$920 million dollars is a staggering amount of money. So Thursday’s headline about JPMorgan Chase having to pay a $920 million dollar fine and make the “rare declaration of wrongdoing” for the “London Whale” trading losses looks like a massive punitive blow to the company, one that could be large enough to deter future “mistakes,” as their CEO Jamie Dimon categorized them. But how much money is $920 million relative to the massive financial institution’s earnings? Let’s crunch the numbers using a complex formula heretofore referred to as “simple math.”
According to JPMorgan Chase’s “Annual Report and Proxy Statement,” the company’s net income in 2012 was $21,284. Wait, what’s that fine print read at the top? Oh, sorry, that number is in millions. They made $21,284 million in profit last year, or over $21 billion. Using “simple math” we can deduce that $920 million is just 4.3 percent of what JPMorgan Chase made last year. In profit, not gross.
Still, just seeing the word "billion" (or "million," or honestly, even just "one thousand") is enough to make your head spin, so let’s break it down into terms we understand. Referred to by the New York Times as “the government’s authoritative annual report on incomes, poverty and health insurance,” the census bureau released its findings on income just two days ago, conveniently for our experiment.
Let’s see what the New York Times story says here…“Everything’s on hold, but at a bad level"…"income gains have accrued almost entirely to the top earners"...”the report understates the degree of income inequality in the United States”...Ah-ha, here’s the number we need: adjusted for inflation, the median household income was $51,017 (in thousands) in 2012, “down about 9 percent from an inflation-adjusted peak of $56,080 in 1999,” according to the Times.
So, using simple math we can deduce that if JPMorgan Chase was the average American household, it’s fine would have amounted to…$2,205.
So there you go. Everyone’s budget is different, obviously, but seems to me like most of us could figure out a way to get that paid without too much inconvenience. Sure, we’d have to cut some things out here and there, but it’s hardly a crushing financial blow. It’s the kind of figure that’s big enough to be an annoyance, but not so big as to be devastating, or make you totally rethink your personal ethics and conduct; it would just kind of suck.
But JPMorgan Chase isn't a person, it's a corporation; after agreeing to the settlement, their stock was characterized as a "whale of a value."