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Peregrine Customers’ Claims Priced at 25 Cents on Dollar

Peregrine Financial Group Inc. CEO Wasendorf
Wasendorf, 64, tried to asphyxiate himself July 9 in the parking lot of Peregrine’s headquarters near a country club in Cedar Falls, Iowa, police say.

Customers’ claims on Peregrine Financial Group Inc., whose founder is accused by regulators of misappropriating more than $200 million, may fetch less than a quarter of their value in the wake of the firm’s bankruptcy, a trader said.

Quotes of 22 cents on the dollar to 25 cents were given to half a dozen Peregrine customers yesterday who called CRT Capital Group LLC, which buys and sells distressed debt, said Joseph Sarachek, managing director of claims trading. He is being “deluged” by calls today, he said. By comparison, bankrupt MF Global Inc.’s U.S. claims have always sold in the high 70s, he said.

Peregrine filed for bankruptcy July 10 after the U.S. Commodity Futures Trading Commission sued alleging the brokerage and its founder, Russell Wasendorf Sr., “used customer funds for purposes other than those intended by its customers, and consequently, have misappropriated these funds.” False reports on customer funds were also filed with the CFTC, the regulator said.

“This is much messier than MF Global because it appears there is fraud involved, based on the CFTC complaint,” Sarachek said.

Wasendorf, 64, tried to asphyxiate himself July 9 in the parking lot of Peregrine’s offices near a country club in Cedar Falls, Iowa, police say.

A judge ordered a freeze of Peregrine’s assets at the CFTC’s request. The brokerage offered futures, cash, foreign exchange and options on futures trading.

Steeply Discounted

The missing money is about half of Peregrine’s customer funds, according to regulators. The steeply discounted prices for claims show uncertainty about how long it will take to get paid whatever money can be recovered, said Brian Coppola, a trader of distressed debt at hedge fund Fulcrum Capital in Austin, Texas.

“You have to figure out how many cents are going to come back to the estate and how long it will take,” he said. “Even if you can see 50 cents coming back, it could take five years. There are going to be lawsuits that hold up the distributions.”

Fulcrum, which is looking for larger Peregrine claims, is quoting prices in the low 20s, Coppola said. Most of the claims up for sale now have a face value of less than $200,000, he said.

Bank Records

Peregrine reported about $400 million in customer-segregated funds around June 29, of which $225 million was on deposit at U.S. Bank, according to the National Futures Association. The regulator said it learned that Peregrine’s chairman “may have falsified bank records” after finding only $5 million on deposit.

Peregrine is being probed by the U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation, said Sandy Breault, a spokeswoman for the agency’s Omaha, Nebraska, office.

MF Global’s failure was the first time a futures brokerage’s collapse led to the loss of customer money, which is supposed to be segregated in separate accounts, according to futures industry leaders. Parent company MF Global Holdings Ltd. filed the eighth-largest U.S. bankruptcy last year with debt of almost $40 billion after making $6.3 billion in bets on sovereign debt and getting margin calls. A $1.6 billion shortfall in customer funds remains.

The Peregrine bankruptcy case is Peregrine Financial Group Inc., 12-27488, U.S. Bankruptcy Court, Northern District of Illinois (Chicago). The CFTC regulatory case is U.S. Commodity Futures Trading Commission v. Peregrine Financial Group Inc., 12-cv-5383, U.S. District Court, Northern District of Illinois (Chicago).

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