MF Global gives bond investors Corzine-exit insurance

Tue Aug 2, 2011 7:02pm EDT

* MF Global offers $300 mln in senior unsecured debt

* Clause adds 1 point of interest if Corzine leaves

* Issue part of effort to pay down costly debt

By Lauren Tara LaCapra

NEW YORK, Aug 2 (Reuters) - New Jersey may have turned its back on Jon Corzine, but MF Global Holdings Ltd's MF.N bond investors needed some assurance that the former governor will stick around in his current role as head of the brokerage.

Corzine, who lost his bid for re-election in 2009, is important enough to MF Global's future that the company's bond offering on Tuesday included an unusual clause: Investors will get an extra percentage point of interest if he's appointed to a federal position by the U.S. president by July 1, 2013.

Corzine, 64, is seen as the driving force behind MF Global's turnaround but he has hopped between politics and Wall Street for the past decade, giving investors reason for pause.

While the "key man event" provision inserted into Tuesday's bond offering is unusual, experts said it made sense for a company whose recent turnaround has been linked to its leader.

"I've never seen anything like this or heard of anything like this," said Tom Krasner, principal of Miami-based high-yield debt investing firm Concise Capital Management.

"Investors probably said, 'I'm concerned your CEO is going to bail. If you make me comfortable about that, I'll ask you 5 percent. If not, I'll need 6 percent.' It makes sense for the company to go that route."

Others said the provision was more a reflection of MF Global's savvy financing tactics than an indication that President Barack Obama is considering Corzine for a job.

"I doubt that it's likely to happen," said Kenneth C. Froewiss, a finance professor at New York University's Stern School of Business. "Probably more a case of investor wariness."

The $300 million offering of five-year senior unsecured notes is part of Corzine's plan to refinance MF Global's costly debt.

The issue is rated Baa2 by Moody's Investors Service, BBB- by Standard & Poor's, and BBB by Fitch ratings -- investment grade but just above junk.

Last week, the broker-dealer priced $325 million in seven-year convertible notes at 3.375 percent, part of an effort to pay down a 9 percent coupon.

Corzine, who was co-CEO at Goldman Sachs Group Inc (GS.N) with Henry Paulson for five years and shepherded the company into an initial public offering, became a U.S. senator in 1999 before being elected New Jersey governor in 2006.

Corzine, a Democrat, lost in his re-election bid to current Governor Chris Christie in 2009 and in early 2010 joined MF Global as chairman and CEO.

Since taking that position, Corzine has rejuvenated MF Global's business model, steering it toward profitability with cost cuts and trying to mold the $1.17 billion brokerage into a commodities trading powerhouse.

For its first fiscal quarter ended June 30, MF Global reported net revenue of $315 million and a profit of $7.7 million, the highest levels in nearly three years.

(Editing by Ted Kerr)

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