FINRA recently released its arbitration statistics for the month/year ended December 2010.
For the year, there were 20% fewer cases filed (5,680 v. 7,137 in 2009) and there were 6,241 cases closed (a 37% increase over 2009). Of these cases, 22% were resolved by arbitration hearing, 52% were resolved by direct settlement between the parties, 10% were resolved through mediation, and 16% of cases were either withdrawn or resolved through “other” method.
Results for investors also improved in 2010, as 47% cases that were decided by an arbitration panel resulted in an award of damages to the customer. This reflects a 2% increase over the results in 2009, and a 10% increase compared to arbitration claims decided by arbitration panels in 2007 — the worst year, for investors, in arbitration claims over the past six years.
The overall turnaround time for cases closed during the year also increased to 12.7 months (from 11.5 months in 2009). For cases that are resolved after an arbitration hearing, the turnaround time increased to 15 months (from 14 months in 2009).
The most common claims in arbitration were: (1) Breach of Fiduciary Duty; (2) Negligence; (3) Fraud/Misrepresentation; (4) Failure to Supervise; and, (5) Breach of Contract. The most common type of securities involved in arbitration claims were mutual funds and common stocks.
Leveraged ETFs have recently returned to the news as Direxion announced the release of two new funds. As reported on Marketwatch.com, one of these new funds seeks to obtain returns equal to 300% of the two-year Treasury yield, while the other fund seeks to obtain returns equal to 300% of the inverse return of the two-year Treasury yield (in other words, when the Treasury yield declines, the investor profits).
Despite the repeated warnings issued by FINRA and the SEC as to the tremendous risk presented by leveraged ETFs, it appears that these fund families are forging “full steam ahead.” The announcement from Direxion comes only weeks after its rival, ProShares, released eight additional leveraged ETFs. Four of the new ProShares funds seek to obtain returns equal to 300% of the daily return of the Nasdaq 100, Dow Jones Industrial Average, Standard & Poors 400 Index, and the Russell 2000 Index. The other four funds seek returns equal to 300% of the inverse daily return of these same indices (again, investors in these funds profit when the value of the respective index declines).
Leveraged ETFs invest their shareholders’ money in futures and/or derivatives in order to multiply the daily return of an index. Some leveraged ETFs seek a return that is 200% or even 300% of the daily performance of the index. Inverse ETFs work in much the same way, except that these funds seek a return that is equal to 100%, 200%, or even 300% of the opposite of the daily performance of the index. With these funds, an investor actually profits when the index declines in value. Typical leveraged ETFs and inverse ETFs reset each day and therefore, over periods longer than one day, their performance can vary considerably from the index.
Leveraged ETFs may be appropriate investments for professional asset managers and highly sophisticated investors; however, in this author’s opinion, leveraged ETFs are inappropriate for the vast majority of individual investors. Given the level of volatility in the stock markets in recent times, leveraged ETFs expose investors to tremendous potential for loss in a short period of time. Furthermore, in various instances in the retail setting, leveraged ETFs have been sold to investors without full disclosures related to these risks.
ProFunds Group, one of the largest issuers of leveraged and inverse ETFs recently issued a warning that some of its leveraged and inverse ETFs may not be suitable for all investors. In the prospectus dated October 1, 2009, the company repeatedly states:
The Fund is different from most exchangetraded funds in that it seeks leveraged returns and only on a daily basis. The Fund also is riskier than similarly benchmarked exchange-traded funds that do not use leverage. Accordingly, the Fund may not be suitable for all investors and should be used only by knowledgeable investors who understand the potential consequences of seeking daily leveraged investment results. Shareholders should actively monitor their investments.
(See, e.g., prospectus at pp. 49, 54, 59, 64, 69, 74, 79.)
While additional disclosures are an improvement, this disclosure is still somewhat vague. It is similar to telling someone that an investment is suitable for them if they are seeking growth of their investment. Who isn’t seeking growth of their investments? I have never heard anyone say “I am looking for an investment that will cause me to lose money.”
In addition, many investors who are sold leveraged ETFs such as these never receive a copy of the prospectus. If an investor does not receive the prospectus, the disclosure does not protect them (however, it could protect the fund company from liability).
Leveraged ETFs invest their shareholders’ money in futures and/or derivatives in order to multiply the daily return of an index. Some leveraged ETFs seek a return that is 200% or even 300% of the daily performance of the index. Inverse ETFs work in much the same way, except that these funds seek a return that is equal to 100%, 200%, or even 300% of the opposite of the daily performance of the index. With these funds, an investor actually profits when the index declines in value. Typical leveraged ETFs and inverse ETFs reset each day and therefore, over periods longer than one day, their performance can vary considerably from the index. In addition to ProFunds, the most popular leveraged ETFs and inverse ETFs are managed by Rydex and Direxion.
FINRA has already declared that leveraged ETFs are typically unsuitable for retail investors. Therefore, the announcement by ProFunds is not a revelation. If your stockbroker or financial advisor has sold you any leveraged ETFs or inverse ETFs, or purchased any leveraged ETFs or inverse ETFs in your accounts, you may be entitled to recover any losses on these investments. The Kueser Law Firm represents investors who were sold leveraged ETFs and inverse ETFs. If you are concerned that your investments have been mismanaged, contact us to learn more about your rights.
Colorado Division of Securities Charges Stifel Nicolaus with Fraudulent Sales of Auction Rate Securities
On October 1, 2009, Colorado Securities Commissioner Fred Joseph announced that the Securities Division had filed a complaint against Stifel, Nicolaus & Company. According to the Division’s news release, the complaint alleges:
Stifel Nicolaus falsely represented auction rate securities as liquid, short-term investments to Colorado investors without discussing the risks. These representations gave investors a false sense of security that the investments would always be liquid when auction rate securities, in fact, faced significant, inherent liquidity risks.
A copy of the Notice of Charges is available in pdf format here.
Auction rate securities, which are also referred to as auction rate preferred shares, ARS, ARPS, and MARS, to name a few, have been at the epicenter of regulatory investigations across the country. Auction rate securities are long-term (or perpetual) investments that traded in periodic “auctions.” They are designed to allow companies, mutual funds, municipalities, and other organizations to borrow money for a long-term period while paying short-term rates of interest, which were reset during the periodic auctions. It was in these auctions that investors who held the securities could also sell their holdings if they needed to have access to cash. Because these auctions occurred on a relatively frequent basis (i.e., weekly, bi-weekly, or monthly), investors had the ability to sell their positions and obtain cash in a relatively short period of time.
For years, Wall Street firms sold auction rate securities as short-term, cash equivalent investments that paid marginally higher rates of interest as compared to other short-term investments. What these firms did not tell their customers was that the liquidity of the auction rate securities markets was entirely dependent on the ability and willingness of these same firms to participate in the auctions — in other words, these firms had to be willing and able to purchase the securities that were not purchased by the other auction market participants. In most cases, these firms were purchasing more securities than the other market participants. The firms (and their representatives) did not disclose these critical facts, but rather, only disclosed that the interest rates paid on the securities was reset at the auctions. In addition, these firms generally failed to inform investors that they would not be able to access their invested capital if the auctions froze.
In 2007, these Wall Street firms came under massive liquidity problems. As a result, these firms made a decision to cease participation in the auction rate markets, leaving investors across the country with illiquid investments that typically paid short-term rates of interest. In some cases, the auction rate securities paid no interest for months at a time. Therefore, investors were left holding a bag of illiquid long-term securities that paid little, if any interest.
Several class actions have been filed across the country on behalf of auction rate securities investors. In addition, numerous securities arbitration claims have been filed by investors. Some of these cases, as well as action by state regulators, has resulted in redemption of some investors’ auction rate securities. However, many investors remain stuck with these illiquid investments.
If you own auction rate securities that have not been redeemed, you may want to contact an attorney to discuss your rights. The Kueser Law Firm is a boutique legal practice that focuses its practice on protecting the rights of investors and recovering investment losses for companies and individuals. You may contact us by completing the form to the right, or by visiting our website.
“A nation that forgets its past is doomed to repeat it.” — Winston Churchill
On Wednesday, September 23, 2009, several major media outlets published articles discussing the Obama administration’s continued efforts to enact enhanced regulatory reform over the financial markets.
Given what has occurred over the past two years, enhanced regulation is absolutely necessary. As Paul Krugman noted in a New York Times Op-Ed article: “In the grim period that followed Lehman [Brothers’] failure, it seemed inconceivable that bankers would, just a few months later, be going right back to the practices that brought the world’s financial system to the edge of collapse.” However, that is exactly what is happening. While the rest of America continues to struggle with job losses, foreclosures, and the effect that the downturn had on their investment portfolios, Wall Street is again promoting the very investments that caused the problem — and business appears to be good.
For example, in a recent article on Bloomberg.com, Abigail Moses and Shannon D. Harrington stated that “A year after the bankruptcy of Lehman Brothers Holdings Inc., credit-default swaps have lost their stigma for disaster and are contributing to the growing confidence in the credit markets.” Have we already forgotten Lehman Brothers and AIG and the problems that CDS created? It appears that we have. In a recent article, Greg Burns of the Chicago Tribune noted that credit default swap reform has “fizzled.”
The only reason that all this appears to have been forgotten is due to the recent “recovery” in the stock market. As Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner stated yesterday in his remarks before Congress:
Make no mistake, the flaws in our financial system and regulatory framework that allowed this crisis to occur, and in many ways helped cause it, are still in place . . . . We may disagree over details over how to best fix those flaws, but that cannot mean we do not act.
It seems to me that the Treasury Secretary is someone we should be listening to, and not Wall Street or others with a similar agenda. Let us not forget our past.
On September 21, 2009, Missouri Secretary of State Robin Carnahan announced that her office had finalized a consent order with JP Morgan Chase & Co. related to the firm’s marketing and sale of auction rate securities (ARS) to Missouri investors.
According to the press release, Missouri investors will receive more than $28 million. In addition, JP Morgan will pay $86,000 to the Missouri Investor Education and Protection Fund, which is used to educate Missourians about potential investment fraud and other fraudulent schemes.
JP Morgan, like many of the other investment firms across the country marketed auction rate securities as “safe,” “liquid,” and “same as cash,” when, in fact, the investments were subject to the willingness of many of the same firms to provide the necessary liquidity to sustain the auction rate securities market. As these firms’ liquidity began to diminish in late 2007 and early 2008, they became unable to support the market with the necessary liquidity. As a result, in mid-February 2008, the auctions failed and investors were stuck holding long-term and perpetual investments that paid short-term interest rates.
The Kueser Law Firm represents investors in securities arbitration and litigation. If you were sold Auction Rate Securities and your positions have not been redeemed or repurchased, you should contact an attorney to discuss your rights. Feel free to contact us if you have any questions or would like additional information.