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Jefferies Should Raise $1 Billion in Equity, Egan-Jones Says

Jefferies Group Inc. should raise $1 billion in equity and reduce leverage as MF Global Holdings Ltd.’s bankruptcy increases scrutiny of the investment bank’s balance sheet, Egan-Jones Ratings Co. said.

Without a “major deleveraging,” New York-based Jefferies may have its credit grade cut, Egan-Jones said today in a note to clients. The ratings company downgraded the bank to BBB- from BBB earlier this month.

Jefferies shares have fallen more than 20 percent since the Oct. 31 failure of MF Global as investors speculated other securities firms could collapse from losses tied to European sovereign debt. Jefferies released its seventh statement on its European holdings and financial health yesterday, saying it has been “barraged by a group of people maliciously spreading rumors, half-truths and outright lies.”

Richard Khaleel, a spokesman for Jefferies, declined to comment on the Egan-Jones note.

“We do not find Jefferies’s current 13:1 gross leverage overly concerning” because it’s in line with competitors such as Morgan Stanley and Goldman Sachs Group Inc., Jeff Harte, an analyst for Sandler O’Neill & Partners LP, said today in a note. Jefferies “appears to have sufficient liquidity,” Harte wrote.

Jefferies said yesterday it reduced its debt holdings of Greece, Ireland, Italy, Portugal and Spain by an additional 50 percent after cutting its risk by about half earlier this month. Haverford, Pennsylvania-based Egan-Jones cited large “sovereign obligations” relative to equity and a “changed environment” following the collapse of MF Global when it downgraded Jefferies this month.

‘Personal Gain’

“All of these folks seem to be trying to take advantage of the MF Global bankruptcy and the volatile market environment with a view to harming Jefferies and all of us, presumably for personal gain,” Chief Executive Officer Richard Handler, 50, and Brian Friedman, chairman of the firm’s executive committee, said yesterday in the statement.

Jefferies fell 1.4 percent to $10.06 at 4:15 p.m. in New York. The shares rose as much as 2.7 percent earlier following a Fox Business Network report that Handler is considering a sale to a larger company according to anonymous investment-banking sources. Jefferies has declined 62 percent this year.

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