Financial Regulatory Forum

U.S. ‘microcap’ charges highlight debate over small-firm capital raising

By Stuart Gittleman

NEW YORK, Dec. 6 (Thomson Reuters Accelus) – Federal charges filed last week in a suspected kickback scheme to sell thinly traded stocks highlight concerns over investor safety as Congress making it easier for small business to raise capital. Boston federal prosecutors filed fraud and conspiracy charges last Thursday against 13 people: corporate officers, a lawyer and stock promoter. They were accused of a kickback scheme in which payments hidden by phony consulting contracts were made to an undercover FBI agent, who posed as a hedge-fund representative, in exchange for having the fund buy stock in certain small companies. (more…)

On the other hand: When Woodstock meets Wall Street

By Scott McCleskey

Nov. 29 (Thomson Reuters Accelus) - If you didn’t know any different, you’d think the Occupy Wall Street movement was the kind of military operation so often criticized by people of a certain political temperament. It started off with a clear mission (financial reform), then suffered from mission creep (economic justice) and it never had an exit strategy. I think there was a surge in there somewhere as well but it’s hard to tell when they all live in tents.

The shame is that they had a point, in the beginning. Reforming the financial system is a gravely serious priority that is losing momentum. But by opening its arms to all who feel oppressed, repressed or suppressed, the inevitable result of the Occupy movement was that the original issue was lost in the noise. And as the movement begins to wind down it is likely to miss its greatest opportunity – to become the Tea Party of the Left.

Love ‘em or hate ‘em, the Tea Party has been successful in grabbing the microphone and framing much of the conservative agenda. It may represent only a minority of Republican voters, but it will undoubtedly influence the outcome of the party’s nomination process and its 2012 platform. It does so by focusing on a few core issues, and has accomplished all this without an organized structure or dominant leader.

Taking on trading desk risk: the lessons of UBS and MF Global

Traders work at their desks in front of the DAX indexBy Rachel Wolcott

LONDON/NEW YORK, Nov. 22 (Thomson Reuters Accelus) – When the young UBS trader Kweku Adoboli turned himself in after allegedly having lost $2.3 billion on the Swiss bank’s delta one desk, many asked how such a huge loss could have happened without anyone knowing. The short answer was, in part, that Adoboli’s back-office experience gave him inside knowledge which permitted him to game UBS’ control systems and hide the fraud. The same excuse was trotted out to explain Jérôme Kerviel’s $6.8 billion loss at Société Générale in 2008, but it must surely take more than a stint in the bank office to fool banks’ risk controls systems.

Giorgio Questa, visiting professor in the faculty of finance at Cass Business School in London, said: “Banks have not understood that they will have accidents if they don’t come to terms with risk controls. It’s a question of incompetence. It’s completely clear [in the UBS case] that people weren’t doing their jobs.” (more…)

Off Balance Sheet Repo Risks Come Back to Bite

By Christopher Elias

NEW YORK, Nov.16 (Business Law Currents) - Off balance sheet items and undisclosed liabilities are coming back to bite companies, as repo-to-maturity disclosures prove to be a jarring reminder of pre-crisis risk proclivity.

Symptomatic of a wider problem gripping U.S. banks, MF Global’s bankruptcy has drawn attention to the danger of financial services firms hiding their true liabilities, no matter how safe they think they are.

The revelation that MF Global’s off balance sheet leveraged repo-to-maturity play was stuffed full of toxic Eurozone debt proved to be its downfall. The prospect of a Eurozone default spooked markets and MF Global’s liquidity drained away. A review of U.S. banks’ SEC disclosures reveals, however, some troubling implications of the gaps in U.S. GAAP filings as the true nature of hidden debt exposure becomes apparent.  (more…)

MF Global case raises questions for director oversight of CEOs

By Emmanuel Olaoye

NEW YORK, Nov. 8 (Thomson Reuters Accelus) - The collapse of MF Global and charges that millions of dollars are unaccounted for highlights the challenges that powerful corporate executives pose to a firm’s governance controls, experts said.

Jon Corzine, MF Global’s chief executive officer resigned on Friday, four days after the futures brokerage firms filed for bankruptcy. Before his time with the firm, Corzine ran the investment bank Goldman Sachs in the 90s before he went on to be a senator for the state of New Jersey. He then served as New Jersey’s governor for four years before joining MF Global in March 2010. (more…)

Corporate identity theft: a new realm in risk management

By Liz Osborne, Thomson Reuters Accelus contributing author

Nov. 7 (Thomson Reuters Accelus) – These days most people are aware of the dangers of someone stealing and misusing their identity to perpetrate fraud — but less people are familiar with the equivalent crime at a corporate level. Corporate identity theft (CIT) is the fraudulent and deliberate misrepresentation of a company’s identity. It is sometimes also referred to as a “white-collar crime” as it is generally conducted in a “cyber environment” and is not the domain of the stereotypical burglar.

Over the years we have seen a marked increase in this area due to the relative simplicity of the crime and the large degree of “trust” people have in doing business online. It is anticipated that in Australia alone consumers will transact more than A$10 billion dollars in 2012. (more…)

Fast-moving MF Global case offers early lessons for compliance

By Emmanuel Olaoye

NEW YORK (Thomson Reuters Accelus) – Charges that hundreds of millions of dollars are missing from the accounts of MF Global’s clients raise the question of whether powerful executives at the firm influenced the independence of internal auditors as the futures brokerage scrambled for survival.

MF Global, which collapsed over risky trades on European debt, faces a shortfall of $633 million in customer funds, the CME Group Inc. has estimated. (more…)

MF Global bankruptcy shows regulatory resolve

By Nick Paraskeva

Nov. 1 (Thomson Reuters Accelus) - The collapse of MF Global Holdings is the first major U.S. financial bankruptcy since new Dodd-Frank insolvency laws ended the doctrine of “too big to fail,” as well as being the first U.S. failure attributable to the Euro crisis. While the collapse is expected to be handled under pre-Dodd Frank bankruptcy laws and under the Securities Investor Protection Corp., it may signal that regulators are prepared to take earlier action when they see uncovered financial risks.

The default follows agreement last week by EU heads of state, which required banks to increase capital by 106 billion euros to restore confidence. This is based on a higher capital ratio of 9 percent of highest quality capital, after a buffer for the mark-down of sovereign debt value of periphery EU States to current market values. Banks and private sector creditors to Greece accepted 50 percent voluntary write-down, as part of the package. (more…)

Mitigating “Margin Call” risks

By Dave Ingram and Max Rudolph
The opinions expressed are their own.

The financial thriller, “Margin Call,” which opened in movie theaters on Friday, tells the story of a firm in the mold of a Bear Stearns or Lehman Brothers at the height of the financial crisis. The firm in the film is akin to real-life firms that seemingly discover too late their reliance on a culture built on growth at any cost and tainted models at the expense of risk management.

Movies are great teachers, helping everyone better understand complex situations that can be confusing even to experts. “Margin Call” does just this, by putting a spotlight on the crucial role that proactive and skeptical risk management (or lack thereof) plays, particularly in financial services. Although the Occupy Wall Street movement is still in its infancy, it demonstrates how ordinary people feel the impact of the financial industry’s actions – and mistakes. Likewise, the movie demonstrates how great an impact one firm’s actions can have on the entire financial industry, underscoring the importance of risk management in such an interconnected system.

Based on our experience as actuaries, focusing on identifying and mitigating risks, we’ve outlined what we believe are the most important lessons of both the film and financial crisis. Hopefully those who see this movie, and those who lived through the crisis, will heed them.

Banking on Volcker: Big Crisis, Big Rule

By Thomson Reuters Accelus staff

NEW YORK, Oct. 19 (Business Law Currents) – Banking lawyers should be forgiven if they’re not returning calls right away: they’re busy trying to digest the Volcker Rule (or “the rule”). The proposed rule’s 298-page doorstop represents the collective efforts of the Treasury Department, Fed, FDIC and SEC to implement §619 of the Dodd-Frank Act, which itself added a new §13 to the Bank Holding Company Act of 1956 (the BHC Act). The intent of the Volcker Rule is to “generally prohibit any banking entity from engaging in proprietary trading or from acquiring or retaining an ownership interest in, sponsoring, or having certain relationships with a hedge fund or private equity fund (“covered fund”), subject to certain exemptions.”

So does the Volcker Rule satisfy its mandate? To paraphrase ‘The Simpsons’: yes with an “if,” no with an “unless.” The rule carves out significant exemptions from the proscription against proprietary trading, but each of these exceptions has a number of criteria required to take advantage of the exemption. Moreover, a number of the rule’s measures provide for rebuttable presumptions of non-compliance for certain types of trading activity. (more…)

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