Saturday, May 12, 2012
Fitch takes first rating shot at JP Morgan Chase
Fitch Ratings has downgraded JPMorgan Chase & Co.’s (JPM) Long-term Issuer Default Rating (IDR) to ‘A+’ from ‘AA-’ and its Short-term IDR to ‘F1′ from ‘F1+’. Fitch has placed all parent and subsidiary long-term ratings on Rating Watch Negative.
Fitch has also downgraded JPM’s viability rating (VR) to ‘a+’ from ‘aa-’ and placed it on Rating Watch Negative. In addition, Fitch affirmed JPM’s ’1′ support rating and ‘A’ support rating floor. A full list of rating actions follows at the end of this release.
The rating actions follow JPM’s disclosure yesterday of a $2 billion trading loss on its synthetic credit positions in its Chief Investment Office (CIO). The positions were intended to hedge JPM’s overall credit exposure, particularly during periods of credit stress.
Fitch views the size of loss as manageable. That said, the magnitude of the loss and ongoing nature of these positions implies a lack of liquidity. It also raises questions regarding JPM’s risk appetite, risk management framework, practices and oversight; all key credit factors. Fitch believes the potential reputational risk and risk governance issues raised at JPM are no longer consistent with an ‘AA-’ rating.
Still, at the ‘A+’ level JPM’s ratings continue to reflect its dominant domestic franchise as well as its solid and growing international franchise in investment banking and commercial banking. Capital remains sound and compares well with global peers, providing the bank with sufficient cushion to absorb a material idiosyncratic loss event. Fitch believes JPM continues to be well prepared to meet the minimum standards under Basel III.
Like other global trading and universal banks (GTUBs), the complexity of JPM’s operations makes it difficult to fully assess the risk exposure. This trading loss is precisely the kind of risk factor inherent in the GTUB business model. Fitch believes JPM, like other GTUBs, is in a highly confidence sensitive business and the longer-term implications for the firm’s reputation are not yet known. As a result, Fitch believes JPM’s ratings remain at heightened risk for downgrade until the firm’s risk governance practices, appetite, oversight and reputational impact can be further reviewed.
In addition, ongoing volatility and further losses are likely to arise from these positions as the firm unwinds them, creating some uncertainty. The firm’s Value at Risk (VaR) methodology was also changed in first-quarter 2012 (1Q’12) but subsequently reverted back to the original methodology. This resulted in a near doubling of VaR to $170 million, from 4Q’11 VaR of $88 million. The variance emanated from the CIO VaR and a negative $47 million diversification benefit. Fitch believes this also highlights some problems with modeling related to this portfolio.
Resolution of the Rating Watch Negative will conclude upon a further review of how JPM has addressed what Fitch views to be risk management and oversight deficiencies that allowed such a loss to occur. Fitch will also attempt to assess the future earnings and capital impact from these exposures. Fitch will also review the potential implications for market confidence in JPMand reputational damage as a result of this loss on both its liquidity profile and counterparty and dealings.
Fitch believes the Rating Watch resolution could result in a further downgrade of one notch if the risks are not appropriately sized and addressed. The complexity and opacity of these positions may also result in lingering concerns around the firm.
A return to a Stable Outlook will be dependent upon Fitch’s ability to gain comfort with the risk management concerns, potential ongoing nature of these synthetic credit positions and volatility they may create, as well as the reputation issues raised.