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Breaking Views

Jamie Dimon's fighting words

JPMorgan's CEO is noted for his refreshing candor, but silence can be a virtue too.

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By Antony Currie, breakingviews.com

(breakingviews.com) -- Jamie Dimon isn't one to pull his punches. In fact, the JPMorgan chief's willingness to criticize, for example, the shortcomings of retroactively changing government bailout programs can be refreshing -- and often spot-on.

It's hard to quibble with his recent dubbing of the Troubled Asset Relief Program as the "scarlet letter" and the "Tarp baby" -- though few peers have the chutzpah to say so publicly. And many understand his reluctance to participate in the Public-Private Investment Program on the ground that "we've learned our lesson about" borrowing from the government.

But at times Dimon risks sailing a bit too close to the wind. Some wonder whether his assertion in April that JPMorgan (JPM, Fortune 500) didn't need to raise equity to pay back Tarp cash played a role in the U.S. deciding even healthy banks would have to do just that -- JPMorgan has just had to raise $5 billion.

Sure, his comment was perceived to be more of a dig at Goldman Sachs (GS, Fortune 500), which had just raised its own capital, and came with the caveat that regulators might think otherwise anyway. But it's instructive that some rivals ascribe that much power to the man, rightly or wrongly.

This week, though, he has taken another swing at government intervention, first by reading out a fictitious letter to Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner at a conference: "Dear Timmy, we are happy to be able to pay back the $25 billion you lent us. We hope you enjoyed the experience as much as we did".

That's no more than a bit of ribald humor, perhaps. But he later followed it up by saying the U.S. should cancel half the warrants tied to Tarp investments in banks "out of fairness." That may resonate with some -- why should a bank that didn't need Tarp cash and that should be one of the first to pay it back be forced to make good on one of the attached strings that will dilute its shareholders?

But it's not as clear cut as bashing barmy changes to Tarp and PPIP. The warrants were part of the original Tarp package back in October -- and, all else aside, JPMorgan has enjoyed almost nine months of cheap money from the taxpayer.

Perhaps it's just another bold Dimon gamble -- and if the U.S. caves and cancels a portion, he'll be hailed as a hero. But sometimes staying silent on some issues can be the greater virtue. To top of page

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