What is in this article?:
- Jon Corzine, former head of the failed investment firm MF Global, was subpoenaed to appear before the House Agriculture Committee. 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 invited more scorn with weaves and dodges in both his opening statement and answers to questions.
California Rep. Jim Costa was concerned with other investment firms that may be on shaky footing. “Do you have any idea … if there are other potential bankruptcies out there like (MF Global)? Do you have a watch list? Do you have any idea -- under the fragile nature of the economic recovery we’re dealing with on a global basis -- if there are (potential bankruptcies) out there? Would you know if there were?"
Sommers said the CFTC has the ability “to see the futures side of the business. What we’re looking at on a daily basis are the investments of an FCM, both in their customer and if there are house or proprietary investments of the firms.”
Costa: “Okay, that’s the process. Do you have a watch list?
Sommers: “I’m sure there are firms that are close to the margins.”
Costa interrupted, “let me ask it this way: is there any concern among you and your colleagues that there may be others out there? We have farmers and ranchers and dairymen – my focus -- … and I don’t want to see the futures markets destroyed or confidence in them tremendously eroded. Again, can you actually perform the duties of a regulator or watchdog?”
“Absolutely,” replied Sommers. “In certain economic…”
An exasperated Costa again cut her off. “But you don’t even know if there’s a list.”
More than once committee members tied MF Global’s actions to the degrading of Americans’ trust in financial institutions and political leadership. And there was an underlying uneasiness and realization by the legislators that, perhaps, the underlying problems can’t be fully dealt with through the passage of new regulations.
Nebraska Rep. Jeff Fortenberry picked up the torch: “The problem is we can’t pass enough laws fast enough, create enough regulatory entities quick enough, if there is a collapse of the types of values that lead to responsibility and commitment to the common good. We simply can’t do it.”
Addressing Corzine, Wisconsin Rep. Reid Ribble had similar concerns, first bringing up the multiple agencies tasked with financial institution oversight. “Can we regulate greed, incompetence and fraud out of existence? At the end of the day, sir, we have to make a decision of how going forward we can help protect consumers and investors from having another MF Global happen.
"My fear is we’ll do what government always does: make up more rules and send more regulators. Then, in a year from now, we’ll have another example (like MF Global). I’m wondering what the real solution is. I’m trying to figure out if … no matter what we do on this side of the dais, it still will happen.”
There was a lengthy pause before Corzine answered. His answer -- while acknowledging “complex, multiple” regulators -- was hardly comforting. “Whether it is for those reasons or poor judgment or bad judgment, mistakes will continue to happen in the course of human events.”