Panel: Credit raters, regulators failed MF Global

AP News
Posted: Nov 15, 2012 6:22 PM
Panel: Credit raters, regulators failed MF Global

WASHINGTON (AP) — A House panel says credit rating agencies and federal regulators contributed to MF Global's collapse last year. But it pinned most of the blame on ex-CEO Jon Corzine.

The report issued Thursday by the House Financial Services Oversight and Investigations subcommittee found Corzine's risky strategies caused the brokerage firm's failure. That largely reiterated a statement released Wednesday by the committee's Republicans.

Democrats on the panel did not endorse the report's findings.

MF Global was forced to seek bankruptcy protection last year, the eighth largest in U.S. history. More than $1 billion in customer money went missing. Corzine, a former U.S. senator and governor of New Jersey, stepped down as CEO in November 2011.

Still, the House panel said in its report that rating agencies Moody's and Standard & Poor's failed to identify the biggest risk: MF Global's $6.3 billion bet on European countries' debt.

And it noted that the Securities and Exchange Commission and the Commodity Futures Trading Commission failed to share important information about the firm with each other. The two regulators have oversight authority for MF Global.

S&P spokesman David Wargin said "We monitored MF Global's creditworthiness and took ratings action as events warranted, based on a review of available information."

The SEC disagreed with the report's findings. It noted that it had shared a request for MF Global to increase its capital cushion against losses with the CFTC in August 2011.

"The report neglects to note that our staff in fact informed the CFTC staff," SEC spokesman John Nester said. He noted that CFTC General Counsel Dan Berkovitz testified at a subcommittee hearing that his agency had been told about the issue by the SEC.

CFTC Commissioner Jill Sommers, who is leading the agency's investigation of MF Global, and CFTC Chairman Gary Gensler both declined to comment on the subcommittee's report.

A Moody's spokesman didn't immediately return requests for comment.

The report also said the Federal Reserve Bank of New York fell short of properly assessing the firm's level of risk before allowing it to join an elite group of firms that help the government sell Treasury securities. That endowed MF Global with a seal of financial strength and gave it a competitive edge.

"This marked the first time in the history of the U.S. futures industry that a customer suffered a loss due to the mishandling of customer funds," Rep. Spencer Bachus, R-Ala., chairman of the full Financial Services Committee, said in a statement.

"These customers deserve to know how and why their money went missing. And all Americans deserve to know that regulators and policymakers are held accountable to prevent similar losses from ever occurring again," Bachus said.

Much of the money belonged to farmers, ranchers and other business owners. They bought and sold financial contracts with MF Global to reduce their risks from the fluctuating prices of corn, wheat and other commodities. In recent months, nearly 80 percent of those funds have been returned.

Republican members of the subcommittee said the panel's staff interviewed more than 50 witnesses and reviewed 243,000 documents from MF Global, former employees of the firm and federal regulators.

Corzine took the top job at MF Global after losing a bid for re-election as New Jersey governor in 2009.

On Wednesday, he disputed through a spokesman the allegations made by the Republican lawmakers. He said he "acted in good faith" at all times and rejected the claim that he ran the firm in an authoritarian manner.