Update: MF Global has filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection making it the first U.S. financial firm to fall victim to Europe's debt woes, reports The New York Times. It's not yet clear if MF Global has secured a deal with a buyer, such as Interactive Brokers.
Original post: A risky management style and a series of bad bets have brought MF Global, the financial derivatives broker led by former New Jersey Senator and Goldman Sachs CEO Jon Corzine, to the brink of collapse. On Monday morning, the New York Fed blocked MF Global from doing business with the central bank as the firm looks for a buyer in a deal that will likely entail bankruptcy and the end of Corzine's tenure at the firm, report The Wall Street Journal and Financial Times. It's a bitter fall from grace for Corzine, who returned to Wall Street after losing the New Jersey governorship to Chris Christie in 2009 following a corruption scandal. Here's how his plan to turn MF Global into a "mini Goldman" ended up bringing the company down:
Corzine went big on Europe MF Global may be the first major U.S. company to fall victim to Europe's debt woes, explain Michael de la Merced and Ben Protess at The New York Times. "MF Global began buying the debt of European countries like Italy, Portugal, Spain and Ireland last year, in a bet that the discounted prices of those bonds would soon recover," they write. "The gamble, though, went sour, and MF Global was hard hit as Greece’s troubled economy spread woes across the Continent. Although European leaders appeared to make progress last week toward resolving those problems, and other firms rebounded, MF Global continued to suffer."
The strategy on European bonds was all Corzine Speaking with employees in the company, Aaron Lucchetti, Justin Baer and Mike Spector at The Wall Street Journal report that Corzine was responsible for the risky trades. "Mr. Corzine oversaw the European sovereign-debt trades largely on his own even after hiring a new trading chief earlier this year, a person familiar with the matter says." He was also very involved with the trades. "Mr. Corzine regularly reviewed the positions with the company’s directors, and he was allowed by the board several times to increase MF Global’s exposure to Europe, these people said ... One person who has worked with Mr. Corzine at MF Global says he was uncomfortable that so much of the firm’s strategy essentially boiled down to a bet by Mr. Corzine on European bonds." The coworker said “There was no one else at the firm who was helping him think about what to do on this trade."
He has a history of risk-taking Dan Wilchins at Reuters talks to Corzine colleagues who point to a pattern of risk-taking. "His detractors argue there have long been signs that Corzine could take imprudent risks. They point to Goldman Sachs' major trading losses under his watch in 1994, or when he sustained serious injuries in 2007 as a passenger in a speeding sports utility vehicle while not wearing a seatbelt. In trying to become what some dubbed a mini-Goldman, Corzine's MF Global may have leveraged its bets too much and may not have paid enough attention to risk management."
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It will likely mean his end at the company MF Global's fall is a huge blow to his reputation, and will likely mean his end at the company. Still, Michael de la Merced and Ben Protess at The New York Times note that Corzine will have a golden parachute.
With a sale of MF Global, Mr. Corzine’s role at the firm will almost certainly end, though he is expected to receive a severance payment of nearly $12.1 million.
Still, the departure will be bitter for Mr. Corzine, whose first stint on Wall Street ended with his ouster from Goldman Sachs. Along with Henry M. Paulson, another Goldman co-chief executive, who would later become Treasury secretary, Mr. Corzine, a former trader, led the firm through the Asian financial crisis of 1998. But trading losses in the last quarter of that year, on top of ill will within the firm over the decision to go public, led to Mr. Corzine’s exit in January 1999.
How he could've saved the company Reuters reports that "Corzine could have shrunk MF Global's balance sheet or restructured. With the support of the board -- which in a recent regulatory filing applauded Corzine's choice -- he embarked on the strategy of transforming the company into what the filing described as 'a commodities and capital markets-focused investment bank.'"