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JPMorgan Chase Not Inclined to Sink Energy Sector, Says Dimon

JPMorgan Chase & Co. set aside $124 million to cover potential energy loan defaults during the fourth quarter and could set aside another $750 million in reserves if oil were to stay around $30/bbl for 18 months, top executives said Thursday.

"I'd put up more if I could," CEO Jamie Dimon said during a conference call to discuss fourth quarter results. He said accounting rules prevented the bank from being as conservative as he would like it to be in reserving for potential future losses.

"I think we try to be very conservative always and so we're not trying to put up as little as possible," Dimon said. "You know me, I'd put up more if I could but accounting rules dictate what you can do. And these are baskets -- the real risk is in producing wells, cash flows are down, surprisingly, the cost of getting the oil out of the ground has also dropped dramatically and probably much more than most of us would have expected.

"So you take these producing wells, you take the cash flow, you discount, you discounted it 8% or 9%, you lend against it. And so these are our forecasts."

The energy book "isn't that large relative to JPMorgan Chase. We're not worried about the big oil companies. These are mostly the smaller ones that you're talking about these reserve increases on."

About 60% of the bank's commitments are to investment grade companies.

CFO Marianne Lake also noted that many producers have been reducing their operating costs and overhead, all of which has helped.

"As the outlook for oil has weakened, we would expect to see some additional reserve build in 2016, but prices would need to remain at this level for an extended period for them to be significant...It is not the current market expectation that oil will flatline," she said. "It is the expectation right now that there will be a modest recovery."

Dimon said financial institutions have an obligation not to abandon their clients, and he said the bank has no problem continuing to lend to the energy sector.

"The oil folks have been surprisingly resilient," he said. "Remember, these are asset-backed loans. A bankruptcy doesn't necessarily mean your loan is bad; you have to be a little bit careful. There is also...a philosophical thing, a bank is supposed to be there for clients in good times and bad times. So it's not a trading market where you try to support clients...When we can responsibly support clients, we are going to. And we lose a little bit more money because of it, so be it. We've done that around the world. We did it in 2007, 2008 and 2009. We tried to do responsibly.

"If banks just completely pull out of markets every time something gets volatile and scary, you'll be sinking companies left and right."

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