In a series of new reports on MF Global's bankruptcy, Jon Corzine's colleagues are attesting to the former New Jersey governor's deep involvement crafting the strategy that lead to the firm's collapse. Former associates say the former CEO of Goldman Sachs and New Jersey Governor personally made individual trades at the company and called for risky investments outside of the oft-mentioned European bonds. He is not without his apologists but the takeaway from his colleagues is a hard-driving manager who drove traders to take incredible risks.
Much of the focus on Corzine's actions have been on his risky bets on European debt. However, an MF Global trader speaking to The New York Times, says Corzine pushed trader's to take chances on all sorts of trades. “He was instrumental in pushing our firm forward with risk taking in every book, whether it was U.S. government bonds, currencies, or in repos,” said the trader. “Everything was full throttle go." As soon as he arrived at the firm, the Times notes that he had an "insistence on taking more risks, including buying the debt of European countries like Italy and Spain."
In The Washington Post, associates tell the paper he "was known to make trades himself at the firm" and that "they personally warned him about the dangers of acquiring European debt, but that he shrugged them off." The paper adds: "That extreme self-confidence was well known among his peers." Explaining his personal betting splurge, The Wall Street Journal reports that "In late 2010, Mr. Corzine started making big bets on bonds issued by European countries. He sometimes placed orders himself based on a list of prices left with an assistant, according to people familiar with the situation. Mr. Corzine, who made his name and fortune as a Treasury bond trader at Goldman, was convinced that sovereign debt from countries like Italy and Spain with high yields was a steal, these people said." In The Star-Ledger, a source close to Corzine pinned the blamed squarely on him. "If you bet the ranch, sometimes you can lose the ranch."
Still, Corzine has his believers. Another Corzine associate interviewed in the Star-Ledger said he's not the man people are characterizing him as. "It’s not so simple that Jon Corzine is a serious risk taker." He says Corzine's risk management on European bond was ultimately undone by unfortunate timing:
The bond-buying "cleared his risk officer and board of directors, cleared the rating agencies for months" before the downgrade."
The firm actually made money off of the bonds that matured, but news of the recent credit downgrades and record quarterly loss reported last week ultimately caused MF Global’s stock price to plunge, forcing the bankruptcy.
... "If he had another 6 months and all these things had come off, he’s a genius," he said.
Insiders also talked about his moves from high-rungs of politics to powerful positions in Wall Street. Sources tell the Times that Corzine was planning a return to politics after his stint at MF Global, noting that he helped raise $500,000 for Obama and was on a shortlist to be treasury secretary. “He wanted to be back in the game,” said one old friend. “He thought he could make it work.” On the other hand, Raymond Lesniak, a New Jersey state senator who recently dined with Corzine said he wasn't interested in a return to Washington, in an interview with the Post. "He said Corzine was mostly excited to 'be back in the business world and out of Jersey politics' and interpreted Corzine’s raising of money for Obama as a way to satisfy his 'public service gene.'"
According to former U.S. Sen. Robert Torricelli, the movements from politics to Wall Street was beginning to take its toll on Corzine. He told the Star-Ledger "Jon has suffered a series of very difficult professional blows, and I know professional difficulties affect him deeply and personally. The wound of being fired from Goldman Sachs never healed. In some ways this is probably more difficult. It’s a heart-breaking situation."
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.
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