Corzine Steak Dinner Speech Gave No Hint of MF Global’s ‘Doom’

The night before MF Global Holdings Ltd. (MF) posted its biggest quarterly loss, triggering a 48 percent stock plunge, Chairman and Chief Executive Officer Jon Corzine appeared at a steak dinner at New York’s Helmsley Park Lane Hotel for a speech to a group of bankers and traders.

“There was no sense at all that there was impending doom,” Kenneth Polcari, a managing director of ICAP Corporates, said of Corzine’s Oct. 24 address to the National Organization of Investment Professionals. “He gave a spectacular speech” about his decades at Goldman Sachs Group Inc. (GS), life as a U.S. senator and New Jersey governor and his return to the private sector. “He’s had a full life, up until now.”

Corzine, 64, excused himself before the main course was served, saying he had to prepare for an earnings call the next day, said David Shields, vice chairman of New York-based brokerage Wellington Shields & Co. and a former chairman of the organization. The group seeks to foster “a favorable regulatory environment,” according to its website.

Timothy Mahoney, CEO of New York-based Bids Trading LP, said Corzine’s speech was “delightful.”

The next day, MF Global reported a $191.6 million net loss tied to its $6.3 billion wager on European sovereign debt. On Oct. 27, after the company’s bonds dropped to 63.75 cents on the dollar, Moody’s Investors Service and Fitch Ratings cut the firm to below investment grade, or junk. Unable to find a buyer, the company filed for bankruptcy on Oct. 31, the first major U.S. casualty of the European debt crisis.

‘Serve the Public’

At least two dozen U.S. lawmakers and regulators, including Representative Joe Barton, a Texas Republican, Carolyn Maloney, Democrat of New York, and former Securities and Exchange Commission Chairman Harvey Pitt have addressed the group, according to its website.

“There are many people in the group that do lobby and talk to regulators,” Shields said. “You talk to regulators, you talk to lawmakers and you try to get the points forward, things that will help the marketplace, that will serve the public.”

The group’s board includes head traders at firms such as Waddell & Reed Financial Inc., whose futures trade triggered the flash crash of May 6, 2010, according to a study by the SEC and the U.S. Commodity Futures Trading Commission.

Its members’ firms “trade approximately 70 percent of the institutional volume transacted daily in the New York and Nasdaq markets,” according to the website.

‘Difficult’ Day

The group’s current chairman, Dan Hannafin of Boston-based investment manager Wellington Management Co., declined to comment on the dinner. Corzine and Diana DeSocio, an MF Global spokeswoman, didn’t reply to an e-mailed request for comment.

Mahoney said he appreciated Corzine’s ability “to compartmentalize” and speak engagingly last week. Mahoney’s firm, Bids, runs a private trading venue known as a dark pool, and is a joint venture of banks including Goldman Sachs.

Before the speech, Moody’s cut MF Global’s credit ratings to the lowest investment grade. Polcari said there was one reference to Corzine’s “difficult” day.

While he was “cordial” and “positive,” the MF Global chief lacked his typical “sharp bounce,” Shields said. Corzine is “a member of the community,” and could be invited back after the bankruptcy, he said. “People go through bad times.”

To contact the reporter on this story: Max Abelson in New York at mabelson@bloomberg.net.

To contact the editor responsible for this story: David Scheer at dscheer@bloomberg.net.

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