By Pam Martens: December 3, 2014
On April 29, 2010 at 7:47 in the evening, Francis Dunleavy, the head of Principal Investing within the JPMorgan Commodities Group fired off a terse email to a colleague, Rob Cauthen. The email read: “Please get him in ASAP.”
The man that Dunleavy wanted to be interviewed “ASAP” was John Howard Bartholomew, a young man who had just obtained his law degree from George Washington University two years prior. But it wasn’t his law degree that Bartholomew decided to feature at the very top of the resume he sent to JPMorgan; it was the fact that while working at Southern California Edison in Power Procurement, he had “identified a flaw in the market mechanism Bid Cost Recovery that is causing the CAISO [the California grid operator] to misallocate millions of dollars.” Bartholomew goes on to brag in his resume that he had “showed how units in reliability areas can increase profits by 400%.”
The internal emails at JPMorgan and Bartholomew’s resume are now marked as Exhibit 76 in a two-year investigation conducted by the U.S. Senate’s Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations into Wall Street’s vast ownership of physical commodities and rigging of commodity markets. Senator Carl Levin, the Chair of the Subcommittee, had this to say about the resume at a hearing conducted on November 21:
“There’s two things that I find incredible about this. First, that anyone would advertise in a resume that they know about a flaw in the system — signaling that they’re ready and willing to exploit that flaw. And, second, that somebody would hire the person sending that signal.”
JPMorgan not only hired Bartholomew, according to the Senate’s findings, but within three months from the date of the email to Dunleavy, “Bartholomew began to develop manipulative bidding strategies focused on CAISO’s make-whole mechanism, called Bid Cost Recovery or BCR payments.” By early September, the strategy to game the system was put into play. By October, the JPMorgan unit was estimating that the strategy “could produce profits of between $1.5 and $2 billion through 2018.”
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Senate Report: Scale of Wall Street Holdings Are “Unprecedented in U.S. History”
By Pam Martens: November 25, 2014
Last Thursday, the U.S. Senate’s Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations, chaired by Senator Carl Levin, released an alarming 396-page report that details how Wall Street’s too-big-to-fail banks have quietly, and often stealthily through shell companies, gained ownership of a stunning amount of the nation’s critical industrial commodities like oil, aluminum, copper, natural gas, and even uranium. The report said the scale of these bank holdings “appears to be unprecedented in U.S. history.”
Adding to the hubris of the situation, the Wall Street banks’ own regulator, the Federal Reserve, gave its blessing to this unprecedented and dangerous encroachment by banking interests into industrial commodity ownership and has effectively looked the other way as the banks moved into industrial commerce activities like owning pipelines and power plants.
For more than a century, Federal law has encouraged the separation of banking and commerce. The role of banks has been seen as providing prudent corporate lending to facilitate the growth of commerce, not to compete with it through unfair advantage by having access to cheap capital from the Federal Reserve’s lending programs. Additionally, the mega banks are holding trillions of dollars in FDIC insured deposits; if they experienced a catastrophic commercial accident through a ruptured pipeline, tanker oil spill, or power plant explosion, it could once again put the taxpayer on the hook for a bailout.
The Levin report addresses the element of catastrophic risk, noting:
“While the likelihood of an actual catastrophe remained remote, those activities carried risks that banks normally avoided altogether. Goldman, for example, bought a uranium business that carried the risk of a nuclear incident, as well as open pit coal mines that carried potential risks of methane explosions, mining mishaps, and air and water pollution…Morgan Stanley owned and invested in extensive oil storage and transport facilities and a natural gas pipeline company which, together, carried risks of fire, pipeline ruptures, natural gas explosions, and oil spills. JPMorgan bought dozens of power plants whose risks included fire, explosions, and air and water pollution. Throughout most of their history, U.S. banks have not incurred those types of catastrophic event risks.”
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