MF Global Trustee Recommends Insurance Fund for Futures Customers

By | June 4, 2012

Futures customers should have access to a fund that guarantees their accounts up to a certain threshold, the trustee liquidating MF Global Holdings Ltd said in a report on Monday.

The report, written by Trustee James Giddens to the U.S. Bankruptcy Court in Manhattan, gives a status update on the trustee’s efforts to recover up to $1.6 billion in missing customer funds, lost in MF Global’s final days in October.

The report also outlines key recommendations to avoid a repeat of the chaos following the major brokerage firm’s collapse, including a “modest protection fund” that would help futures customers in the event of a similar bankruptcy.

“A fund capped at a relatively low dollar amount per customer would suffice to make these customers whole very quickly even in a case with a shortfall the size of” MF Global’s, Giddens said in the report. More than three quarters of the firm’s customers had claims below $100,000, he said.

MF Global filed for bankruptcy on Oct. 31, after investors and customers became rattled over the firm’s $6.3 billion bet on European sovereign debt and downgrades by credit rating agencies, resulting in a liquidity crunch.

The bankruptcy and the missing funds have been the focus of several congressional hearings and are under investigation by federal agencies, including the FBI and the Commodity Futures Trading Commission.

None of the firm’s employees have been formally accused of wrongdoing.

A futures fund might be modeled on the Securities Investor Protection Corporation, which guarantees customer securities investments up to $500,000.

“We have insurance funds for customers who put money in banks; we have it for folks investing in stocks,” said Bart Chilton, a Democratic CFTC commissioner. “It makes sense to have insurance for futures customers, too.”

Chilton has advocated for the creation of such a fund for futures customers in the past.

Giddens also recommended that the CFTC beef up requirements for segregation of customer funds traded on foreign exchanges to match those that apply to U.S exchange-traded funds.

He asked the CFTC to clarify that all customer assets be segregated from the broker’s funds, regardless of whether they are invested at home or overseas.

Further, Giddens recommended that a firm’s officers and directors be held “civilly liable” for events such as a shortfall in commodities funds segregation.

Giddens made similar recommendations when he testified before the Senate Banking Committee in April.

A CFTC spokesman was not immediately available for comment.

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