JPMorgan ‘open for business’ in leveraged loans as rivals get stuck with losses

A woman walks past JPMorgan Chase & Co's international headquarters on Park Avenue in New York
A woman walks past JPMorgan Chase & Co's international headquarters on Park Avenue in New York July 13, 2012. REUTERS/Andrew Burton

Jan 13 (Reuters) - JPMorgan Chief Financial Officer Jeremy Barnum told investors the bank is "absolutely open for business" in leveraged lending even as other U.S. banks are expected to book significant losses on risky loans underwritten last year.

“Terms are better, pricing is better, we have the resources needed," Barnum said on a conference call with analysts. "We’re fully there. No overhang and no issue.”

Barnum's comments come after many U.S. banks cut back on lending to lower-quality corporate borrowers last year, as Wall Street’s demand for leveraged loans plunged as the Federal Reserve raised interest rates to tame inflation.

After significant losses on debt sales last year, including a $700 million loss on an $8.5 billion debt package funding the buyout of software maker Citrix Systems Inc, major banks have largely chosen since then to absorb debt they had underwritten earlier in the year.

Some $35 billion to $50 billion of such loans are stuck on banks’ books as they await a better market environment, bankers told Reuters previously.

Last summer, Bank of America jointly led a group of banks to provide $13 billion in loans and bonds to Elon Musk for his acquisition of social media giant Twitter. The banks have since struggled to get the debt off their books at a reasonable price, instead choosing to hold the debt.

When asked whether these stuck deals would constrain lending activity by large banks like JPMorgan, which has been less active than its peers, Barnum said the overhang is already reflected in prices and banks are able to absorb losses on existing deals.

“There’s a bit of a narrative that activity in the market needs to overcome an overhang,” Barnum said. “We’re not convinced that that’s true.”

Banks must still mark to market the Twitter debt and other deals to their market value on their books, setting aside funds for losses that are reported in quarterly results. The exact amount remains to be seen, as the banks decide how much to write it down based on market checks and judgment.

Bank of America Corp’s (BAC.N) Chief Financial Officer Alastair Borthwick said company accounts for leveraged loans in its results, without giving details on any large deals.

“We mark our positions every week,” and books profits or losses via its investment banking and trading arms, Borthwick said. “It’s all in there, our results reflect any marks in any given quarter and we follow the process as we do every time.”

Reporting by Matt Tracy; editing by Lananh Nguyen

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