While MF Global announced its bankruptcy in October, its tentacles continue to be far-reaching, especially toward its regulator, CME Group. On Wednesday, they struck again as the exchange saw its credit rating cut by S&P.
The ratings agency cut the futures exchange rating to a "AA-" from "AA." In addition, the agency maintained a short-term "A-1+" rating for the exchange.
According to the Wall Street Journal, the agency said the cut comes from the the possible costs of "financial safety net established for clients in the wake of the unfolding controversy surrounding the MF Global bankruptcy."
S&P put the exchange on watch by saying, "We could lower the rating on CME Group if legal and reputational issues take a long-term toll on its franchise and financial position."
CME responded pleasantly with we are "pleased that our rating remains high, with only 21 companies in the S&P 500 achieving a AA- rating or better".
The news comes as the exchange, which was MF Global's primary regulator, has been criticized by lawmakers, the industry and clients for its actions from the firm's failure. Its responsibilities to the firm had included the auditing of customer funds and supervising the firm's actions.
As previous disclosed, CME auditors made an unannounced visit to the firm's Chicago offices a week before the firm's bankruptcy. It went to to exam the firm's books but they didn't find anything. Upon learning about the $900 million customer discrepancy, which later reached estimates of $1.2 billion, the exchange implied that MF Global had illegally transferred funds, which wouldn't raise the eyebrows of its regulators.
CME has defended its actions and its executive chairman Terry Duffy has rejected idea to have the exchange get rid of its regulatory functions to avoid conflicts of interest.
The exchange has done what it can to help customers who lost money with the firm. Back in November, they offered guarantees to speed up the return of frozen client monies from the bankruptcy and just last week, they introduced a new $100 million fund that will protect farmers and rancher clients should an event like this happen again with their brokers.
So far, it hasn't gone over well. Last week ranchers and members of the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association met in Nashville with CME and discussed the fund. They believe it "amounted to little more than a pile of chickenfeed," according to Bloomberg.
With the introduction of CME's new fund, S&P said its possible impact and guarantee wouldn't set off another downgrade.
In a separate matter noted by S&P, it expressed concern about CME's growth in credit default swaps as the products are "outside the clearinghouse's historical expertise."
This was unlikely the cause for the recent downgrade as MF Global was probably the trigger; however, the agency will keep on eye on this esoteric area.
Last week the exchange announced its fourth quarter earnings of $745.9 million ($11.25 per share), a rise from the $196.2 million from the previous year ($2.93 per share). It also noted that its clearing volumes for over-the-counter interest rate swaps and credit default swaps increased in the quarter.