1 Reason to Forgive JPMorgan Chase for the London Whale

How do you make a $5.8 billion trading loss look acceptable? Like so many other things, all you need to do is look at the big picture.

In its second-quarter earnings release, JPMorgan Chase (NYSE: JPM  ) revealed that the disastrous trade from its chief investment office had caused $4.4 billion in losses during the quarter, bringing the debacle to a $5.8 billion total (for now).

In an obvious attempt to assuage investors about the situation, the bank broke out the smaller sub-segments of its Corporate/Private Equity division so investors could consider the (somewhat) longer-term performance of its Treasury/CIO group. To the bank's credit, it does have a point.

The Treasury/CIO piece of the pie has had a net loss of $2.3 billion over the past two quarters, owing almost exclusively to that one trading screw-up. That loss wipes out the group's entire profit for 2011. However, it doesn't come close to offsetting the group's performance going back to 2009.

Consider the total net income from Treasury and CIO since 2009 versus the bank's other divisions.

Division

2009

2010

2011

First Half of 2012

Total

Treasury and CIO $4.3 billion $3.6 billion $1.3 billion ($2.3 billion) $6.9 billion
Investment Bank $6.9 billion $6.6 billion $6.8 billion $3.6 billion $23.9 billion
Card Services & Auto ($1.8 billion) $2.9 billion $4.5 billion $2.2 billion $7.8 billion
Retail Financial Services ($0.3 billion) $1.7 billion $1.7 billion $4 billion $7.1 billion
Commercial Banking $1.3 billion $2.1 billion $2.4 billion $1.3 billion $7 billion
Asset Management $1.4 billion $1.7 billion $1.6 billion $0.8 billion $5.5 billion
Treasury & Securities Services $1.2 billion $1.1 billion $1.2 billion $0.8 billion $4.3 billion

Source: JPMorgan Chase filings.

Obviously, JPMorgan is an investment bank as much as it is anything else. But if we look at Treasury/CIO's total profit versus the other divisions, it's obvious that the income from that group is a considerable chunk of the bank's profits even after the London Whale flopped over and died.

Two further things to consider. First, 2009 was not a typical year for the Corporate/Private Equity division. Total net income for the group was $3 billion, compared with $557 million in 2008 and $1.9 billion in 2007. Further, just because the Treasury/CIO unit has been net profitable since 2009 doesn't mean that more activity in the unit is something to cheer.

But the bottom line is that when considering the recent losses at JPMorgan, the short-termism of the stock market may have gotten the upper hand.

The Motley Fool owns shares of JPMorgan Chase. We Fools don't all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days.

Fool contributor Matt Koppenheffer has no financial interest in any of the companies mentioned. You can check out what Matt is keeping an eye on by visiting his CAPS portfolio, or you can follow Matt on Twitter, @KoppTheFool, or on Facebook. The Fool's disclosure policy prefers dividends over a sharp stick in the eye.


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