Morgan Returns $600 Million in MF Global Customer Funds

June 2, 2012 at 14:01


J.P. Morgan Chase & Co. has returned roughly $600 million that was ensnared at the bank when MF Global Holdings Ltd. collapsed in October, people familiar with the matter said.

Most of the payments haven’t been disclosed publicly, and a bankruptcy trustee representing customers of the failed securities firm might pursue J.P. Morgan for as much as several hundred million dollars in additional claims, according to a person familiar with the investigation.

Still, the New York bank’s payments are a sign of progress in efforts to fill the estimated $1.6 billion hole left in customer accounts at MF Global. Money recovered by the bankruptcy trustee, James Giddens, eventually will be passed along to customers, though the amount depends on the outcome of continuing legal squabbles and negotiations.

A spokesman for Mr. Giddens said in a statement that “substantive discussions” are under way with the nation’s largest bank in assets for “the resolution of other claims” made on behalf of the former customers. J.P. Morgan continues to cooperate with the investigation, the spokesman added.
J.P. Morgan was one of MF Global’s biggest creditors and handled many of its trades as the New York securities firm scrambled to save itself in late October. MF Global also transferred $175 million to fix an overdraft in one of the firm’s accounts at the bank, according to congressional testimony.

Bank officials have said J.P. Morgan never intentionally accepted or held on to money that belonged in segregated customer accounts at MF Global. In May, the trustee announced that J.P. Morgan agreed to hand over $168 million that came from collateral held at the bank when MF Global filed for bankruptcy.

Bank officials contend that J.P. Morgan isn’t holding more MF Global money, according to people familiar with the matter. Mr. Giddens hasn’t reached the same conclusion and could demand additional payments, claiming that money passed through J.P. Morgan on its way elsewhere, according to a person familiar with his thinking.

If that happens, J.P. Morgan might counter that its repayments to date have exceeded $600 million, not including the losses suffered by the bank as a creditor to MF Global. While that $600 million could help lower the $1.6 billion shortfall, much of that money already had come back to MF Global before the shortfall estimate was made.

Mr. Giddens is expected to disclose in a report Monday details about where the money in customer accounts went, including the portions that are believed to have gone to J.P. Morgan.

The trustee also is expected to disclose more information about how the money went missing. It isn’t clear how detailed the report will be, partly because other investigators have expressed concern that too much disclosure by Mr. Giddens could hurt their continuing probes.

MF Global moved money out of customer accounts to cover margin calls and meet other obligations. No one has been charged with wrongdoing.

Jon S. Corzine, the former MF Global chief executive, and other officials at the firm have told lawmakers that they didn’t realize customer money had been tapped until employees told them the day before its bankruptcy filing about an apparent shortfall.

J.P. Morgan and MF Global had close ties. The bank facilitated trades on behalf of MF Global and in the firm’s final weeks, J.P. Morgan officials spoke to Mr. Corzine and other senior MF Global executives about liquidating assets and dealing with ratings firms, according to people close to those discussions.

J.P. Morgan even considered buying MF Global, but then backed away amid questions about money transfers that came up three days before the securities firm filed for bankruptcy.

MF Global officials never provided written documentation that J.P. Morgan asked for on two transfers. The bank wanted to know if the money moves were in accordance with Commodity Futures Trading Commission rules. A J.P. Morgan lawyer later told lawmakers that the bank received verbal assurances from MF Global that the transfers were proper.

Many U.S. customers have recovered 72 cents of every $1 from their MF Global accounts. They are expected to get another eight cents per dollar soon.

The $1.6 billion shortfall also includes about $700 million stuck in the U.K. bankruptcy process and is affected by money being held back by the trustee for potential legal claims. On Friday, a U.K. court scheduled a trial for April 2013 on the trustee’s issues in that country.