By Mark Green
Editor of The Lane Report
LOUISIVLLE, Ky. (March 20, 2013) — JPMorgan Chase CEO Jamie Dimon brought a vigorous upbeat message on the state of the U.S. economy, its major institutions and leadership position in the world to a Louisville audience Tuesday night.
Americans have placed themselves collectively in a strong position by paying down debt since the 2008-09 economic crisis.
“Leverage is lower than it’s been in 40 to 50 years,” Dimon told an audience of 1,200 at the annual meeting of Greater Louisville Inc., the metro chamber of commerce. “Debt service is at where it was 20 years ago,” which is very good for consumers, he said.
Five million more Americans are working now than at the recession’s worst. Corporations large and small are in good financial shape and making money, he said, and “housing has turned.”
There are 130 million American working today, said Dimon, playing the role of business cheerleader. And those workers are now spending, buying cars especially.
The nation is growing by 3 million people a year, and this is has brought housing demand back in line with supply over the course of the past several years. The housing sector alone should generate 1 to 2 million jobs a year, according to Dimon, simply by meeting the demand for homes from the growing U.S. population.
U.S. business, meanwhile, continues to enjoy a significant advantage over other countries because it is more entrepreneurial, more innovative and more productive.
“Productivity is embedded in us,” Dimon insisted. “Americans like to work.”
The head of the largest bank in the United States said America has the widest, deepest and most transparent financial system in the world.
“It is not perfect, but … try to raise money overseas,” he said.
The current U.S. financial system, despite its flaws, is the best that has ever existed. He noted its great diversity from small community banks to behemoths such as JPMorgan Chase, which has $2 trillion in assets and recently was able to provide, for example, a $20 billion bridge loan to AT&T.
Dimon did say that the U.S. banking system, with its 7,000 institutions, is “the least consolidated banking system in the world.” Regarding regulation, the Federal Reserve Bank of New York board member said banks have gotten a large dose of regulation from the state to the international levels and would comply with all the new requirements.
However, he said other nations do not have Glass-Steagall Act type restrictions preventing commercial banks from trading in securities and they have no ill effects. Alluding to the prospect of re-imposition of a U.S. banking ban on securities business operations to prevent another financial system crisis, Dimon said, the real problem behind the crisis was bad mortgages rather than bad investments.
David Novak, CEO of Louisville-based YUM! Brands, introduced Dimon, saying the banker had been recommended to him as a good candidate for the YUM! Board when international food conglomerate was first spun off from Pepsico in 1997. Dimon, 57, and Novak, 59, have served on one another’s boards of directors over the years.
Dimon was a Harvard Business School classmate of last year’s GLI Annual Meeting keynote speaker, Jeffrey Immelt, CEO of GE.
Novak described Dimon as one of the most competitive and passionate business leaders he knows, and someone who takes pride in getting things done.
“He does not look up or down to anyone,” Novak said. “The little person has never had a better champion.”
Dimon has been CEO and president of JPMorgan Chase since 2006, previously leading Bank One Corp., which merged with Chase in 2004. Dimon was a key player in helping his former mentor Sandy Weill create Citigroup in 1998, which was the world’s largest financial firm.
Dimon praised Novak as the CEO who has been best at achieving success in China.
In presenting his argument that the United States remains the absolute dominant player in the world, Dimon noted that China has a good national management of its economy – seven people sit around a table once a week, discuss their issues and make decisions efficiently. However, he said, China’s leaders have a population of 1.3 billion to provide for and have problematic neighbors such as Pakistan, Russia and North Korea rather than America’s much nicer Canada and Mexico.
China’s military did recently acquire its first aircraft carrier, but it is a 1940s-era Soviet superstructure with a new top on it. The U.S. military is “the best by far in the world,” Dimon said.
The reason the U.S. economy is not performing better now given its great advantages, he said, is because of overregulation and manufactured political crises such as the 2011 debt ceiling dispute, the federal budget sequester and an ongoing healthcare policy scare that keep putting sand in the gears.
“Our corporate tax system is terrible,” he said, and immigration policy is very shortsighted in requiring the foreigners who obtain a U.S. education and would love to launch new companies here to instead leave. Dimon also criticized the failure of President Obama and House Speaker John Boehner to reach a $4 trillion “grand bargain” agreement in 2011 when they were $400 billion apart as having caused significant harm to the economy since then.
“If I had been there … I would have said let’s split the difference and go have a beer,” he said to applause.