James Moore: As JPMorgan's Jamie Dimon finds new ways to say sorry, the blame is being laid further down

The book publisher Quercus is among the 156 companies attracted to the Plus market

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The Independent Online

Wasn't sorry supposed to be the hardest word? Not in Jamie Dimon's world. Since it emerged that his bank, JPMorgan, has lost $2bn (so far) through placing bad bets in the financial casino, the chief executive has demonstrated considerable creativity when it comes to finding new ways to express his regrets (sorry, we got it wrong, we were stupid, we've got egg on our faces, etc etc).

But contrition? That's rather more difficult to discern. After all, this was a man who only last week was railing against US Democrats (he claims to be one, but barely) for supposedly creating a climate of resentment towards successful people. A man who had called criticism of too big to fail banks "infantile".

Set against this sort of rhetoric, Mr Dimon's apologies don't so much look like expressions of regret as they do the first phase in a very deliberate and carefully crafted damage-limitation exercise whose ultimate aim is to keep him in his job.

Phase two was under way yesterday. Ina Drew had the overall responsibility for JPMorgan's London-based chief investment office. It built up the enormous positions in derivatives that have gone badly wrong and she is retiring. Two of her subordinates, Achilles Macris and Javier Martin-Artajo, who were closer to the flames, will likely be given the chance to join her on the beach. The job of the now-beached London Whale, Bruno Iksil, the man in the eye of the storm, will ultimately be to fetch their strawberry daiquiris.

Their holidays will be funded by lucrative payoffs in return for signatures on frightening looking confidentiality agreements.

Meanwhile a restructuring of their unit will follow (phase three), in which it will have its wings clipped and its location moved from London to New York. The above four may be joined by several of their colleagues over the coming weeks.

But probably not by the person who really ought to be booking his flights to the Caribbean. That is Mr Dimon, who is, after all, paid $17m to ensure that JP Morgan doesn't suffer through this sort of scandal.

Until last week he was still being lauded by his defenders as the man who charted a steady course through the storms of the financial crisis. How much of that was his judgement and how much was luck is now open to question. Because his judgement looks seriously flawed.

In his furious assault on banking reform, Mr Dimon has become the poster child for the sort of thinking that has led to its necessity.

The losses, at least so far, don't amount to much for a bank as big as JPMorgan. It is so big that were it to fail, even the eurozone crisis might look like a minor local difficulty. Is Mr Dimon really the right man to be in charge of such an institution? That is a question that needs to be asked.

 

For all its failings, Plus had its plus points

Farewell then, PlusMarkets. The stock exchange for small companies and a certain not-so-small football club (Arsenal) faces relegation to the history books.

The biggest problem facing Plus was its inability to rid itself of minus signs when it came to the annual results. The company has lost money for the past six years.

Plus set out its stall as a rival to AIM, the London Stock Exchange's junior market, that was more suitable for the really small – so-called micro-cap – companies for which even AIM's relatively modest fees (and light regulation) were too high.

Unfortunately, the company fatally undermined its case by listing its shares on AIM. If your market isn't good enough for your own shares then why should anyone else use it?

Despite this little problem some 156 companies still do, including (in addition to Arsenal) Adnams, the Suffolk brewer and wine merchant; Shepherd Neame, another beer maker, which gets real ale buffs smacking their lips; and Quercus, best known for publishing Stieg Larsson's wildly popular "Millennium" trilogy of crime novels.

Although new listings had dwindled in recent years and Plus had been scrambling to find new revenue streams, its stock market was still a possible solution for small companies seeking financing that is desperately difficult to find these days. Its likely closure is not something a stuttering economy needs right now.

 

After shareholder spring, is this the backlash?

A month ago UBM would have been at the centre of a firestorm had close to 50 per cent of its investors failed to back its remuneration report. Now it is simply another name to be added to a long and growing list. Its shareholder rebellion caused only a mild flutter in the City.

Perhaps that explains the response. After claiming that the company took "careful note" of the vote, a spokesperson sniffily declared: "UBM's executive remuneration policy is designed to reward and incentivise its senior management appropriately."

There will be more of this sort of thing over the coming months, accompanied by whines about Britain's supposedly "anti-business climate". Some of the more recidivist chairmen may even feel inclined to sign their names to a letter of complaint. The backlash is coming.

Institutional shareholders haven't previously shown much in the way of backbone, and this "shareholder spring" wouldn't be the first outbreak of sanity to peter out.

Part of it has been motivated by a desire among institutions to head off the possibility of business secretary Vince Cable pressing ahead with some of the more radical proposals for reform. But so far there has been more talk than action from that quarter. UBM's attitude indicates that this needs to change.

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