Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Doin' the Twist: The Federal Reserve Steps in to Spur the Economy

In the beginning of the year, the Federal Reserve indicated their plan was to let the economy stand on its own. By the end of last month, however, the Feds broke down and reduced long-term interest rates in a program they refer to as Operation Twist. In this program, the Feds would drive down interest rates to encourage business activities, such as borrowing and hiring. According to a Wall Street Journal article by Peterson and Hilsenrath, the Federal Reserve officials announced that Operation Twist will be extended through the end of the year, but they’re “poised to do more”.
At the end of the 1st Quarter, the Feds indicated that there was no need for their help. The economic picture appeared brighter following a strong 4th Quarter, and encouraging jobs report.
By the time the we turned the corner into the 2nd Quarter, the economic storyline began to change amid heightened pressures from overseas. The market, which had anticipated S&P downgrades for Spain and France, could no longer withstand the push-back stemming from the European Union’s fiscal and political upheaval. Globalization has its rewards, but this isn’t one of them. When the EU sneezes, we are going to get the sniffles, as if the distance were non-existent.

As the Euro fiscal storm brewed, the dismal jobs report and Facebook IPO did its part to shrivel up any confidence Investors might have had left. The market uncertainty lingers, regardless of good economic news. This  depicts the profile of weary investors - possibly suffering from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder.  Being the eternal optimist, I’m hoping Operation Twist will have us all dancing in the isles by the end of the year.

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K Reilly
The Cohn-Reilly Report

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Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Financial Fraud Strikes Again

Haven't we had enough of financial scandals? Of course not, here we go again. This time it is with a boutique futures trading broker - Peregrine Financial Group, also known as P.F.G.. On July 9, 2012, the National Futures Association (NFA) - the industry wide, self-regulatory organization for the U.S. futures industry, made an inquiry with U.S. Bank and learned that out of the $225 million in customer segregated funds that P.F.G. had reported to the NFA as being on deposit at the Bank just days earlier, only approximately $5 million was actually on deposit. The NFA also learned that, although P.F.G. submitted confirmations that U.S. Bank account balances as of February 2010 and March 2011, were reported to be approximately $207 million and $218 million, respectively, P.F.G.'s actual balances were less than $10 million for each one of these months.

On top of the reported financial fraud, a day earlier, the chairman and chief executive, Russell Wasendorf Sr., tried to commit suicide outside of the firm’s offices in Cedar Falls, Iowa .The Federal Bureau of Investigation is investigating the matter, according to a spokeswoman for the Omaha office, Sandy Breault. Ms. Breault indicated that the Chicago office of the agency might also get involved.

The Commodity Futures Trading Commission (C.F.T.C.) is seeking a restraining order against P.F.G., to prevent the destruction of any information that may be needed in the course of the investigation. The C.F.T.C. is also asking a federal court to appoint a receiver for the firm and freeze its assets.
This feels a lot like a curtain call for MF Global, where $1.6 Billion is still missing. (refer to a prior article in this blog for more information about MF Global). Similarly in this case, as the complaint states: “P.F.G. and Wasendorf have used customer funds for purposes other than those intended by its customers, and consequently, have misappropriated these funds”. “The whereabouts of the funds is currently unknown".

Needless to say, the operations of the firm have been halted. Unfotunately, I am one the many victims. For two years, I was an active futures trader with the company which offered  proprietary trading platforms to small retail customers like myself with unique and robust features that were not available from other brokerage houses. Although it has been several years since I day traded, due to time constraints, I still kept a funded account with P.F.G.. I contacted the NFA today and registered my name as an account holder. I urge all others affected to do the same. It may not amount to much but at least it is better to take some kind of action and to make your voice heard.

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C. Cohn
The Cohn-Reilly Report