Shine on you crazy Dimon: Is worst over for JPMorgan?June 8, 2012: 12:42 PM ET
Mr. Dimon heads to Washington next Wednesday. The CEO of JPMorgan Chase (JPM) will appear in front of the Senate Banking Committee to answer questions about the company's $2 billion loss that the bank says was a "hedge" and that critics maintain was a "trade." (To-may-to to-mah-to. Let's call the whole thing off.)
Shares of JPMorgan Chase have plunged nearly 20% since Dimon first disclosed the problems related to hedges gone awry in its Chief Investment Office unit. But the stock has bounced back along with other big banks in the past few days, rising more than 7% from the year-to-date low it hit on Tuesday.
Still, is the worst really over? With Dimon likely to be grilled by our nation's least and dimmest (can I trademark that term?) on Capitol Hill next week about the "London Whale" and the need for more regulation of big banks, couldn't JPMorgan Chase stock get crushed all over again?
Banking experts say don't bet on it. For one, Dimon is still considered to be one of the top banking executives out there -- despite the recent stumbles with the bank's hedges. Dimon is also far more comfortable in front of cameras and microphones than many of his peers. He's not likely to get tripped up and say something he'll regret or come off as clueless like Jon Corzine did during last year's MF Global hearings.
What's more, if recent history is any guide, investors don't tend to worry too much about what goes on in those dog and pony Congressional hearings anyway. Remember the marathon Goldman Sachs (GS) session on April 27, 2010 just after Goldman was charged with fraud by the SEC? Shares of the Vampire Squid actually rose on the day of the hearing. (Maybe traders were too busy counting how many times Sen. Carl Levin was cursing to sell Goldman stock that day.)
Scott Armiger, a portfolio manager with Christiana Trust, a Wilmington, Del.-based investment firm that owns shares of JPMorgan, thinks the controversy around the trading loss has been overblown. Armiger said that in a worst case scenario, it could shave 20 cents off earnings per share. That's less than 5% of Wall Street's current consensus estimates of $4.36 a share for all of 2012.
Armiger said one of the reasons investors are probably so worried is that JPMorgan Chase, up until now, had been the golden child among banks. It was the darling that could do no wrong since it held up much better than the likes of Goldman, Morgan Stanley (MS), Bank of America (BAC) and Citigroup (C) during the 2008-2009 meltdown. But he is not concerned that this is a sign of bigger problems at the bank.
"This is a black eye and investors are right to be concerned. But will this lead to a permanent impairment of the bank's capital or is it just a short-term management mistake? I think it's the latter," he said.
Craig Dismuke, chief economic strategist with Vining Sparks, a brokerage firm in Memphis, Ten., agreed. Dismuke said that worries about the size of the trading loss, even if it has grown a bit from the original estimates, are "much ado about nothing."
"Investors are overreacting a bit. Is this loss threatening the solvency of JPMorgan Chase? Absolutely not," he said.
But investors clearly are still nervous. While all bank stocks have pulled back from their sugar rush highs of earlier this year, shares of JPMorgan Chase have fallen so far that they are actually in the red for the year.
As a result, JPMorgan Chase is now trading at less than its book value, a key measure used by banking analysts that looks at what a firm would be worth after subtracting its liabilities from its assets. While other troubled big Wall Street banks like BofA, Citi, Goldman and Morgan Stanley also trade below book, Armiger said that JPMorgan Chase doesn't deserve to be lumped in that group.
But Armiger isn't a bank bull, which is why I find his endorsement of JPMorgan Chase to be noteworthy. He said he's actually underweight the financial sector in his portfolio and that the only other banks he owns besides JPMorgan Chase are Wells Fargo and regional bank/credit card lender Capital One (COF).
Dismuke isn't a wide-eyed optimist either. He said he does own some small positions in Citi and BofA because he thinks those two stocks are still very cheap. However, he doesn't own JPMorgan Chase stock -- despite having worked for Bear Stearns (which JPMorgan bought in March 2008) from 2005 through 2007. And he conceded that investors have every reason to be "skeptical of the motives of the big banks."
Sometimes it's best to hold one's nose when investing. You shouldn't let emotions get in the way of buying a hated stock that could be a bargain. And Dismuke said it would be a mistake to bet against the big banks for too long since he firmly believes the JPMorgan trading blunder is not the beginning of Lehman 2.0.
"The banking system is in a better position than you think," he said.