Thursday, November 21, 2013

At JPMorgan Chase, Is $13 Billion a Lot of Money?

The $13 billion: It can handle it.

A question has lingered for much of the past week, one that hasn't been asked often out loud or asked pointedly. Is $13 billion a lot of money for JPMorgan Chase? 

Will it crush the bank's growth plans and business opportunities in the periods to come? Will it strangle a banking empire and cause it to retreat into a shadow of its post-crisis self?

Announced in business headlines everywhere, the $13 billion is the total amount in the bank's settlement with the U.S. Department of Justice, all related to the bank's mortgage-securitization business in the 2000's and the businesses it inherited from its acquisitions of Bear Stearns and Washington Mutual. 

The government claims JPMorgan and affiliates improperly and unfairly structured mortgage securities, leading to billions in losses to investors who had purchased the securities. The settlement puts an end to one chapter in the bank's efforts escape the mortgage nightmare of that decade. 

For a financial institution with market value and book value in the hundreds of billions and with billion-dollar earnings announced every quarter, is $13 billion a lot? Let's decide.

Of the $13 billion, about $7 billion is tax-deductible.  Hence, the bank will have a benefit on its tax books (reduction in tax liability, e.g.) of some kind for about $2-3 billion, effectively reducing the "pain" of the settlement by that amount. 

Of the $13 billion, about $4 billion is slated for mortgage relief for homeowners.  Banks and investors who hold those loans or hold securities backed by those loans have likely written them down, charged them off, or set aside significant reserves.  If JPMorgan continued to hold some of those loans and securities on its books, the settlement amount captures assets that the bank had previously written off or planned to write off. In effect, the settlement number acknowledges and accounts for write-offs the bank already took (related to mortgage securitization).

The rest comprises payments to state regulators and to investors who bought mortgage securities and suffered substantial losses.  In the $13 billion, the net cash payments due to organizations, regulators, and investors amount to something less than $8-9 billion (estimated). 

In 2012, the bank (consolidated) reported $21 billion in earnings. It operates at a pace of generating about $6-7 billion each quarter (or about $24-28 billion/year). Hence, a gross $13 billion settlement doesn't result in fiscal-year losses (comprising about half of expected annual income).  The bank will continue to be profitable, expecting to report profits above $15 billion in 2013 and above $25 billion in 2014. 

Even more, the bank indicated it has already set aside reserves (and adjusted financial statements) to account for the entire $13 billion--including about $9 billion in legal reserves (including write-offs and loss provisions) in the third quarter in anticipation of various legal settlements. 

JPMorgan's equity base exceeds $206 billion, an amount that has already netted out much, if not all, of the $13 billion. A $13 billion settlement comprises less than 7% of equity, if it had not already made equity adjustments for such charges. As massive as the number appears in headlines, $13 billion won't put the institution in financial peril. 

Has the bank's market value (share value) suffered because of the settlement?  In recent weeks, as the public heard rumors and eventually learned about a finalized settlement, the bank's share price didn't plummet and even flirted with record levels.  That's because the market, whether it's partly or fully efficient (depending on which finance theorist you believe), had already accounted for all possible losses related to the settlement.

Equity markets, too, like companies that flush out losses and start anew.  Markets like companies that erase vast amounts of uncertainty (especially related to lingering legal issues).  Markets appreciate and value companies when they clean the slate and eradicate such hangover. 

Then there are regulators, who have applied an increasing burden of capital and liquidity requirements to big banks. Does the $13 billion jeopardize regulatory compliance? Not really.  The bank had already begun to retain, boost and increase capital to comply not only with capital requirements of today, but the progressively increasing requirements over the next few years.  Its regulatory ratios were in good shape.

New regulation has certainly annoyed JPMorgan (and its peers) and has stifled business activity in certain segments (trading, the best example).  The bank continues to grapple with new rules regarding trading, leverage and liquidity.  But the settlement hardly influences the scenarios the bank confronts on these fronts.

Still, $13 billion is still a mind-boggling total, so it has to hurt somewhere, if capital ratios, earnings, balance sheet, and stock price have not felt pain.  Moody's, the ratings agency, in November downgraded the holding company a notch, but the downgrade had little to do with settlement figures, more to do with systemic issues and how Moody's suspects big banks can manage through crisis scenarios. 

Some "hurt” or injury should exist, contends the Justice Department, which wants the bank to comprehend the impact of its past actions.  The bank has weathered public embarrassment, glaring headlines and threats to gilded reputation, but all that could be short-lived, as regulators and the media move on to the next big issue plaguing financial institutions. 

For now, the "pain" of the settlement is not financial. Could there could be a cumulative, damaging effect from having to ward off the slings and arrows of many legal issues at once? They include (a) the time commitment and distractions involved in legal wrangling and legal negotiation, (b) the possibility, even if remote, of criminal charges arising from any of the past activities, and (c) other legal issues (including any related to last year's "Whale trading" derivatives losses that exceeded $6 billion. 

Don't forget, too, the expected "pain" of explaining to senior managers, deal-doers, and business leaders how inappropriate it might be in 2013 to pay eye-popping bonuses in the wake of a $13 billion shakedown, an internal corporate message that always results in the risk of losing talent. 

And $13 billion is an amount of missed opportunities--new investments in business expansion, product growth and new technology that the bank could have made, but didn't.  The bank, nonetheless, would counter that it has ample resources, people and capital (from retained earnings) to make all the investments it needs in the post-crisis era. 

At JPMorgan, the "pain" will be bearable.  CEO Jamie Dimon will sleep at night. The $13 billion was, well, not too much money. 

Tracy Williams

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

MBA Students: An Eye on Summer '14

CFN hosted its annual webinar to launch interview season
Most MBA students today, including Consortium students across the country, will argue there is no one segmented part of the calendar for "recruiting season."  Every aspect and experience of business school is "recruiting season," from the time students declare their intentions to attend a certain school until graduation. Every day, not just a few weeks in the fall, MBA students contemplate where they want to be and what they should do to secure the right job.

Students today, and their career-advisory specialists on campus, say there is seldom a time when an MBA student is not absorbed in thought about information interviews, mentors, alumni connections, career choices, or a specific post that awaits after graduation. Nonetheless, late fall usually signals the formal start of interviews:  information interviews,  first rounds, lottery interviews, interviews earned from being selected by companies, second rounds, technical interviews, and follow-up sessions to decide whether to accept an offer or go elsewhere.

The Consortium Finance Network hosted its third MBA recruiting webinar Nov. 13 for Consortium first-year MBA students to launch interview season for those interested in finance and financial services.  Panelists included Consortium graduates in a variety of finance roles, working for financial institutions and industrial, entertainment, and consumer-products companies. CFN steering-committee members, D-Lori Newsome-Pitts, Camilo Sandoval and Tracy Williams, moderated the presentation and subsequent discussion. Consortium students logged into the webinar from schools around the nation.

Panelists included Consortium alumni Abijah Nyong from Dow Chemical (Indiana-Kelley business school), Christina Guevara from Goldman Sachs (NYU-Stern), Stephanie Rosenkranz  from ESPN-Disney (USC-Marshall), and Brace Clement from Starbucks (Wisconsin). Some were recent graduates, fresh from the experience of going through the process. 

Nyong from Dow Chemical set the tone for the evening.  "When it comes to talent," he said, "good talent comes off the shelf.  Even if the business prognosis is not good, we take good talent."

To guide students, CFN presented a general recruiting outlook in several segments of finance. Opportunities in finance fluctuate and take assorted, unexpected turns from year to year.  In 2013-14, the outlook is generally upbeat, as banks, investment firms, and companies have become confident enough to open their doors for more MBAs.

But as most experienced finance professionals know well, it helps to be cautious, careful, and forewarned.  In finance, the tide and sentiment of recruiting can turn on a dime. Some years, companies hire more than they need. In other years, companies are sour on economic prospects and hire fewer than they should.  More than ever, however, financial institutions and companies are serious in hiring summer interns, since most hire interns with hopes of offering them full-time employment when the summer is over.

In corporate finance and corporate treasury, as the economy grows and improves, companies are growing and expanding and will, therefore, have financing needs and investment opportunities.

Nyong said companies like his employer are looking for outstanding candidates and are increasing hiring. "We want to ramp up to try to make sure good employees are in the pipeline."

In investment banking, whether it's M&A, FIG, real estate, energy or health care, all depends on the industry segment, expectations within that industry and general business trends. M&A, for example, had shown signs of starting to soar this summer, but experts now can't figure out why it stalls from time to time.

FIG investment banking has benefited from the capital requirements and restructuring initiatives of banks everywhere, in the wake new regulation and reforms. Equity finance is patting itself on the back after renewed confidence from IPOs (think Twitter) and investors' comfort in stocks.  Debt finance has been bolstered by low interest rates.

In private banking and wealth management, banks will continue to emphasize growth, because they like the fee-based businesses without having to build up their balance sheets.

"Banks have pushed to build out (in private banking) because of the sticky assets," Guevara said. "They are focused on growth."

In corporate banking, opportunities exist because big banks, which had swooned toward the high returns and headlines of investment banking, have learned to appreciate the stable returns and bread-and-butter benefits of corporate lending and cash management.

Sales & trading opportunities at financial institutions are limited, because regulation and reform will restrict what they can do--if not now, then over the next few years, as SEC and Dodd-Frank rules are written and become clear.

Banks everywhere have restructured trading desks and trading roles. The best opportunities, if any, for MBAs interested in trading will be at asset managers, boutiques, specialty trading firms and hedge funds. Others will remind us, however, how significant aspects of trading are now directed by computers, algorithm, client flow, and trading schemes--not requiring as many desk traders (or people).

For years, MBAs overlooked opportunities in risk management and didn't know much about the role. Financial institutions seldom tapped business schools for risk managers. After the crisis, financial institutions have learned lessons or have been forced to beef up emphasis, add professionals and become more attuned to all forms of risks. Regulators, too, in these times are always in the vicinity and insist that banks devote resources and attention to risk management in the way they may not have done so in years before the crisis.

Clement from Starbucks said, "I wish I took more classes in risk management (while in business school) and learned more how to manage (market) risks."  He described ways in which his company must hedge the complex risks of costs of commodity products. Business schools have responded in recent years to offer courses in risk management (for credit and market risks). 

Opportunities in venture capital, private equity and hedge funds are fleeting or uncertain, partly because these firms often recruit beyond the eyesight of business schools and tend to have opaque recruiting procedures. There exists, also, possible fall-out from recent insider-trading scandals (think SAC) and industry-wide hedge-fund shake-out.  Hedge-fund returns, believe it or not, trail that of equity markets in the past year or two, and more than a few hedge funds have closed their doors in the last year.

In venture capital and private equity, some industry observers say too much money might be chasing too few good deals.

Sandoval presented CFN's framework for approaching interviews.  The framework encourages students to examine and polish themselves in five areas:

(a) personal background,
(b) personal interest in the industry and company,
(c) personal drive and motivation,
(d) capability (expertise, knowledge, understanding of industry) and
(e) insight.

Nyong said, "I did a lot of informational interviews to find out what (industry segment) felt natural to me." He instructed students, "Look at the spectrum of positions available.  Seek out alumni."

Panelists emphasized the importance of being aware of current events, topics and issues, because interviewers will refer to them and being informed can help students make decisions about what they want to do. Guevara advised that students should make sure to "study markets and current events and have a sense of what's going on."

Rosenkranz recommended that students register and subscribe to, a website that aggregates news stories and headlines, based on specific business areas (finance, accounting, marketing, etc.) or specific topics (derivatives, currencies, digital advertising, etc.). A student can tailor the website aggregation to his specific interests and can see the updates he needs to see.

Panelists emphasized frequently the importance of conveying interest, drive and enthusiasm in finance-oriented interviews. In interviews, Sandoval explained, "We forget to talk about our general interest and passion for finance."

Clement summed up, "You want them (the companies) to believe you can do this job."

"You have to know who you are and where you want to go," Nyong said. "If you can't buy it yourself, you can't sell it."

As panelists presented the CFN framework, Sandoval reminded students, "You are in the driver seat.  You design the framework that works for you. You control the questions."  

Year after year, finance students fear the technical interview, where financial institutions try to gauge what candidates know and how they describe finance scenarios on their feet. To prepare for what they perceive as stressful exercises, students study market trends and refresh themselves in principles of finance, markets and accounting. Beyond that, candidates seldom know how that interview will evolve.

Investment banks may require candidates to present a detailed deal strategy or advise in valuing a stock offering.  Hedge funds or asset managers may require candidates to  explain trends in interest rates or derivatives pricing. Corporate-finance managers may require candidates to evaluate a balance sheet.

Nyong advised, "Read the company's 10-K to prepare.  It offers a vision of their market and shows contrasts with competition."

Rosenkranz said, "Listen to the (company's) investor calls to see how management responds.  Listen to the kinds of questions (analysts) ask during the calls."  She added that for technical interviews, companies want to "see if you have intellectual curiosity." And she suggested that candidates can learn much about the company's structure, management and culture by referring to the website

"How does the company make money?" Rosenkranz asked, recommending candidates study closely the company's business model.

Clement saw the benefits of understanding thoroughly a company's income statement.  "You'll want to understand the P&L from top to bottom, understand the balance sheet," he said, because interviewers will be familiar with this financial information and will want candidates to show familiarity, as well.

CFN panelists, now experienced and entrenched in finance positions, shared other observations and advice.  However, while satisfied with their efforts to get from the classroom and case study to roles in finance, is there something they would have done differently in the recruiting process?

"I would have gotten a better sense of other roles (in the company)," Nyong said. They would include roles in operations, marketing, manufacturing and other functions, because finance touches so many important activities in an industrial company.  "I would have gotten a better understanding."

"I would have found somebody to act as a blueprint," Clement said, explaining the importance of connecting with a school alumnus, an experienced mentor,  or a senior manager to learn more about the recruiting process, the industry, and the ropes for converting dreams into strategies into meaningful job offers.

Rosenkranz said she understood the importance of showing intellect, expertise and general knowledge about the industry, but wished she examined more carefully companies' work environment and culture.

Panelists concluded that most MBAs, especially ambitious Consortium students at top schools, will find opportunities and take advantage of some of them.

"You want to be intentional," Clement offered. "You shouldn't just want to find any place to land. You shouldn't be fishing for just any place."

Tracy Williams

(A recording of the webinar and the accompanying written presentation will be available to CFN members in Linkedin.)

See also:

CFN: MBAs and the Summer of 2013
CFN:  Is the MBA Under Attack? 2013
CFN:  MBA:  Remaining Relevant, 2011
CFN:  Mastering Technical Skills, 2010
CFN:  Who's Headed into Finance? 2013
CFN:  How Mentors Help, 2009