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Friday, December 2, 2011

MF Global investors saved by Sarbanes-Oxley regulations. Oh. Wait... uhm. No, they weren't.

Remember how Sarbanes-Oxley regulations were supposed to prevent more Enron-style disasters? SOX compliance, as it is known in the industry, cost businesses tens of billions and drove many companies from going public.

Instead of spending the money on innovation, hiring salespeople, expanding production facilities, or creating new marketing, service and distribution capabilities, companies spent those funds trying to achieve compliance with largely useless government dictates.

But remember: we don't have enough regulations.

MF Global proves Enron-era accounting lives on

The off-balance-sheet accounting methods that Enron and Lehman Brothers made famous in their epic failures years ago have a modern-day poster child: MF Global... Like its predecessors, the bankrupt brokerage formerly run by Jon Corzine took advantage of an accounting maneuver to keep certain financial obligations off its books, making the firm look less indebted and thus less a risk than it really was.

On Thursday, Mary Schapiro, chairman of the Securities and Exchange Commission, told a committee of Congress the SEC was investigating the accounting treatment that helped mask MF Global's exposure to risky foreign sovereign debt.

The fact that MF Global was able to use the technique highlights how off-balance-sheet moves are evolving as quickly as new accounting rules intended to stop them. Earlier this year, the Financial Accounting Standards Board changed its rules to bar an off-balance-sheet loophole that had helped Lehman Brothers get into trouble in 2008.

Reuters' analysis is: of course! We need more regulations!

So how are all of those millions of pages of existing regulations working out for investors in Jon Corzine's firm?

I've said it before and I'll say it again: every thing this enormous, extra-constitutional federal bureaucracy touches turns to crap.

Related: Weird coincidence: Obama bundler Corzine got a range of regulatory "gifts" before his firm collapsed

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