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Report on MF Global faults regulators

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Regulators failed to adequately protect customers of the failed brokerage MF Global because they did not communicate with each other leading up to the firm’s collapse, a report released Thursday by Republicans on a House panel concluded.

The 100-page report hammers Jon S. Corzine, the former head of Goldman Sachs and a Democrat who served as a U.S. senator and governor of New Jersey before taking the helm at MF Global. It blames Corzine’s risky investment strategies and “authoritarian” management style for the firm’s demise, assertions Corzine has denied.

While the scathing criticism of Corzine was made public on Wednesday, the spotlight shifted to regulators when the full report was released Thursday by the House Financial Services oversight subcommittee. Investigators singled out the Securities and Exchange Commission and the Commodity Futures Trading Commission, berating them for not sharing information even though they jointly oversaw MF Global.

Rep. Spencer Bachus (R-Ala.), the full committee’s chairman, seized on the report’s findings as an opportunity to bash the Dodd-Frank financial overhaul measure, which was signed into law in 2010. MF Global filed for bankruptcy protection in October 2011, making it the first Wall Street firm to fail since Dodd-Frank took effect.

“Despite the promise of Dodd-Frank that regulators would work together, what the Subcommittee’s investigation found is there was no meaningful coordination among the regulators who were responsible for the supervision of MF Global,” Bachus said in a statement.

Investigators examined testimony from hearings, witness interviews and 243,000 documents from various sources, including the SEC and the trading commission. The agencies’ documents showed they “missed several opportunities” to exchange information, the report said.

The SEC did not include the trading commission in discussions about a capital charge that the SEC told MF Global to take in August 2011, the report said. Investigators said a trading commission staffer told them he wished his agency had known sooner about the talks.

The SEC was quick to debunk that anecdote.

“The report neglects to note that our staff in fact informed the CFTC staff of these charges at that time, a fact confirmed by CFTC’s General Counsel in testimony before the subcommittee” late last year, John Nester, an SEC spokesman, said in a statement.

The trading commission declined to comment on the report.

The report attributed MF Global’s downfall to investments Corzine made in European debt that were kept off the books for too long. Corzine resigned days after the bankruptcy filing, but has maintained that he acted in good faith.He also has said he does not know how about $1.6 billion vanished from his firm’s customer accounts. About 80 percent of that money has been returned to customers so far.

MF Global served investors who traded securities and futures, markets regulated by the SEC and the trading commission, respectively. As financial markets evolved, the bright line between the agencies’ jurisdictions blurred so that MF Global was supervised by both. The report recommended that the agencies merge or streamline their operations, citing the botched communications between them leading up to the company’s collapse.

Investigators said the SEC failed to invite the trading commission to one key meeting, and the trading commission did not tell the SEC about a method the company was using to calculate its obligations.

When the agencies began talking, they worked at “cross purposes,” the report said. In one instance, the SEC asked MF Global not to take out money set aside to help cover funds owed to securities customers. The trading commission told the firm to do the opposite to cover the firm’s futures customers.

In an e-mail to another SEC official, SEC Chairman Mary Schapiro said such a move was “unacceptable.” But a source familiar with the unfolding events said the House report did not confirm whether the trading commission ordered the move, relying instead on SEC e-mails that were reacting to a rumor.

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