The fastest growing segment of the financial services industry was the one hardest hit by MF Global’s suspicious demise and overt fraud at Peregrine Financial Group (PFG).
The managed futures industry, which had grown from $14 billion under management in 1991 to over $329 billion to end 2012, was a shining star of the new economy. Offering the unique ability to zig when other investments zagged, the lack of correlation and performance during crisis were key points of attraction. This attraction came to a screeching halt with the MF Global and PFG criminal incidents. Not only were investors getting acquainted with the asset class shocked to learn their accounts were looted of assets, but more troubling criminal behavior appeared the cause – casting a shadow over all participants.
“There is a severe loss of trust, a loss of confidence. There is incredible anger and frustration. Things need to change,” said Diane Mix Birnberg, president of Horizon Cash Management. Her firm just released a study, The Aftermath of MF Global and Peregrine Financial Group Meltdowns: A Crisis of Trust, showing that a whopping 91% of respondents believed there was a breakdown in audit procedures.
The study themes that emerged included:
- The laws and rules that govern the industry need to have ‘teeth’ – and those involved in fraud and theft need to be punished.
- Customer segregated funds must either be kept completely out of the FCM and/or be verified in real-time by regulators.
A strong and rare female voice inside a Type A male dominated industry, Ms Birnberg’s firm, Horizon Cash Management, has become the top cash management firm for participants in the managed futures industry. Starting in the 1970s as a secretary in a stock brokerage firm in Atlanta, where “women generally didn’t think about career aspirations,” she later joined Lehman Brothers in the bond business. After moving to New York City to work on Wall Street, she was recruited in 1980 by investors to operate a cash management firm in the futures industry and in 1991 founded Horizon Cash Management, which currently has $2 billion under management.
In MF Global “there was very little institutional leadership (from exchanges, regulators and major firms),” she said. “This resulted in rumor, innuendo and ultimately a lack of trust. The void in leadership is terrifying.”
Looking back on the MF Global and PFG disasters, Ms. Birnberg has the experience of witnessing 10 FCM implosions. “In every FCM implosion it has negatively touched the CTA / CPO segment of the industry.”
“Think about a plane crash,” she said. “What happens? Key issues and facts are addressed by the airline, the FAA and even the US president. Information is available regarding what happened, why it happened and steps being taken to address the problem.”
With MF Global a plane crashed and there was silence.
This is the first part of a two part article.
DISCLOSURE: These are the opinions of the author and may not have considered all risk factors. Nothing on this web site should be construed as an individual recommendation, talk to your independent advisor. The author and Opalesque may have relationships with those people they cover in the publication. Mr. Melin provides a full disclosure of his business relationships to regulators and certain eligible participants who engage him in consulting projects. Managed futures investing involves risk and there are no guarantees of safety or future performance being implied. Managed futures can be a risky investment. This web site and its content is subject to the terms of the web site. Risk Disclosure and terms of web site are available here: http://www.uncorrelatedinvestments.com/templates/Disclaimer.html Performance information received on this site is provided by third parties and deemed reliable but there is no guarantee relative to same. Performance reporting sources and quality assurance techniques may include, but are not limited to: disclosure document, CTA self reporting, brokerage firm reporting, consultant reporting, spot checking other reporting databases; nonetheless no guarantee of accuracy or implication performance verification or auditing is being made by the publishers. The CTA Database is a project separately managed from www.uncorrelatedinvestments.com.