Jamie Dimon’s Remarks on Discount Window Add to Market Panic

By Pam Martens and Russ Martens: February 27, 2020 ~

Jamie Dimon, Chairman and CEO of JPMorgan Chase

Jamie Dimon, Chairman and CEO of JPMorgan Chase

During the financial panic of 1907, John Pierpont Morgan corralled the money men of New York together and convinced them to join him in bailing out teetering financial institutions in order to calm the panic in the markets. His plan worked.

Flash forward to today. Jamie Dimon is Chairman and CEO of the bank that bears John Pierpont Morgan’s name: JPMorgan Chase. The bank is the largest federally-insured bank in the U.S. with $1.6 trillion in deposits. It has more than 5,000 bank branches across America accepting the life savings of moms and pops. But JPMorgan Chase is also the largest trading and derivatives house on Wall Street – a dangerous, combustible mix as it proved so well in 2012 when it lost $6.2 billion of depositors’ money making wild gambles in derivatives in London.

On Tuesday of this week, instead of offering words to calm markets in the midst of a panic over the global spread of the coronavirus, Dimon revealed to reporters that his bank planned to start tapping the Federal Reserve’s Discount Window for loans – an unthinkable strategy for a bank endlessly promoted by Dimon as having “a fortress balance sheet.” Adding to market concerns, Dimon told Reuters’ reporters that his bank would be borrowing from the Discount Window “against a range of securities and loans” as collateral.

There is an age-old stigma attached to borrowing from the Fed’s Discount Window because it strongly suggests that the bank does not have adequate liquidity of its own to meet depositor demands for withdrawing cash. Typically, the Fed requires government-guaranteed securities as collateral for Discount Window loans. Dimon’s reference to providing “a range of securities and loans” as collateral for its Discount Window loans from the Fed sounds eerily similar to what the Fed did at the height of the financial crisis of 2008.

Because banks were reluctant to borrow from the Discount Window during the financial crisis because of the fear of being tainted as insolvent, the Fed created the Primary Dealer Credit Facility (PDCF). The Fed then proceeded, over more than two years, to make $8.9 trillion in secret cumulative loans to the trading houses on Wall Street. In many cases, it accepted junk bonds and stocks as collateral – at a time when both were in freefall.

The PDCF was only one of a hodgepodge of loan programs set up by the Federal Reserve and administered by the New York Fed. In total, it shoveled out $29 trillion through these programs to bail out Wall Street banks and their foreign derivative counterparties – without any authorization or even awareness by Congress of the staggering sums of money the Fed was sluicing to Wall Street.

The public and Congress only found out about the unchecked money spigot at the Fed when Senator Bernie Sanders attached an amendment to the Dodd-Frank financial reform legislation which mandated an audit by the Government Accountability Office (GAO) and when a long court battle for the Fed data by the media was decided in the media’s favor and a court challenge by a Wall Street bank consortium was turned down by the U.S. Supreme Court.

The Dodd-Frank legislation showed a clear intent to clip the wings of the Federal Reserve in making future secret loans to bail out Wall Street. According to Section 1101 of the Dodd-Frank legislation, which was passed in 2010, both the House Financial Services Committee and the Senate Banking Committee are to be briefed on any emergency loans made by the Fed, including the names of the banks doing the borrowing. The section reads:

“The [Federal Reserve] Board shall provide to the Committee on Banking, Housing, and Urban Affairs of the Senate and the Committee on Financial Services of the House of Representatives, (i) not later than 7 days after the Board authorizes any loan or other financial assistance under this paragraph, a report that includes (I) the justification for the exercise of authority to provide such assistance; (II) the identity of the recipients of such assistance; (III) the date and amount of the assistance, and form in which the assistance was provided; and (IV) the material terms of the assistance, including — (aa) duration; (bb) collateral pledged and the value thereof; (cc) all interest, fees, and other revenue or items of value to be received in exchange for the assistance; (dd) any requirements imposed on the recipient with respect to employee compensation, distribution of dividends, or any other corporate decision in exchange for the assistance; and (ee) the expected costs to the taxpayers of such assistance…”

These Congressional committees clearly have not been kept informed regarding the Fed’s low-cost loans to trading houses on Wall Street (primary dealers) that began on September 17 of last year and now exceed $7 trillion on a cumulative basis. (See our ongoing series on the Fed’s repo loans.) We know that Congress remains in the dark because on February 6 Democratic members of the Senate Banking Committee sent a letter to Fed Chairman Jerome Powell demanding answers to the following questions on these loans:

“1) Has the Fed determined the cause for the protracted, increased demand for reserves that necessitates continued intervention through repo activities? If so, what is/are the cause or causes?

“2) Has the Fed analyzed the impact of the availability of this facility on primary dealers’ balance sheets and market activity? If so, what has changed in money markets since September 2019? Are other portfolios affected by these adjustments and reallocations?

“3) Could a bank use access to this facility to game capital or liquidity standards, and what steps are supervisors taking to ensure that is not the case?

“4) Have profits at banks that have access to this facility outpaced profits at similarly situated financial institutions that do not have access or have not participated in the facility? If so, does that suggest anything about the efficiency of overnight repo operations as a transmission mechanism for monetary policy?

“5) The facility has reduced the cost of access to cash in the money markets – to what degree has the cost of borrowing been reduced to consumers, specifically those with outstanding loans? In your estimation, do banks or consumers primarily benefit from the operation of this facility?

“6) Since September 2019, has the Board discussed the possibility of weakening or otherwise altering liquidity, capital, or other regulatory and supervisory standards in order to address this issue? Does the Board continue to consider any such changes? Has the Board or FRBNY considered the possibility that market actors refused to lend into the market, sacrificing short-term profits in order to raise questions about prudential regulation? Would it be feasible for the small network of primary dealers to do so?”

Thus far, Senators on the Banking Committee are remaining mum about getting any response from the Fed to these questions.

A few moments ago, the Dow Jones Industrial Average opened with a loss of 487 points. That adds to the steep losses of more than 2,000 points already this week. The 10-year U.S. Treasury Note has been setting historic lows in its yield this week and is now trading at 1.26 percent. Also setting historic low yields is the 30-year U.S. Treasury Bond, now trading to yield 1.76 percent. The collapse in yields on these instruments sends a further panicky message to Wall Street, suggesting deflation from a global economic slowdown.

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