Breaking News This Morning ...
Earnings: JPMorgan Chase reported a third-quarter profit of $4.3 billion, or $1.02 a share, on $24.4 billion of revenue. Ahead of the bank earnings season that kicks off today, the Journal's "Ahead of the Tape" identifies a few potential bright spots amid what is bound to be an overall bleak picture. Business lending, mortgage refis and unrealized securities gains are among the possible "rays of sunshine," along with the fact that expectations are so low that "some positive surprises are likely," the column says. Also in the Journal, the "DealJournal" blog lists four themes to watch for in JPMorgan's report today. Topping the list, naturally, is exposure to Europe.
Receiving Wide Coverage ...
The Blackberry Outage: For those who read the Scan on their Blackberries, good to have you back this morning (we hope). Millions of users around the world (about half of all those who carry Research in Motion's smartphones) had to make do without mobile email or messaging service for much of the day Wednesday. The headline in the Times' DealBook was inevitable: "Wall Street's 'CrackBerry' Withdrawal." The outage underscored how integral to modern business (and life) these gadgets have become in just the last few years. According to the "DealBook" story, "Bankers' meetings fell through, when attendees couldn't look up the locations. Employees had to leave voice mail messages. And staff members had to pay attention during meetings, without the usual e-mail distractions." And to think that not too long ago texting during a meeting was considered downright rude (if you don't mind strong language, here's a flashback to those fuddy-duddy days). Wall Street Journal, New York Times, Washington Post, Financial Times
Fractious Fed: The release of the minutes from the last Federal Open Market Committee meeting revealed the extent of disagreement among members about monetary policy. We already knew that three committee members had voted against "Operation Twist," the central bank's gambit to reduce long-term interest rates, including rates on home mortgages. The minutes showed "that on the other side, two members wanted the Fed to take even stronger action," the Times reports. As for Operation Twist, the FT reports a worrisome sign that the strategy's impact is being diluted: mortgage rates are running two whole percentage points higher than the benchmark 10-year Treasury yield, meaning the spread is a half point wider than the historic norm. As we've said before, if X+Y=Z, lowering X can only affect Z so much when Y isn't under your direct control. (And Wednesday's sell-off in Treasurys — a reflection of investor dissatisfaction with "skimpy" yields — shows that X can misbehave, too.) One explanation lenders give for fatter spreads these days is the tenuous state of home prices. Another reason is capacity constraints — in other words, lenders are building a thicker margin into their prices so they don't get inundated with more loan requests they can handle. The FT quotes an analyst as saying that the top lenders "don't seem very interested in competing on rate." Wall Street Journal, New York Times, Financial Times, Washington Post
Occupy Wall Street: As threatened, the demonstrators marched to Jamie Dimon's apartment building this week, carrying an oversized fake check for $5 billion (purportedly the amount in tax cuts New York State is giving to the wealthiest 1% of the population). They also picketed outside JPMorgan Chase's office in lower Manhattan, though "DealBook" makes much of the fact that this was not the bank's actual headquarters, which are in Midtown. A West Coast chapter of the movement blocked Wells Fargo's headquarters, though. Another "DealBook" story notes that the protests have inspired college students to rally against on-campus recruiting by financial firms. Also in the Times, "Reuters BreakingViews" compares Occupy Wall Street to a similar post-crisis populist movement from the late 19th century. Among the chattering classes, the reliably laissez-faire Peter Wallison writes in the Journal's opinion section that the Occupy Wall Street movement is "gullible" for blaming private enterprise rather than government for the economy's miserable state. A bit further left on the political spectrum, "RortyBomb" blogger Mike Konczal has aggregated bits of personal data from the stories on the "We are the 99 Percent" Tumblr site, and gleaned some patterns. Student loans, for an example, are an "overwhelming" concern, mentioned more often than kids, unemployment or health care. These young people "aren't demanding to bring democracy into the workplace via large-scale unionization, much less shorter work days and more pay," Konczal writes. Rather, their agenda is "straight out of antiquity — free us from the bondage of our debts." Finally, Post columnist Harold Meyerson gives advice to Democratic politicians who want to harness the power of this nascent movement: pledge to take no money from financial companies or their workers.
Wall Street Journal
China announced emergency plans to support small businesses that have struggled to raise money and become prey to the country's shadow lending system, where rates run as high as 50%.
New York Times
William Galvin, Massachusetts' top financial regulator, has asked some of the big investment banks for information on the headhunting services they perform for hedge funds — a little-known activity that the Times wrote about this week.
Newt Gingrich is apparently courting the banker vote. "If you want to put people in jail," he said at a Republican presidential debate on Tuesday night, "you ought to start with Barney Frank and Chris Dodd." Click here to read Frank's comeback.
ProPublica reporter Jesse Eisinger writes on "DealBook" that a lack of trust is the common thread in all the financial system's travails in the U.S. and Europe. "Banks don't have faith in other banks, investors are deeply scarred and wary, and nobody believes that the governments around the world could grapple with the magnitude of the problems, even if they wanted to."
Bankers upset about an unlevel playing field across international borders may just have to learn to live with it. As the headline for this story succinctly puts it, "Uniform implementation of regulation is unlikely."
"A handful of the nation's largest banks have begun giving away scores of properties that are abandoned or otherwise at risk of languishing indefinitely. … The banks have even been footing the bill for the demolitions — as much as $7,500 a pop."
Under an SEC proposal for registering swaps dealers as required by Dodd-Frank, the agency "would rely heavily on assurances by those firms." Commissioner Elisse B. Walter cited the regulator's funding constraints. "In an ideal world, our registration program would include a comprehensive evaluation of each potential registrant immediately after it files an application," she said. "But we do not live in an ideal world. … I do not believe that we can perform all the functions I would like to see us perform when an entity applies for registration."
And Lastly ...
New York: Elizabeth Warren's admirers and detractors alike will enjoy this parody video on the magazine's website. Once again, viewer discretion is advised.