JPMorgan Treasury Takes Big Bets

Bank’s chief investment office embraces prop trading in search of profit.

JPMorgan Chase & Co. Chief Executive Officer Jamie Dimon has transformed the bank’s chief investment office in the past five years, increasing the size and risk of its speculative bets, according to five former executives with direct knowledge of the changes.

Achilles Macris, hired in 2006 as the CIO’s top executive in London, led an expansion into corporate and mortgage-debt investments with a mandate to generate profits for the New York-based bank, three of the former employees said. Dimon, 56, closely supervised the shift from the CIO’s previous focus on protecting JPMorgan from risks inherent in its banking business, such as interest-rate and currency movements, they said.

Surge in Holdings

Since 2007, the value of securities held in JPMorgan’s chief investment office and treasury has more than tripled to surpass $350 billion from $76.5 billion, according to company filings. The biggest jump was in 2009, when the company disclosed that the CIO made “significant purchases” of government-backed mortgage securities, asset-backed securities, corporate securities, as well as U.S. Treasury and government-agency securities, according to the filings.

Missile in Flight

In London, Macris expanded his team, adding expertise in credit and fixed-income trading. A Greek citizen, Macris previously was co-head of capital markets at Dresdner Kleinwort Wasserstein before joining JPMorgan in 2006. In that role he helped oversee a unit that made proprietary trades, or bets with Dresdner’s own money, according to two people who worked with him at the time.

‘London Whale’

In 2007 Javier Martin-Artajo, who had been Dresdner’s head of credit-derivatives trading, joined JPMorgan in London. George Polychronopoulos, who worked at hedge fund Endeavour Capital LLP, also joined the London office in 2009.

‘Extraordinary Platform’

Another sign: The relationship between the CIO and the investment bank’s sales and trading desks is strained, two former employees said. Employees in the CIO get a smaller share of their trading profits than those in the investment bank, giving Dimon a cost-management incentive to direct more trading through the CIO, one former executive said.

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