Recession

Why Jamie Dimon is not going anywhere

October 22, 2013: 10:59 AM ET

Even the largest settlement ever paid by an American corporation won't sink CEO Jamie Dimon. A buoyant share price makes for a good lifesaver.

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FORTUNE -- J.P. Morgan Chase, the nation's largest bank, is set to pay the government a reported $13 billion to end a wave of civil investigations into the bank's sale of mortgage-backed securities leading up to the 2008 financial crisis.

But even the largest settlement ever paid by an American corporation won't sink CEO Jamie Dimon. A buoyant share price makes for a good lifesaver.

News of the astronomical settlement prompted calls for Dimon, long seen as Wall Street's golden boy, to finally -- finally! -- meet the fate of disgraced bank CEOs like Ken Lewis of Bank of America (BAC) and Charles O. Prince, head of Citigroup (C), who lost their posts during the recession.

Not so fast.

When Lewis resigned from BofA in September 2009, his bank's share price was $16.92, down from a high of $54.85 in 2006.

Meanwhile, J.P. Morgan (JPM) has never made more money. Dimon navigated the bank through the financial crisis without a loss and produced record profits for three straight years, reaching $21.3 billion in 2012. Its share price rose even as news of the giant settlement spread. On Tuesday it was at $54.52, near its 52-week high.

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Like it or not, money talks and in Dimon's case, it speaks louder than what a settlement -- even one of historic proportions -- might say about the bank's recession-era screw-ups.

Just ask J.P. Morgan's shareholders -- the ones who stand to profit from the bank's financial success and have a say in its leadership. In May, amid ongoing federal investigations and the London Whale scandal that lost the bank $6.2 billion, nearly 70% of the bank's shareholders supported Dimon's dual role as J.P. Morgan's chairman and chief executive. The board of directors supported Dimon too. (Pension funds sought to remove Dimon as chairman in hopes of implementing what they considered better oversight.)

That backing is unlikely to waver. "[The settlement] will not have an impact on [Dimon's] ability to lead this company," says Jason Goldberg, managing director at Barclays Capital. "They're paying a big number to put this behind, and the board has chosen to embrace it."

Perhaps shareholders are supportive of Dimon because he has no obvious successor. It just so happens that a handful of top executives -- some with ties to the London Whale debacle -- departed the bank earlier this year, leaving Dimon, for better or worse, alone to lead.

Being alone at the top comes with its disadvantages. Despite the fact that some 80% of the securities in the recent settlement relate to activities at Bear Stearns and Washington Mutual -- which JP Morgan acquired during the financial crisis -- blame for the bank's legal woes has landed squarely on Dimon.

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But it doesn't look like the pressure is getting to Dimon. Earlier this month, he announced the bank had set aside $23 billion for legal costs, making the $13 billion settlement look almost like a bargain.

Since the recession, Dimon had been a pillar of resolve inside J.P. Morgan and extremely popular in the outside world -- in Washington in particular, says Yale School of Management professor Jeffrey Sonnenfeld. Dimon met regularly with Obama Administration officials and supported some of their financial reforms. "By standing apart from the crowd," Sonnenfeld says, "[Dimon] made a target of himself."

The recent legal tangles have lost Dimon favor in D.C., but it won't cost him his job. In a market where money is the only measure that matters, Dimon is still untouchable.

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