Archive for the ‘Stockbroker and Financial Adviser Misconduct’ Category:

Do You Understand the Fees Charged by Your Mutual Funds? Probably Not.

Written on August 8th, 2009 by Jason M. Kueserno shouts

In a July 31, 2009 article, Sam Mamundi of Marketwatch.com discussed the hidden sales fees charged by mutual funds. As noted in the article, “[t]he majority of retail funds are sold through brokerages, and each brokerage firm levies a range of charges to the fund for every sale. The cost of these agreements is passed on to investors.” These charges come in a variety of forms, including “revenue sharing agreements” and 12b-1 fees.

Many broker-dealers have revenue sharing agreements with mutual fund companies. Under these agreements, the broker-dealers are paid a percentage of the mutual fund sales they generate by the mutual fund companies. Each firm negotiates its own rates of revenue sharing with each mutual fund company.

Over the past few years, there have been lawsuits involving revenue sharing agreements. These cases were brought against broker-dealers and were largely based upon the premise that these undisclosed fees created a conflict of interest because the firms’ brokers (and also the broker-dealers) had a financial incentive to push the funds managed by the companies with whom the broker-dealer had an agreement, and not based upon their clients’ best interests.

Although mutual fund companies specifically report the amount of 12b-1 fees they charge against shareholders in their annual and semi-annual reports, the amount of money charged to shareholders for these revenue sharing agreements are not specifically disclosed. In fact, as noted in the Marketwatch.com article:

“There’s no direct rule requiring funds or brokerage firms to disclose revenue-sharing deals. Funds simply have to state that they pay for these deals, and often that’s tucked away at the back of a prospectus — which many investors don’t read before they buy into a fund.”

The Securities and Exchange Commission is also reportedly looking into the issue of hidden mutual fund sales fees. In her testimony before the Subcommittee on Financial Services and General Government on June 2, 2009, SEC Chairperson Mary Schapiro stated:

I also have asked the staff to prepare a recommendation on rule 12b-1, which permits mutual funds to use fund assets to compensate broker-dealers and other intermediaries for distribution and servicing expenses. These fees, with their bureaucratic sounding name and sometimes unclear purpose, are not well understood by investors. Yet in 2008, rule 12b-1 was used to collect over $13 billion in investors’ funds out of fund assets. It is essential, therefore, that the SEC engage in a comprehensive re-examination of rule 12b-1 and the fees collected pursuant to the rule. If issues relating to these fees undermine investor interests, then we at the SEC have an obligation to step in and adjust our regulations.

President Obama is also focusing on this issue. In a June White Paper (will open in Adobe Acrobat), the President noted that for the country “[t]o rebuild trust in our markets, we need strong and consistent regulation and supervision of consumer financial services and investment markets.” To that end, President Obama recommended “[s]tronger regulations to improve the transparency, fairness, and appropriateness of consumer and investor products and services.” In order to accomplish this goal, the President has set out to increase the power of the SEC so that the agency is better equipped to protect consumers and investors. Whether this will be enough is yet to be determined.

Undisclosed fees and revenue sharing agreements are another example of conflicts of interest between Wall Street firms and Main Street investors. Unfortunately, stockbrokers and financial advisors often lose sight of their clients’ goals and, as a result, their clients suffer unnecessary losses in the value of their IRAs, 401(k)s, college savings plans, or other investments accounts. The Kueser Law Firm represents investors who have suffered losses in their investments as the result of stockbroker or financial adviser misconduct. If you are concerned that your investments have been mismanaged, contact us to learn more about your rights.

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Fidelity Cautions Investors on Leveraged ETFs?

Written on August 6th, 2009 by Jason M. Kueserno shouts

On August 4, 2009, the Wall Street Journal reported that Fidelity Investments had joined other broker-dealers in warning its customers about the risks of investing in Leveraged ETFs (see other blawg posts on this topic here and here). The article, written by Daisy Maxey, states that Fidelity’s website warned investors that “Leveraged products are complex, carry substantial risks and are intended for short-term trading,” and that “[m]ost reset daily and seek to achieve their objectives on a daily basis. Due to compounding, performance over longer periods can differ significantly from the performance of the underlying index.”

The author of this blog spent several minutes searching Fidelity’s website (including searching the site for “leveraged ETF” and “leveraged product”) and could not find this warning. The website did contain an article from The Motley Fool entitled “Leveraged ETFs: Buyer Beware!” This brief article contained some discussion and examples of how leveraged ETFs work.

Last month, the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority (FINRA) declared that leveraged ETFs are typically unsuitable for retail investors. In addition, Massachusetts securities regulators have issued subpoenas to four firms in order to obtain information related to their sales practices involving leveraged ETFs.

Leveraged ETFs are unsuitable for retail investors because of their level of risk. The financial website Investopedia.com defines a leveraged ETF as “an exchange-traded fund (ETF) that utilizes financial derivatives and debt to amplify the returns of an underlying index.” The fund essentially borrows money and combines this money with investors’ money to purchase derivatives such as options, futures, or swaps. Because of the use of debt and derivatives, these ETFs carry a significant amount of risk. These funds also generally charge higher expenses to shareholders, which results in reduced returns (or increased losses if the market goes against the investment objective of the fund).

The most popular of these investments are managed by Rydex, Direxion, and ProShares. If your stockbroker or financial advisor has sold you any leveraged ETFs, or purchased any leveraged ETFs in your accounts, and you have lost money on these investments, you may be entitled to recover these losses. The Kueser Law Firm represents investors in securities arbitration. If you are concerned that your investments have been mismanaged, contact us to learn more about your rights.

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More Broker Dealers Restrict Sales of Leveraged ETFs

Written on August 5th, 2009 by Jason M. Kueserno shouts

Weeks after Edward D. Jones, Ameriprise, Linsco Private Ledger (LPL) and UBS announced that they were restricting the sale of leveraged ETFs (see here), two more broker-dealers have decided to take action related to their sales of these risky, and often misunderstood investments.

As reported by the Wall Street Journal, Morgan Stanley Smith Barney announced that it is reviewing its sales procedures related to leveraged ETFs. In addition, Charles Schwab issued an “unusual” warning to its clients that have purchased leveraged ETFs. This warning provides investors with some background discussion related to these risky investments, as well as examples of how hypothetical leveraged ETFs would perform in a few hypothetical situations.

Although many broker-dealers have instituted these measures, some broker-dealers continue to do nothing. For example, as reported in the Wall Street Journal article, Fidelity Investments continues to make leveraged ETFs available to their customers and leveraged ETFs remain available through TD Ameritrade’s web trading platform.

As previously stated in this blawg, the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority (FINRA) has declared that leveraged ETFs are typically unsuitable for retail investors. In addition, Massachusetts securities regulators have issued subpoenas to four firms in order to obtain information related to their sales practices involving leveraged ETFs.

Leveraged ETFs are unsuitable for retail investors because of their level of risk. The financial website Investopedia.com defines a leveraged ETF as “an exchange-traded fund (ETF) that utilizes financial derivatives and debt to amplify the returns of an underlying index.” The fund essentially borrows money and combines this money with investors’ money to purchase derivatives such as options, futures, or swaps. Because of the use of debt and derivatives, these ETFs carry a significant amount of risk. These funds also generally charge higher expenses to shareholders, which results in reduced returns (or increased losses if the market goes against the investment objective of the fund).

The most popular of these investments are managed by Rydex, Direxion, and ProShares. If your stockbroker or financial advisor has sold you any leveraged ETFs, or purchased any leveraged ETFs in your accounts, and you have lost money on these investments, you may be entitled to recover these losses. The Kueser Law Firm represents investors in securities arbitration. If you are concerned that your investments have been mismanaged, contact us to learn more about your rights.

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Firms Asked to Account for Sales of Leveraged ETFs

Written on August 3rd, 2009 by Jason M. Kueserno shouts

According to an article on InvestmentNews, Massachusetts securities regulators have subpoenaed four brokerage firms for information related to their sales practices of leveraged ETFs. The subpoenas come only a few weeks after Edward D. Jones, Ameriprise, Linsco Private Ledger (LPL) and UBS restricted the sale of the products or stopped selling leveraged ETFs altogether. This also comes approximately three weeks after FINRA advised firms that leveraged ETFs “typically are unsuitable for retail investors.”

The most widely traded leveraged ETFs are managed by Direxion Funds, ProShares, and Rydex. Because these funds are “leveraged,” they are designed to provide market returns that significantly exceed market indices. For example, the Rydex Inverse Dow 2x Strategy Fund “seeks to provide investment results that inversely correspond to 200% of the daily performance of the Dow Jones Industrial Average.” (from Rydex Funds’ website.*) Therefore, if the Dow Jones Industrial Average increases by 10%, this fund is designed to lose 20%. Conversely, if the DJIA declines by 10%, this fund is designed to gain 20%. Another example is the Direxion S&P 500 Bull 2.5x Fund, which is designed to provide “daily investment results, before fees and expenses, of 250% of the price performance of the S&P 500 Index.” (from the Direxion Funds’ website.*) Therefore, if the S&P 500 Index declines by 10%, this fund is designed to lose 25%. What most investors are not told is that these funds are designed to produce the stated returns on a daily basis. Therefore, these funds are not designed to be bought and held.

The truth is that leveraged ETFs are unsuitable for retail investors because of their level of risk. As stated on Investopedia.com, a leveraged ETF is “an exchange-traded fund (ETF) that utilizes financial derivatives and debt to amplify the returns of an underlying index.” The fund essentially borrows money and combines this money with investors’ money to purchase derivatives such as options, futures, or swaps. Because of the use of debt and derivatives, these ETFs carry a significant amount of risk. These funds also generally charge higher expenses to shareholders, which results in reduced returns (or increased losses if the market goes against the investment objective of the fund).

From January 2, 2008 through March 6, 2009, the S&P 500 Index declined from 1,447.16 to 683.38. This represents a loss of 52.8% during a 14-month period. As you can imagine, leveraged ETFs that were focused on growth (bullish funds) suffered tremendous declines during this period.

If your financial advisor or stockbroker sold you funds that are managed by Direxion, ProShares, or Rydex and you suffered losses, you may have a claim for recovery of those losses. The Kueser Law Firm represents investors in securities arbitration. If you are concerned that your investments have been mismanaged, contact us to learn more about your rights.

* This blog intentionally refuses to link to the websites of companies that manage and sell leveraged ETFs because of the riskiness of these funds. If you would like to learn more about these funds, use Google to search for the information. If your adviser has recommended these funds to you, get a new adviser or at least a second opinion.

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SEC Charges Morgan Keegan for Fraudulent Marketing and Sales of Auction Rate Securities

Written on July 27th, 2009 by Jason M. Kueserno shouts

On July 21, 2009, the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) charged Morgan Keegan & Company. In its Complaint, the SEC seeks an injunction for violation of the federal securities laws, as well as equitable relief for Morgan Keegan investors. Included in this equitable relief is a request for a court order requiring Morgan Keegan to repurchase illiquid ARS from its customers. More about the SEC’s case, including a link to the Commission’s Litigation Release and Complaint can be found here.

The SEC’s Complaint alleges that Morgan Keegan misled thousands of investors about the liquidity risks related to auction rate securities (ARS). This is another example of the massive fraud related to Auction Rate Securities that was perpetrated by financial services firms across the country. To date, several firms, including UBS, Wachovia, TD Ameritrade, Fidelity, and Stifel Nicolaus have entered into settlements with federal and/or state securities regulators. Some of these settlements have broader relief for investors, while others have left many investors still holding onto these illiquid investments.

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. The Kueser Law Firm represents investors in securities arbitration and litigation. Feel free to contact us if you have any questions or would like additional information.

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Madoff Sentenced to 150 Years

Written on June 29th, 2009 by Jason M. Kueserno shouts

This morning, U.S. District Court Judge Denny Chin sentenced Bernard Madoff to the maximum sentence of 150 years of prison for his role in a “historic” multi-billion dollar fraud.

Judge Chin stated “Here the message must be sent that Mr. Madoff’s crimes were extraordinarily evil and that this kind of manipulation of the system is not just a bloodless crime that takes place on paper, but one instead that takes a staggering toll.”

Mr. Madoff’s “error of judgment” or “tragic mistake” (as he referred to his fraud) devastated the lives of thousands of people. While it is unlikely that Mr. Madoff’s former clients will receive any significant restitution, it is comforting to see that he was not able to buy leniency and that the maximum sentence was ordered.

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FINRA Agrees that a Fiduciary Standard Makes Sense for Broker-Dealers

Written on May 14th, 2009 by Jason M. Kueserno shouts

For the first time, FINRA has publicly stated that it “makes sense” that broker-dealers who provide investment advice should be held to the same fiduciary standard that applies to Registered Investment Advisers.

This is a significant development because broker-dealers and their representatives have relied upon an exemption in the Investment Advisers Act of 1940 to escape these duties. The Investment Advisers Act exempts “any broker or dealer whose performance of such services is solely incidental to the conduct of his business as a broker or dealer and who receives no special compensation therefor” from its coverage.

Broker-dealers consistently take the position that their compensation is “solely incidental” to their broker-dealer business. However, virtually every broker-dealer has shifted their business model from that of the traditional “stock broker” to that of an investment adviser. These firms now call their representatives “investment advisers,” “financial advisers,” “wealth managers,” and other titles that reflect that their representatives provide broad advisory and/or management services.

While FINRA does not feel that it is necessary to change its suitability rules, extending fiduciary duties to broker-dealers is a significant step to increasing the rights and protection afforded to investors.

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Wall Street Compensation Returns, Investors Portfolios Have Not

Written on April 27th, 2009 by Jason M. Kueserno shouts

On April 26, The New York Times reported that in 2009, “workers at the largest financial institutions are on track to earn as much money this year as they did before the financial crisis began.”  (See article here).  In fact, the article reports that six of the largest banks have “set aside over $36 billion in the first quarter to pay their employees.”   At Goldman Sachs, the average compensation per employee could equal as much as $569,220.  At J.P. Morgan Chase, the average employee in the company’s trading and investment banking unit is on pace to earn $509,524.  Yes, the average compensation would exceed one-half of a million dollars.

In 2008, the stock market experienced losses of $30.1 trillion in market value.  So far this year, the S&P 500 has declined by approximately 8% more.  Meanwhile, the federal government has committed $12.1 trillion to financial bailout programs, and specifically, $10 billion and $25 billion, respectively, to Goldman Sachs and J.P. Morgan.  

This begs the question, why are taxpayers footing the bill for the failure of the financial markets and continuing to lose money in the process while the compensation of the very people who contributed to the need for a bailout is returning to record high levels?

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Welcome to InvestmentFraudBlog.com

Written on April 19th, 2009 by Jason M. Kueserno shouts

Thank you for visitng the InvestmentFraudBlog.  This blog is maintained by the Kueser Law Firm, a boutique law practice in Lee’s Summit, Missouri.  The firm focuses its practice on representing individuals, groups, and companies whose investments have been mismanaged.  The firm also represents financial advisors, stockbrokers, and other financial professionals in employment related disputes and regulatory investigations.  

This blog will serve to provide commentary and links to current issues related to investments, and, as the title of the blog suggests, investment fraud.  The firm’s website also contains an Investor Resource Center that has links to a variety of useful sources for investors and financial professionals.

If you need to speak to an attorney about your investments, please feel free to contact The Kueser Law Firm.  We hope you enjoy the future content of this blog.

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