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Business Comment

Outlook: Dimon in the rough between investors and regulators


Outlook The gloss long ago came off Jamie Dimon, the chief executive of JPMorgan who steered a nimble course through the financial crisis only to get repeatedly tripped up in its aftermath.

If yesterday's quarterly results are anything to go by he's still stumbling, with yet more legal woes wrecking his numbers. Among the hits for the fourth quarter was part of the $2.6bn payment to settle government and private claims related to the work JPMorgan did for fraudster Bernie Madoff.

It's part of a $20bn (£12bn) haul that it has had to pay to watchdogs on both sides of the Atlantic for a range of violations. The most high profile of these was the so-called "London Whale" trader whose activities lost the bank $6bn. But it wasn't the most expensive – that was the $13bn hit to cover claims that it mis-sold mortgage linked securities.

JPMorgan still turned a profit for the year – nearly $18bn all told. It still rewarded its investment bankers handsomely with pay averaging £126,000 (down 4 per cent, but they won't need to shop in Aldi). And it still paid Mr Dimon a king's ransom.

But you do wonder how long it will be before investors start to get restive.

Twenty billion is not the sort of number that can simply be dismissed as a one-off, and the bank isn't yet out of the woods. Analysts are hoping that JPMorgan's legal costs will ease a bit. But there are still several investigations pending. You can see how it got here: by pressurising/incentivising staff to do whatever it takes to keep the short term numbers up.

Until recently JPMorgan's investors have been complicit in this, as it has delivered, time and again. It's only now that the cost of that is becoming clear. Can Mr Dimon chart a new course for the bank that keeps the regulators at bay while keeping his investors happy? Is that actually possible? That's the question both parties have to grapple with.