Dimon on Housing: ‘No One Is in Charge’

Bloomberg News
Jamie Dimon, chief executive of J.P. Morgan Chase & Co.

The government and the banking industry needs to get serious about fixing the housing market’s problems, but there’s no one leading the charge, said Jamie Dimon, the chief executive of J.P. Morgan Chase & Co., during the bank’s quarterly conference call on Friday.

“I would convene all the people involved in the business. I would close the door. I would stay there until we resolved a bunch of these issues so we could have a more healthy mortgage market,” he said. “You could fix all this if someone was in charge.”

Mr. Dimon ticked off a list of unresolved issues, including foreclosure delays, the fate of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, conflicts of interest between owners and servicers of first mortgages and second mortgages, and pending rules from the Dodd-Frank Act that will establish new rules of the road for mortgages that are pooled into bonds.

“There is no one really in charge of all of this. It is just kind of sitting there,” he said. A “holistic” approach to tackle those issues could lead to a faster recovery in housing, he said, endorsing the sentiment behind the Federal Reserve’s call to action on housing last week with its release of a 26-page white paper.

Mr. Dimon also elaborated on his view that housing markets have neared bottom. “In half the markets in America it is now cheaper to … buy than to rent. Housing is at all-time affordability,” he said. “What you need to see is employment.”

An stronger surge in job growth would boost household formation, which coupled with positive demographics, means that “you’re going to have a turn at one point,” he said. “I don’t know if it’s three months, six months, nine months, but it’s getting closer.”

Mr. Dimon said his bank had made mistakes in handling mortgage foreclosures, and said the bank “should pay for the mistakes we made.” But he added that banks have also offered millions of mortgage modifications, and that banks “are doing it as aggressively as we can.”

He also brushed aside calls for widespread principal reductions, saying that he didn’t agree “that somehow principal forgiveness would be the end-all, the be-all.”

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