What is in this article?:
- House Agriculture Committee holds lengthy hearing on MF Global collapse.
- Jon Corzine, former MF Global head, testifies.
Jon Corzine, former head of the failed investment firm MF Global, was subpoenaed to appear before the House Agriculture Committee on Dec. 8. Having run MF Global when a suspected $1.2 billion worth of customer funds – including accounts of many in the agriculture sector – went missing, Corzine walked into the hearing surely knowing he’d be roughed up.
Committee members ensured that expectation was realized. But Corzine – a former New Jersey governor and senator, whose former firm is now being investigated on multiple fronts -- invited more scorn with weaves and dodges in both his opening statement and answers to questions.
In prepared testimony, Corzine said his sadness over the firm’s collapse was intense, although “of course, (it) pales in comparison to the losses and hardships that customers, employees and investors have suffered as a result of MF Global’s bankruptcy. Their plight weighs on my mind every day – every hour. And, as the chief executive officer of MF Global at the time of its bankruptcy, I apologize to all those affected.”
Even so, Corzine did not shoulder full blame and said trades at MF Global were done without his full participation. “Even when I was at MF Global, my involvement in the firm’s clearing, settlement and payment mechanisms, and accounting was limited.”
For the hearing's full slate of prepared testimonies, see here.
During his testimony, Corzine repeatedly used the word “stunned” to describe his Oct. 30 reaction to learning of “lost” customer funds. California Rep. Dennis Cardoza wanted to know Corzine’s first action following that revelation.
Corzine: “The first thing was ‘let’s get the people to recheck the figures and make sure we’ve done everything we can to appropriately confirm” the lost funds. “There was still a hunt.”
“I’d have gone to the restroom and thrown up, myself,” retorted Cardoza.
Corzine tried to distance himself even more from MF Global’s problems. While admitting to “overall responsibility for the firm” he “did not … generally involve myself in the mechanics of the clearing and settlement of trades, or in the movement of cash and collateral. Nor was I an expert on the complicated rules and regulations governing the various different operating businesses that comprised MF Global. I had little expertise or experience in those operational aspects of the business…
“I simply do not know where the money is, or why the accounts have not been reconciled to date. I do not know which accounts are unreconciled or whether the unreconciled accounts were or were not subject to the segregation rules.”
Corzine also claimed reports that say MF Global’s risks and leverage (in the range of 40-to-one) during the lead-up to collapse are incorrect. “One of the recurrent themes in the media has been that MF Global took on too much riskduring my tenure, in particular the amount of leverage that MF Global bore at the time of itsbankruptcy. In fact, MF Global reduced leverage. In the quarter ended March 31, 2010, MFGlobal’s leverage was 37.3. During my tenure, it was consistently around 30.”
Minnesota Rep. Collin Peterson, ranking member, smacked down Corzine’s attempt to soft-peddle the amount of leverage MF Global carried. “Apparently, when you took over, the leverage was 37.5-to-1 and you got it down to 30. Somehow or another that’s a good thing? This mentality on Wall Street I don’t get.”
Corzine allowed that a leverage of “30-to-1 was a lot higher than I’d want on a sustained basis.” In the firm’s last days, he said, if the hail-Mary to “seek a strategic partnership with the FCM (Futures Commission Merchant) … had been accomplished … it would have lowered our leverage to the mid-teens to high-teens.”