Jamie Dimon says Fed stimulus exit will be easy
FORTUNE — Jamie Dimon, the CEO of America’s biggest bank, says it’s time to stop worrying about the Fed. After all, he’s not worried.
In his annual letter to shareholders, which was released on Wednesday afternoon, the CEO of JPMorgan Chase (JPM) said there is “little question” that the Federal Reserve’s signature stimulus program boosted the economy and hastened the recovery. What’s more, he says the Fed’s exit from QE, which is expected to happen this year, isn’t likely to reverse that.
That’s not a universally held view, particularly on Wall Street. Last year, Warren Buffett said he was worried about what will happen when the Fed unwinds its stimulus. Others have predicted accelerated inflation, sharply rising interest rates, another financial crisis, and a stock market collapse. Even the Fed itself has been testing banks to see how they would do if interest rates were to increase at a rapid clip.
Instead, Dimon says the end of quantitative easing is a good thing and will most likely be uneventful. The Fed’s bond buying has ballooned its balance sheet to $4.5 trillion, up from $1 billion before the crisis. While large, Dimon says in his letter that that’s still not a very big percentage of the overall $90 trillion in financial assets within the global economy. However, the markets that the Fed would be selling into — the Treasury and mortgage-bond markets — are considerably smaller, more like $16 trillion and $10 trillion, respectively.
Dimon does think interest rates will rise, perhaps to 5% on the 10-year Treasury bond, which is double where it is today. But he says that it is unlikely to slow the economy. Companies already have a lot of cash. And a stronger economy means they only will be generating more of it. So he doesn’t think the higher borrowing costs will affect them much.
Dimon does observe, as others have, that bank lending hasn’t jumped nearly as much as you would expect, given the low interest rates. He argues that that is at least partly the result of increased banking regulation. The flip side of that, though, is all those new regulations are likely to continue to hold back lending, and therefore inflation, when QE is over.
As in past years, Dimon also uses his annual letter to gripe about bank regulations, claiming the new rules will drive up the cost that borrowers will have to pay for certain loans. And he also says that the stricter rules the U.S. has for its largest banks, like JPMorgan, could put American banks at a competitive disadvantage. But all-in-all Dimon admits in his letter that regulations have made the banking system and the economy better off.
Dimon also has a book recomdation: The Better Angels of Our Nature by Harvard professor Steven Pinker, which the CEO says shows that the world, over time, has become a less cruel and better place. No word on whether he has read Michael Lewis’s Flashboys.