(Bloomberg News) Ted Monjure, a 48-year-old Manhattan trader who has $27,252 frozen in a former MF Global Inc. account, said he's considering pulling his money out of his three other trading accounts.
"I'm a high net-worth person, and I don't want to see $1 million get smoked by another misunderstanding," Monjure said, recounting how he had thought the Securities Investor Protection Corp. covered any losses due to a meltdown such as the one at MF Global. He's now been told SIPC may not cover the money because it was in a futures account while he faces months of uncertainty as he files a claim seeking recoveries.
Monjure is one of many MF Global customers who can't access cash from segregated accounts they once thought were as safe and accessible as bank deposits. Frustrated by a lack of legal options to reclaim frozen funds and dead-end inquiries to call centers and hotlines since MF Global's Oct. 31 bankruptcy, many aren't able to trade and say they've lost faith in retail brokerages and the regulatory system.
More than 150,000 customer accounts were frozen Oct. 31, with $5.45 billion affected, the day after a unit of the New York-based brokerage reported a "material shortfall" in customer funds that are required to be segregated under rules of the U.S. Commodity Futures Trading Commission.
MF Global listed $39.7 billion in debt and $41 billion in assets and said it has about $26 million in cash in its Oct. 31 bankruptcy filing. Jon Corzine, the former co-chief executive officer of Goldman Sachs Group Inc., quit as MF Global's CEO on Nov. 4. CFTC Chairman Gary Gensler has recused himself from the agency's investigation.
About $593 million of MF customer funds are unaccounted for, according to a person with knowledge of regulatory probes of the firm's collapse.
While the brokerage's parent, MF Global Holdings Inc., filed for bankruptcy to apportion returns to creditors, a trustee, James W. Giddens, took over to liquidate the brokerage under SIPC.
SIPC is a private, government-sponsored company that insures brokerage accounts for up to $500,000 in securities, as much as $250,000 of which may be in cash, in case the brokerage goes bankrupt. While SIPC covers losses in stocks and bonds, it doesn't cover commodity futures contracts unless defined as specific property under certain conditions.
MF Global's bankruptcy, the eighth largest in U.S. history, is causing mayhem for customers that may surpass what brokerage customers of Lehman Brothers Holdings Inc. suffered. Though Lehman's bankruptcy, the largest in U.S. history, sent the world financial system into a tailspin, its brokerage customers benefitted from Barclays Plc's takeover of its accounts on Lehman's second day in court.
A transfer of MF Global's accounts to qualified clearing firms began almost immediately, with a lawyer for Giddens saying accounts with open positions would be moved with 60 percent of their collateral, leaving 40 percent to MF Global or other parties who might have legal claim to it. As of Nov. 10, dozens of customers said they still hadn't gotten their funds, and ICE, or IntercontinentialExchange Inc., had written a letter to the bankruptcy court asking for immediate release of customer cash.
Giddens told commodities customers he can't let them have any more of their collateral until a probe into the "complex cash movements" at the defunct brokerage establishes the size of any shortfall.
"We didn't think we were just customers," said David Rosen, a 32-year-old energy broker who works at the New York Mercantile Exchange. "We're the ones in the pits providing liquidity so everyone around the world can trade these products."
Rosen is organizing exchange members to consider their legal options, and said his group will look to recover money from the bankrupt estate before considering who else they might be able to sue.
The CME said in court papers it has $2.5 billion of MF Global's total $5.45 billion in customer segregated funds on deposit. The effect of frozen collateral has already been felt; volume for agricultural futures contracts traded on the CME and CBOT was 705,273 on Oct. 31, less than the 867,591 30-day average, and down 71,106 from the prior day.