James Dimon, like so many incoming chairmen at troubled companies, recently faced a rite of passage at his inaugural annual shareholder meeting.

The ritual involves a variation on the simple question: "Will you cut the dividend?" It was one of the first questions Frank Newman faced when he took the job of trying to turn around Bankers Trust. Mr. Newman opted to stick it out, using the payout as a show of confidence in the bank's prospects. Somewhat surprisingly, Mr. Dimon's noncommittal response about Bank One Corp.'s payout produced only the slightest ripple of reaction among the news media and investors.

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