Analysis: Preserver Corzine turns destroyer for MF Global?

MF Global drew down on its credit lines, saw some clients switch money to other brokers, and its shares lost more than two-thirds of their value.

For Jon Corzine, who was brought in to run MF Global on the recommendation of his former Goldman colleague Christopher Flowers, the past week's events have hit not only his reputation but his wealth.

In March 2010, the day after MF Global announced his arrival, the company's shares rose 10 percent. "People were in awe of him," said Mike Fitzpatrick, a former oil broker and trader at MF Global.

Jon Corzine fails to rescue MF Global. Reuters

But the 2.5 million options he received as a signing bonus, exercisable at $9.25 a share, are now underwater. MF stock closed 28 October at $1.20 a share.

He will also have lost money on purchases of 440,000 MF Global shares he made in June 2010, and June and August of 2011 for himself and a trust for his children. He paid at least $5.25 per share, with many bought for more than $7.00.

To see how quickly MF Global and Corzine have fallen, consider that in August, the firm sold debt with a provision that promised investors a full percentage point hike in interest if its CEO moved into a government role in particular.

Corzine had occasionally been touted in the media as a possible treasury secretary in an Obama administration, perhaps replacing current incumbent Timothy Geithner, and following in the footsteps of his former Goldman rival Henry Paulson.

At Goldman, he leveraged a naturally gregarious personality and trading skills to win the coveted role of partner just five years after joining the firm's bond division in 1975. By 1994 he was elevated to be chairman and chief executive.

That same year, Goldman amassed over $2 billion of losses that nearly erased its income from banking and caused an unusually large number of partners to leave.

Many investment bankers, who complained that their businesses required little capital, laid the loss at Corzine's door, according to former Goldman banker Jonathan Knee in his book The Accidental Investment Banker.

Corzine, who was the son of a farmer in Illinois, was able to deflect the criticism by renewing his campaign to take the firm public and gain a new source of capital for its trading needs.

Many active and retired partners opposed the plan, but by quickly restoring Goldman to profitability and promoting Paulson in 1998 to become his deputy, Corzine won valuable support.

Corzine later lost out to Paulson in a power struggle, though, and by May 1999, as the IPO went forward and made Goldman's partners millionaires many times over, he resigned and soon turned to politics.

Deploying $62 million of his IPO bounty, he campaigned as a Democrat dark-horse candidate in primary and general elections for a US Senate seat from New Jersey. Despite refusing to release his income tax records and gaffes such as when he joked about Italians who make "cement shoes" and were defended by Jewish lawyers, he won the election.

After one term in which he made only a modest number of headlines, Corzine in 2005 successfully campaigned to become New Jersey governor. He lost his campaign for reelection in 2009 to Republican Chris Christie and a few months later answered the call from Flowers, whose private equity firm JC Flowers had invested $300 million in MF Global in 2008, and joined the firm.

While he has many fans on Wall Street and beyond, some say his business and political careers are unlikely to recover from this latest blow. Whatever the outcome of talks over a sale or a restructuring few see much of a role for Corzine in MF Global's future.

"At the end of the day, for all his accomplishments, he will be remembered for MF," said a former finance executive at Goldman who now works at a competitor.


Updated Date: Nov 01, 2011 11:18 AM

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