By Anirban Sen and Elizabeth Dilts Marshall
(Reuters) – JPMorgan Chase & Co’s top boss Jamie Dimon on Monday said he sees a “bad recession” in 2020, and that the largest U.S. bank could suspend its dividend if the coronavirus crisis deepens.
Dimon, widely regarded as the face of the U.S. banking sector, is the most prominent voice on Wall Street so far to project that the economic cost of the coronavirus will not evaporate quickly, and said the bank’s earnings will be down “meaningfully in 2020.”
JPMorgan could look at suspending dividends if the gross domestic product (GDP) were to fall by as much as 35% in the second quarter and the unemployment rate were to rise further to 14% in the fourth quarter of the year, the chief executive officer wrote in his annual letter to shareholders.
Questions are mounting about whether big U.S. banks will have to cut dividends later this year as the coronavirus crisis puts a record portion of Americans out of work, making it difficult for borrowers to pay back loans.
“If the board suspended the dividend, it would be out of extreme prudence and based upon continued uncertainty over what the next few years will bring,” Dimon said.
Dimon, who returned to work last week after undergoing emergency heart surgery in March, highlighted several other challenges that the bank is facing, saying its call centers have struggled in the current environment, with many of them effectively shutting down due to local restrictions.
JPMorgan will extend benefits to customers hit hard by the health crisis, by introducing measures such as waivers for late fees and a 90-day grace period for mortgage and auto loan payments, according to the letter.
Dimon also said that the vast majority of the bank’s 16,850 ATMs were “well-stocked and still functioning” to provide cash for customers.
The bank said it had extended about $950 million in new loans to small businesses and would still extend credit to small businesses.
“In both our central case scenario for 2020 results and in our extremely adverse scenario, we are lending – currently or plan to do so – an additional $150 billion for our clients’ needs,” Dimon said.
Even with that lending, Dimon wrote JPMorgan currently has over $500 billion in total liquid assets and $300 billion in incremental borrowing capacity from the Federal Reserve and Federal Home Loan Banks.
Dimon did not pass up the opportunity to suggest regulatory and fiscal policy reform, as he has often done in past annual letters.
“After the crisis subsides (and it will), our country should thoroughly review all aspects of our preparedness and response. And we should use the opportunity to closely review the economic response and determine whether any additional regulatory changes are warranted to improve our financial and economic system. There will be a time and place for that – but not now.”
JPMorgan will also nominate former International Business Machines Corp Chief Executive Officer Virginia “Ginni” Rometty for election to its board. Rometty will become the executive chairman of IBM on April 6.
Reporting by Anirban Sen in Bangalore; Editing by Sriraj Kalluvila, Bernard Orr.