Shortly after our latest discussion how JPM’s drain of liquidity via Money Markets and reserves parked at the Fed may have prompted the September repo crisis and subsequent launch of “Not QE” by the Fed in order to reduce its at risk capital and potentially lower its G-SIB charge – currently the highest of all major US banks – we not only got confirmation that the biggest US bank has been quietly rotating out of cash, but was also busy repositioning its balance sheet in another major way.
According to an overnight report from the FT which confirms what we already disclosed previously, namely that JPMorgan pushed more than $130bn of excess cash away from reserves in the process significantly tightening overall liquidity in the interbank market, the bulk of this money was allocated to long-dated bonds while cutting the amount of loans it holds, in what the FT dubbed was a “major shift in how the largest US bank by assets manages its enormous balance sheet.”
The moves saw the bank’s bond portfolio soar by 50%, and were prompted by capital rules that treat loans as riskier than bonds. And since JPM has been aggressively returning billions of dollars to shareholders in dividends and share buybacks each year, JPMorgan has far less room than most rivals to hold riskier assets, explaining its substantially higher G-SIB surcharge.
An executive at a large institutional investors told the FT that what JPM did “is incredible”, adding that “the scale of what JPMorgan is doing is mind-boggling . . . migrating out of cash into securities while loans are flat.”
The dramatic change, which occurred gradually over the year, and which may have catalyzed the spike in repo rates in September, was first flagged by JPMorgan at an investor event back in February. Then CFO Marianne Lake said that, after years of industry-leading loan growth, “we have to recognize the reality of the capital regime that we live in”.
So what exactly did JPMorgan do?
The biggest US bank by assets shrank its loans portfolio by 4%, or about $40bn, year to date; at the same time as selling off mortgages, the bank has reduced the amount of cash on its balance sheet and used it to buy long-dated bonds.