JPMorgan CEO says there's 'something wrong' with the US

JPMorgan CEO says there's 'something wrong' with the US
JPMorgan Chase CEO Jamie Dimon
PHOTO: The Business Times

JPMorgan Chase CEO Jamie Dimon, in his annual letter to investors, said he has high hopes for the US but believes there is "something wrong" with the country as well.

"Our problems are significant, and they are not the singular purview of either political party. We need coherent, consistent, comprehensive and coordinated policies that help fix these problems," the head of the largest bank by assets in the US wrote. "The solutions are not binary - they are not either/or, and they are not about Democrats or Republicans. They are about facts, analysis, ideas and best practices (including what we can learn from others around the world)."

Dimon noted that the US is "an exceptional country," but he delineated numerous areas where the country needs to improve. Among them are low wage growth, high health-care costs and overcrowded prisons.

Businesses are overburdened with regulations, the nation's infrastructure needs help, and the education system "is leaving too many behind," he added. Among the other ills: Taxes are making US companies less competitive globally, income disparity is widening, and social mobility is decreasing.

"The lack of economic growth and opportunity has led to deep and understandable frustration among so many Americans," Dimon said. "It is understandable why so many are angry at the leaders of America's institutions, including businesses, schools and governments - they are right to expect us to do a better job."

At the same time, Dimon expressed hope for his bank's future in large part because attitudes toward banking and business have changed.

Dimon Letter 2017 by on Scribd

Noting how difficult conditions were for banks after the financial crisis, he said his company's fortunes this year have brightened thanks to a new political culture.

"We believe the anticipated reversal of many negatives and the expectation of a more business-friendly environment, coupled with our sustained, strong business results, are among the reasons our stock price has done so well this past year," Dimon wrote.

JPMorgan's shares are up nearly 48 per cent over the past 12 months, thanks to a big rally after President Donald Trump's upset election victory in November. The stock was up about 0.5 per cent on Tuesday.

Though Dimon did not mention Trump anywhere in the 45-page missive that he delivers each April, some of the president's pet themes do appear.

Like Trump, he also bemoans the cost of US wars and said the government taking over the student loan business has seen college debt soar from US$200 billion(S$279 billion) to more than US$900 billion.

As far as his own company goes, Dimon noted that all of JPMorgan's core businesses have gained market share over the year. He said he continues to favour buybacks as a way to boost share price, even though the current level represents double the stock's book value.

"We believe we have substantial opportunities in the decades ahead to drive organic growth in our company," Dimon said. "We have confidence in the underlying growth in the US and global economies, which will fuel the growth in our customer base."

The bank also will be rolling out some new products.

Among them are the ability to do most banking on mobile devices, automated online advising (commonly referred to as robo-advisors) and a "more robust digital platform" for the corporate and investment banking arms as well as asset and wealth management.

In addition, he said the bank is rolling out more security protections for customers.

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