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Those huge French Whales: Kerviel, Tourre and Bruno Iksil

Friday, 11 May, 2012

According to Société Générale, one of its traders, Jérôme Kerviel, engaged in unauthorized transactions in 2007 totaling as much as €49.9 billion, a figure higher than the bank’s total market capitalization. On 5 October 2010, a French court sentenced Kerviel to five years of prison, with two years suspended, full restitution of the $6.7 billion that was lost because of his speculation, and a permanent ban from working in financial services. Afterwards, the bank stated that the restitution was “symbolic”, and that it had no expectation the sum would be paid.

Talking of 2010, fans of high finance will also recall the multi-billion dollar accusations of fraud against Goldman Sachs for selling its clients toxic mortgage-backed securities that it had specifically designed to fail for the sole purpose of betting against them. Who got blamed for this scam? Fabrice Pierre Tourre. The fabulous Frenchman was the only person named when financial regulators charged the US investment bank with fraud.

Now it’s the turn of their compatriot Bruno Iksil to share the (dis)honour. Back on 6 April, The Wall Street Journal reported that Iksil, a trader at J.P. Morgan known in the market as the “London Whale”, had made large bets on credit derivatives. The bank said Iksil’s unit was meant to ‘hedge structural risks’. A week later, Bloomberg ran a story titled “JPMorgan’s London Whale Could Use New Nickname” that noted Iksil “had earned two unforgettable nicknames: (1) The London Whale, and (2) Voldemort, after the Harry Potter villain.” On the very same day, J.P. Morgan reported its first-quarter earnings and CFO Doug Braunstein said that the bank was “very comfortable” with the unit’s positions. Morgan CEO Jamie Dimon called media coverage on the matter a “tempest in the teapot“. That’s a “tempête dans un verre d’eau“, by the way.

Yesterday, J.P. Morgan said it had taken $2 billion in losses so far in the second quarter related to the London Whale’s trading. Dimon called the strategy “flawed, complex, poorly reviewed, poorly executed and poorly monitored.”
WSJ bottom line: “Asked what, in hindsight, he should have paid more attention to, Mr. Dimon deadpanned: ‘newspapers.'”


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