Monday, December 05, 2011

MF Global, Corzine & Gensler

The lead staff editorial in Thursday's Wall Street Journal provides a nice overview of what's wrong with federal regulation of the banking and securities sector.

The piece details how, once Jon Corzine became CEO of MF Global, the Fed reconsidered and reversed its earlier decision to deny the firm its request to become a primary dealer.

The Journal notes that MF Global had posted six losses in the past seven quarters, but drew no extra regulatory scrutiny. It was more than halfway through that period when the Fed granted MF Global its primary dealer status.

What the editorial explains, correctly, I believe, is that it's not quite correct to simply say that Dodd-Frank and the overall federal regulatory scheme worked, because MF Global failed without larger consequences or incidence. But the apparent misuse of customer funds, and outsized position risks taken by the firm, were completely overlooked by regulators.

Isn't that what the system is supposed to prevent? The actual illegal and overly risky types of actions which MF Global is suspected to have taken?

Gensler recused himself from the case, which tells you how much this is all about crony capitalism, which the Journal contends. Either Gensler shouldn't have had to recuse himself, or he should have admitted the cronyism back when Corzine took the helm of MF Global.

It's tempting to write off the MF Global collapse as a one-off, smallish, successful proof of Dodd-Frank. But, in reality, it's proof that our federal financial system regulations don't seem to have clear-cut objectives, or, quite likely, if they do, are not capable of actually implementing them and protecting anyone or anything- not customers, shareholders or the larger US financial system.