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In JPMorgan Case, a Missed Opportunity to Charge Its Executives

In JPMorgan Case, a Missed Opportunity to Charge Its Executives

Both the Securities and Exchange Commission and JPMorgan Chase won great public relations victories last week. But the public lost — and in ways that go far beyond this one spat.

By cracking down on the bank for its faulty internal controls in the $6 billion London Whale trading loss, the S.E.C. can claim to be the ferocious regulator we have all been waiting for. JPMorgan and its chief executive, Jamie Dimon, got the best coverage they could have hoped for under the circumstances: the sense that the bank is beleaguered, surrounded by regulators, but at least it could put the trading loss behind it.

 

Yes, the S.E.C. wrung an admission of wrongdoing out of the bank, and the regulators scored a large settlement. It’s an improvement for a regulator to display the ferocity of a mealworm, rather than a banana slug, but let’s hold the celebrations until it reaches at least the level of a garter snake.

After all, Mr. Dimon had already made a great display of admitting that he and the bank’s senior ranks had messed up — well, at least as soon as it was clear that bluster wasn’t getting them anywhere.

The admission was nice, but the S.E.C. did not charge any top executives with misleading disclosure. Why not?

Financial markets depend on true and accurate information. Disclosure isn’t some i-dotting, t-crossing regulatory nicety; it’s fundamental. And the Senate Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations, in its huge report on the trading loss, made a convincing case that the chief financial officer at the time, Douglas L. Braunstein, made several highly misleading statements in an April 13, 2012, conference call with shareholders and the public.

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