MF Global Holdings Ltd., the securities firm run by former New Jersey Governor and Goldman Sachs head Jon Corzine, is seeking bankruptcy protection one week after reporting its biggest-ever quarterly loss.
MF Global shares plunged 66 percent last week. Besides the loss of $186.6 million for the fiscal second quarter, investors were spooked when MF Global's debt was downgraded to junk status. Credit-rating agencies expressed concern about the firm's $6 billion portfolio of European debt.
MF Global appears to be the first major U.S. casualty of Europe's debt crisis, although last week it sought to reassure investors that the investment in European sovereign debt was prudent. It blamed the big loss on weaker-than-expected trading revenue and one-time costs.
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Trading in shares of MF Global Holdings Ltd. was halted early Monday. The Wall Street Journal and others reported that Corzine worked over the weekend to find a buyer. The Journal says that an effort to sell the firm to Interactive Brokers Group of Greenwich, Conn., fell through.
The filing came after the New York Federal Reserve said it suspended MF Global from doing new business as a primary dealer. MF Global was one of 22 companies considered financially secure enough to sell U.S. government debt on behalf of the Fed.
Corzine took over the helm at MF Global early last year. He set out to grow the company into a global investment bank. In addition to futures and commodities trading, MF Global started making bets with the firm's own money, The Journal reported.
Corzine is also a top fundraiser for President Barack Obama. Corzine has helped raised at least $500,000 for Obama's re-election campaign since April, according to records released by the campaign.
MF Global turned a profit just three times in the past 12 quarters. As the European debt crisis threatened to spread, investors and analysts focused on the company's holdings of debt from Belgium, Italy, Spain, Portugal and Ireland.
Last week, Corzine said he expected the firm to "successfully manage these exposures to what we believe will be a positive conclusion in December 2012."
MF Global filed its petition with the U.S. Bankruptcy Court for the Southern District of New York. Including its subsidiaries, MF Global has assets as $41.05 billion and liabilities of $39.68 billion, according to its bankruptcy petition.
Of its five biggest unsecured creditors, four are vehicles set up by German megabank Deutsche Bank to buy bonds from MF Global. Its single biggest unsecured creditor is JPMorgan Chase Bank, NA, which bought more than $1.2 billion in bonds.
The case was assigned to Judge Stuart Bernstein. Bernstein gained attention this summer for a ruling that might make it harder for victims of Bernard Madoff's Ponzi scheme to recoup their losses.
Bernstein ruled against a trustee who was trying to recover investors' losses from an unrelated $700 million fraud. The trustee sued Wachovia, saying that the bank ignored obvious signs of fraud.
Bernstein ruled against the trustee, saying the bank's suspicions were not the same as actual knowledge of the scheme.
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