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JPMorgan Stock Plunges on Report Trade Loss Could be Bigger

JPMorgan Chase & Co came under renewed scrutiny after the New York Times reported that losses from a bungled credit-derivatives trade could be as much as $9 billion, much more than earlier estimated.

Shares of the biggest bank in the United States fell as much as 5.4 percent in trading before the New York Stock Exchange opened as investors and analysts rushed to determine the significance of the report. The shares were down 3.5 percent shortly before the start of trading.

JPMorgan Chief Executive Jamie Dimon had on May 10 pegged the loss at $2 billion and warned it could rise by another "$1 billion or more." He hasn't raised the loss estimate since, but said in a congressional hearing last week that the company would be "solidly profitable" in the current quarter. The company normally earns about $5 billion every three months.

The losses could be significantly more than the initial $2 billion estimated as the bank has unwound positions in recent weeks, the New York Times reported, citing people briefed on the situation. An internal report at the bank projected in April that the losses could reach $8-9 billion, assuming worst-case conditions, the newspaper said. The bank has said that it has been reducing its potential losses since then.

JPMorgan declined to comment on the story.

Dimon has promised to give a more complete report on the situation on July 13 when the company releases results through the end of June.

Beyond the exact amount of this loss, investors should be concerned about the impact of JPMorgan's response to this debacle on the company's earnings power, analyst Christopher Mutascio of brokerage Stifel Nicolaus & Co wrote in a report early Thursday. JPMorgan may move to keep up its reported profit by taking more one-time gains from selling securities that yield relatively high rates of interest, he noted. Doing so would reduce profits in the coming quarters.

The bank has said it has already taken $1 billion of such gains to offset the losses. It sold about $25 billion of profitable securities to take the gains.

Investors should also be concerned about the impact of the loss on the company's plans to buy back stock, analyst Andrew Marquardt of Evercore Partners said in a note Thursday.

The company had suspended its buyback program shortly after announcing the trading loss because, Dimon said, the bank wanted to continue building capital to meet higher minimums being set by regulators.

(Reporting by David Henry in New York; Editing by Bernadette Baum)

Copyright 2010 by Reuters. All rights reserved.

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