Regulator urges tighter rules for futures industry

AP News
Posted: Nov 16, 2011 5:00 PM
Regulator urges tighter rules for futures industry

A federal regulator is calling for tighter oversight of the commodity futures industry in response to hundreds of millions of dollars in customer accounts that went missing after MF Global collapsed.

Scott O'Malia, a Republican member of the Commodity Futures Trading Commission, wants the regulator to go beyond the review it has ordered for all U.S. trading firms. He wants firms to provide daily reports of their customer balances and to be subject to random spot checks by regulators. The industry has tens of thousands of customers.

Such measures are needed to restore "shaken public confidence" in the wake of the MF Global failure, O'Malia says in a statement.

MF Global failed after making a disastrous bet on European debt. It filed for bankruptcy protection on Oct. 31. An estimated $593 million of customers' money is still missing.

The CFTC and other regulators are investigating whether the firm used money from clients' accounts as its own financial condition worsened. That would be a violation of securities rules. The FBI is also investigating whether MF Global violated any criminal laws.

Roughly 120 U.S. firms trade futures, including major Wall Street banks. Federal rules require customers' money to be kept separate from the firms'.

O'Malia also said the agency should adopt measures to give customers more detailed information on the risk that trading firms are taking on.

O'Malia said the agency should consider adopting a rule that would restrict how futures trading firms invest customer funds. It was proposed by the agency late last year. But last summer a meeting of the commissioners to vote on adopting a final rule was cancelled.

Jon Corzine, the former New Jersey governor and U.S. senator who led the firm until earlier this month, had lobbied the CFTC against the rule.

CFTC Gary Gensler has said he expects the commissioners to vote on the rule next month.