JP MORGAN Chase chief executive Jamie Dimon went head-to-head in a furious row with President Sarkozy yesterday, as the world of politics and banking clashed in spectacular form at the World Economic Forum in Davos.
Dimon, one of Wall Street’s genuine big beasts, made a direct plea to the French President, currently also President of the G20, to use his power to put a stop to excessive regulation, which he said put the fragile economic recovery at risk. “Too much is too much,” he said of the growing sea of regulation. And he urged that “people take a deep breath” before introducing a myriad of rules out of anger.
But Sarkozy, a man unaccustomed to being lectured to, launched into an immediate fresh attack on bankers. He said that during the financial crisis they had made moves that “defied common sense” and harmed millions of people around the world.
“Don’t be accusatory of us,” Sarkozy snapped at Dimon. “The world has paid with tens of millions of unemployed, who were in no way to blame and who paid for everything.”
Dimon, who has won praise for his leadership during the crisis, with JP Morgan having repaid all government money, which it borrowed during the downturn, reacted with fury to Sarkozy’s accusation.
“We bought Bear Stearns because the government asked us to,” Dimon declared to a packed session, insisting that himself, as well as many of his peers, acted as stabilising influences during the crisis.
Dimon also rejected claims that his bank had tried to block reform. “We fought the parts of reform that we thought were irrational,” he said.
He also attacked populist banker-bashing: “This constant refrain ‘bankers, bankers, bankers’ is just unproductive and unfair,” he said. “People should just stop doing that.”
Banks have been loathe to speak out against an increasing burden of regulation following the financial crisis, in recognition of the fact that many required state-funded rescues.
But Dimon’s views echo those of many senior bankers. Malcolm Sweeting, chairman of City law firm Clifford Chance, told City A.M. that there is continuous anxiety over regulation, particularly in Europe: “If you have that regulatory change in Europe and capital is moving east anyway, there’s a question of whether that will speed up the movement of capital from West to East,” he said.