From the beginning to the end of the financial crisis and Great Recession, JPMorgan Chase (NYSE:JPM) never lost money in a single quarter. The company absorbed failed banks (Bear Stearns) when no one else could, and its "fortress balance sheet" proved strong enough to endure the greatest economic challenge since the Great Depression.
After all that success, it makes sense that the company's CEO, Jamie Dimon, could be a little cocky. And in my opinion, he sometimes is.
The proof lies in these quotes from the company's fourth-quarter conference call earlier this week.
On making the strategic decision to keep JPMorgan Chase together or break up the company
An analyst asked Dimon for his thoughts on calls to potentially break up JPMorgan, which is the largest U.S. bank by assets. After a lengthy response considering the actual reality of breaking up a bank like JPMorgan, Dimon made a case that investors should back off and give him the benefit of the doubt. He said:
This company has been a fortress company. It has delivered in declines, and its diversification is the reason why it's had less volatility of earnings and was able to go through the crisis and never lost money ever, not one quarter.
So in the real-life crisis, we did fine, and in any future crisis, we're going to do fine.
On the rapid drop in global oil prices, and how that could affect JPMorgan Chase
If you follow this season's earnings calls, expect to hear a lot of questions on the impact of the sudden and rapid decline in oil prices. JPMorgan's call was no different. Is Jamie Dimon concerned? Nah.
That's not something that we need to worry about.
... I'm a little surprised that people are so surprised when commodities move like this. Commodities have moved like this my whole life.
Of course, you don't achieve Dimon's success without having some answers as to why. He explained the (lack of) concern a bit further:
Some [companies] will be worse and some will be better, so net-net for us, it's not that big a deal. It's a perfectly legitimate thing for you all to be concerned about companies which are very concentrated in oil or even commercial real estate companies concentrated in oil areas.
For JPMorgan, the diversity of the business will shelter the company from any material pain. Some companies will struggle, some loans will go bad. But low gas prices help consumers and improve the bank's performance in other businesses.
Isn't it more fun though to hear Dimon's way of saying that?
On the flipside of Dimon's intonation -- a deep and long-term commitment to shareholders
It would be unfair to JPMorgan investors to not include a few quotes from Dimon saying all the right things (even if his word choice is a bit curt). Consider these rapid-fire quotes from throughout the call:
I wouldn't look at this as a quarter-by-quarter issue. If you owned 100% of this company, the better way to look at it is it's going to cost us several billion dollars more somehow, plus or minus another couple billion before we get to what I call a more normalized legalized basis.
So just keep in mind that obviously we're going to do the right thing at the end of the day for the shareholder. It might be lower growth and better returns and managing through that and not doing certain things at all.
So we're working 100 different ways to figure out how to get good returns for shareholders while doing a good job for clients.
Has Dimon's performance earned him the right to his outsized ego? Or has self-confidence morphed into arrogance and hubris? Yes, he may be a shareholder-first chief executive, but even the best of intentions can fall short if decision making becomes clouded with overconfidence.
Those are questions that I don't have the definitive answer to, but that won't stop me from enjoying the Jamie Dimon show.