At MF Global Hearing, Tough Questions Await CFTC’s Gensler

Subcommittee chairman Neugebauer puts Gensler on notice about Dec. 15 House hearing

Gary Gensler (center) with SEC Chairman Mary Schapiro at a congressional hearing. (Photo: AP) Gary Gensler (center) with SEC Chairman Mary Schapiro at a congressional hearing. (Photo: AP)

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The House Financial Services Oversight and Investigations Subcommittee has scheduled a Dec. 15 hearing to delve into the collapse of brokerage firm MF Global, and the subcommittee’s chairman, Rep. Randy Neugebauer, R-Texas, wants to ask some tough questions.

He wants Gary Gensler, chairman of the Commodities Futures Trading Commission, to answer a bevy of questions about the CFTC's oversight of the failed firm by Dec. 7.

In a Nov. 28 letter to Gensler, Neugebauer points to MF Global’s filing for bankruptcy on Oct. 31, noting that it was one of the largest bankruptcies in the nation’s history. MF Global’s collapse was due to the firm’s inability to meet margin calls on its $6.3 billion portfolio of “repo-to-maturity” contracts involving bonds issued by European governments, he notes. The collapse, Neugebauer goes on to say, has “led to thousands of froze[n] customer accounts,” and the MF Global Bankruptcy Trustee reports that as much as $1.2 billion in customer funds is missing.

While a full list of those providing testimony at the hearing has not been revealed, Gensler will be on hand and Jon Corzine, who resigned as the firm’s chairman and CEO earlier this month, has been called by the subcommittee to testify.

Neugebauer told Gensler that he and other lawmakers not only want details of the various regulators’ roles—which includes the Securities and Exchange Commission, CFTC, Financial Industry Regulatory Authority, National Futures Association, Chicago Board Options Exchange—in supervising MF Global, but the subcommittee wants to examine Gensler’s “personal involvement” in overseeing the brokerage firm and his decision on Nov. 5 to recuse himself from investigating the firm’s failure.

Neugebauer then goes on to list the questions that he’d like Gensler to answer.

For instance, Neugebauer asks Gensler to provide all communications and documents related to the coordination of CFTC’s oversight of MF Global with the various regulators named above.

Neugebauer also notes that in June, officials at FINRA and the SEC began discussing whether MF Global should set aside more capital for a “growing number of ‘repo-to-maturity’ trades tied to European sovereign debt.” He goes on to say that officials at the SEC were also concerned that MF Global may have been engaging in “window dressing”—a practice designed to disguise its debt levels to investors by temporarily reducing the debt it was carrying before publicly reporting its finances each quarter. “Did officials at the SEC raise either of these specific concerns with you or any other CFTC officials?” Neugebauer asked Gensler.

As to Gensler’s decision to recuse himself from investigating the collapse of MF Global shortly after the firm filed for bankruptcy, Neugebauer asked Gensler whether his decision was discussed with the CFTC’s general counsel or designated ethics official. “If not, why not?” Neugebauer asked Gensler.

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