on the Senate floor.
So when Dimon said that S.2155 “doesn’t really have anything to do with us,” he was potentially off by $21.4 billion.
That’s not the only provision in the bill that JPMorgan Chase could take advantage of. S.2155 changes the frequency of company-run stress tests for banks with more than $250 billion in assets from semiannual to “periodic,” a phrase with no real definition. Regulators could use this language to reduce the frequency of stress tests, a key tool to monitor a bank’s resiliency, to once every three years. The scenarios that banks would have to analyze in those company-run stress tests also get reduced from three to two, making them less rigorous.
Finally, a one-word change in the language directing the Federal Reserve to tailor financial stability rules for particular banks from “may” to “shall” could force the Fed into costly legal disputes with banks seeking regulatory relief. Any bank could argue that the Fed didn’t engage in enough cost-benefit analysis before imposing new rules, leaving the central bank with less discretion than it had even before the financial crisis.