MF Global bankruptcy hits Austin

The farmers, business owners and investors who were affected by the disastrous MF Global bankruptcy on Oct. 31 sit in nearly every corner of the country. They’re in Minnesota, in Austin and the surrounding area.

Don Larson, co-owner of Sargeant Grain Elevator, is just one of countless individuals who are frustrated with the moves made by the international broker-dealer MF Global, which filed for chapter 11 bankruptcy on Oct. 31.

Larson, like others, is upset that nearly $1.2 billion of customers’ funds may be missing from MF Global accounts. The Commodity Futures Trading Commission and other regulators are investigating if the firm used money from clients’ accounts for its own purposes as its financial condition tanked after making a disastrous bet on European government debt.

“How do you ever determine well enough to know they are not going to do something like this?” Larson asked about other giant broker-dealers.

Though Larson didn’t have money with MF Global when it bankrupted, he still had money with the company more than a year ago. He didn’t directly lose any money, but he, farmers and legislators are concerned the actions of MF Global will cause a widespread stir.

“It’s very frustrating for me,” he said. “It affects everyone who has a commodity trading account because we have to re-evaluate our risk there.”

Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., urged the CFTC and Securities and Exchange Commission to take quick action to give those affected by the MF Global failure access to their funds. It’s estimated that more than 100 Minnesotans haven’t been able to access all of their funds since MF’s failure.

“It is completely inappropriate and outrageous that funds that were supposed to be in segregated accounts weren’t properly accounted for – this isn’t Monopoly money, it is the hard earned dollars of Americans,” Klobuchar said. “Our farmers and ranchers need to know that when they use the market to manage risk, some Wall Street banker isn’t gambling with their savings.”

The trustee for the MF Global accounts, James W. Giddens, filed a motion to transfer two-thirds of U.S. segregated customer property to 12 separate future commodities merchants, or FCMs. The trustees website and officials have been detailing how all customers will be receiving money back. The type of investor and amounts each has invested varies greatly, however. A local hog farmer who had money invested with MF Global was unavailable for comment, and a local broker with customers who had money in MF Global deferred questions to MF Global’s trustees.

Larson is concerned many who had accounts with MF will see further burdens when their money is transferred to the FCMs, as some may need to take out loans to get back to their minimum buy-in positions if they don’t recover all their money. That may be a case-by-case basis, depending on each FCM’s requirement. Either way, Larson said, some who don’t know if and when they are going to get the rest of their money back will have reduced operation capitol. And for some, that could be severe.

“It wouldn’t be unusual for a large farmer to have several hundred thousand dollars in (MF Global),” he said.

Klobuchar added, “For some of them, it’s their life savings.”

But the situation is even more frustrating because the commodities trade is needed for risk management, as Klobuchar stated. Larson knows that first-hand.

“It’s vital; it’s not a gambling board,” Larson said. “It’s supposed to put buyers and sellers together to reduce everyone’s risk. It’s like a sacred cow. You don’t take customer segregated accounts and do that.”

A Dec. 13 hearing has been set for former MF Global leader, also former New Jersey Governor, Jon Corzine, who resigned upon MF Global’s bankruptcy. Many are pointing the finger at Corzine and losing further trust in Wall Street executives.

“When these guys on Wall Street are cruising around in their Ferraris, we can’t have everyone else following behind in a Model T Ford,” Klobuchar said.

Klobuchar said she will continue to push to return 100 percent of the funds to all of MF Global’s customers.

— The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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