Jon Corzine downfall: Even after 2008, banking sector has untamed risks. (VIDEO)
Former CEO Jon Corzine testified before Congress on the bankruptcy of investment firm MF Global. Its swift collapse in late October recalled events leading to the financial crisis of 2008.
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Mr. Corzine, former CEO of the investment firm MF Global, said he doesn't know "where the money is" that went missing from customer accounts. Regulators and attorneys said they're still trying to learn what happened to it. Members of Congress, for their part, struggled to understand complexities surrounding how MF Global was regulated, how it failed on Oct. 31, and how some $1.2 billion went missing from the firm's customer accounts in the process.
But beyond all the unknowns, the hearing convened by a House panel appeared to give a clear signal on one important point: Major levels of risk remain in the financial industry despite the chastening impact of the financial crisis of 2008.
And the firm's collapse came in a manner that echoed some of the problems seen in 2008 at companies like Bear Stearns and Lehman Brothers: unexpected losses followed by a loss of confidence among investors on whom the company relied.
When investors began withdrawing money, bankruptcy became unavoidable.
"Despite our best efforts to sell assets and generate liquidity, the marketplace lost confidence in the firm," Corzine said in his prepared testimony.
"I sincerely apologize," he said, "to our customers, our employees and our investors, who are bearing the brunt of the impact of the firm’s bankruptcy."
Since the financial crisis, federal agencies have sought to enhance oversight of financial firms, Congress has passed a sweeping regulatory reform act, and many banks have worked to strengthen their base of capital.
Yet economists say many issues linked to the financial crisis still simmer. The Thursday hearing, and the wider questions surrounding MF Global, symbolize some of those issues:
A culture of risk. Corzine sought to downplay the role that MF Global's big bets on euro-zone sovereign debt played in the firm's bankruptcy. He emphasized that the lion's share of the firm's $191.6 million loss, reported for the quarter that ended Sept. 30, came from a change in the value of tax losses from previous years. At the same time, outsiders have characterized the firm's strategy on sovereign debt as an aggressive one.