Dimon in the rough: bitcoin gets a thrashing

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By:
Mark Baker
Published on:

JPMorgan's CEO finds it hard to shake a habit.

bitcoin burns-600

JPMorgan’s Jamie Dimon, not known for his restraint at the Institute of International Finance (IIF) meetings, pitched up to this year's US CEO forum on Friday with one arm in a sling – but it didn’t appear to hold him back.

The Dimon in a sling is still The Dimon, and all it meant was his free arm had to do twice as much work.

The highlight of last year’s rant was his railing at the glacial pace of infrastructure development in the US. This year it was bitcoin – what else?

Dimon spends a lot of time telling people how he doesn’t want to talk about bitcoin, but he finds it terribly hard to do. In mid-September he told a conference it was a fraud and worse than the tulip bulb bubble.

Like a man struggling to overcome a compulsion, he regrets every fall off the wagon. And on Thursday it looked like he might have conquered his demons, telling participants on his bank’s Q3 results conference call that he was not going to talk about it anymore.

Cue the IIF panel session, the very next day.

“I couldn’t care less about bitcoin,” he said. “I don’t know why I said anything about it. God bless the blockchain.”

It wasn’t the concept of cryptocurrencies moving $6 trillion around the world that was the problem, he added. After all, JPMorgan is bulging with initiatives that use the blockchain. His beef was with non-fiat cryptocurrency. He didn’t understand the value of something that had no value.

But he still didn’t care about bitcoin.

“Y’all can do what the hell you like, I don’t care.” Another dig at the media: every day – every day! – CNBC was talking about bitcoin. “Who cares about bitcoin?” Not Dimon, that’s for sure.

It’s not going to be around for long anyway.

“Governments are going to crush it one day,” he predicted, noting that China was already cracking down on it. In case the audience hadn’t noticed, governments had a tendency to like to know where a country’s money is, who had it and what they were doing with it.

Lurch

Dimon’s rhetoric lurches between stream of consciousness and tweet-ready brevity: “So the use case for bitcoin is Venezuela and North Korea – or criminals. Great product!” He didn’t add “Sad!”, but you knew he wanted to.

He’s not alone in seeing a connection between bitcoin and actors with nefarious intentions. BlackRock CEO Larry Fink says some of the same things that Dimon says, just not in the same way. He was sitting next to Dimon and was happy to back him up.

“[The value of] bitcoin just shows you how much demand for money laundering there is in the world,” he said. It was an index of money laundering, that’s all.

Morgan Stanley’s James Gorman was relieved to stay out of the fray – his only mention of the topic a characteristically dry aside to moderator Tim Adams that “I’m just glad you didn’t ask me about bitcoin”.

In any case, Dimon still didn’t care about bitcoin.

“This is the last time I am ever going to answer a question about bitcoin,” he said. “I don’t care.”