NEW YORK – J.P. Morgan Chase & Co. (JPM) Wednesday confronted investor distrust and defended itself against congressional allegations it helped Enron Corp. hide massive debts, which led to the bankrupt energy trader's eventual collapse.
"My belief is that we acted properly and with integrity in all the Enron matters," William Harrison, chairman and chief executive of the No. 2 U.S. bank holding company, told analysts and investors in a conference call. "Yesterday's hearings didn't change my view on that at all."
J.P. Morgan shares rebounded from Tuesday's sharp drop to rise 8.6 percent, or $1.72, to $21.80 on Wednesday.
The bank's executives spoke to Wall Street after U.S. congressional investigators said J.P. Morgan and Citigroup for years helped Enron hide debt that ultimately led to the energy trader's collapse. The banks also entered into Enron-style financing deals with at least 10 other unidentified companies, investigators said at hearings on Tuesday.
The hearings followed a spate of accounting scandals from Enron to bankrupt telecommunications company WorldCom Group that has dashed global investors' faith in U.S. corporate management and accounting practices.
J.P. Morgan's stock had dropped 18 percent on Tuesday to levels not seen since 1996, on concerns about the bank's potential liability for its Enron dealings. Citigroup stock slid 16 percent on Tuesday but rose 3 percent, or 80 cents, on Wednesday, to $27.80.
Citigroup, another leading Enron lender, also said in comments on its Web site that the transactions it did with Enron were appropriate based on what it knew and what it was told by Enron.
Congressional investigators accused J.P. Morgan and Citigroup of lending Enron billions of dollars via disguised commodity trades called prepays. With prepays, money is paid in advance for future delivery of a commodity like oil or gas. Enron booked proceeds from the transactions as cash flow but should have booked it as debt, investigators said.
J.P. Morgan executives said on Wednesday many financial institutions and other companies used prepay transactions, and that Enron's obligations under the prepay transactions were properly recorded as trading liabilities.
J.P. Morgan also has ample liquidity and a strong capital base, and the stock market was overreacting to the hearings and perceived liabilities the bank could face, executives told analysts and investors.
"We think the stock price at current levels is very, very depressed," Harrison said. "I will be buying back stock today, along with Mr. (Marc) Shapiro and others." Shapiro, the bank's vice chairman in charge of finance, also defended J.P. Morgan's Enron dealings on the conference call on Wednesday.
The Wall Street Journal on Wednesday also said J.P. Morgan and Citigroup made more than $200 million in fees for transactions that let Enron and other energy companies hide debt and lift their cash flow.