Articles Posted in Bonds

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According to one claim that was recently filed, Morgan Stanley advisors recommended that one couple invest all their money into bonds issued by Puerto Rico Sales Tax Financing Corp., Puerto Rico Public Finance Corp. and Puerto Rico Electric Power Authority, when a low-risk, safe, fixed-income portfolio would have been more suitable for the couple. The claim is seeking to recover $200,000 in damages. According to stock fraud lawyers, Puerto Rico Bonds and bond funds were unsuitable for many investors given their age, investment objectives and risk tolerance.

Morgan Stanley Customers Could Recover Losses for Unsuitable Puerto Rico Bond Sales
Allegedly, Morgan Stanley did not adequately disclose the risk associated with the recommended investment strategy of concentrating all of their funds into these three investments. The firm also allegedly failed to adequately disclose the risks associated with low credit ratings and long-duration bonds. Allegedly, the couple was led to believe that the Puerto Rico Bonds were constitutionally guaranteed by the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico.

Some of the bonds and bond funds currently being investigated by securities fraud attorneys are:

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Securities fraud attorneys are currently investigating claims on behalf of investors who suffered significant losses in variable annuities. Variable annuities are insurance products tied to an investment portfolio, which typically consist of mutual funds that hold bonds and stocks. In many cases, brokers receive commissions as high as 8 percent when selling variable annuities, which may motivate them to make recommendations that are unsuitable for investors.

Two MetLife Brokers Accused of Unsuitable Variable Annuity Sales

The Financial Industry Regulatory Authority (FINRA) recently filed a complaint against two MetLife Securities Inc. brokers, Patrick Chapin and Christopher Birli. According to the complaint, Chapin and Birli focused on advising State University of New York employees on their retirement plan. Both were terminated in 2012 and do not work in the securities industry at this time.

According to the complaint, Chapin and Birli allegedly made recommendations to 45 of their customers to unload their plan’s MetLife variable annuities by cashing in their annuities, purchasing another security within the plan to be held for 90 days, and then selling that security to switch to new variable annuities outside the university plan, held in IRAs. The alleged misconduct took place between 2004 and 2007. According to FINRA, this scheme generated commissions for the brokers amounting to hundreds of thousands of dollars.

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Securities fraud attorneys are currently investigating claims on behalf of investors who suffered significant losses as a result of doing business with Oriental Financial Services. Allegedly, Oriental Financial Services, part of OFG Bancorp, was responsible for investor losses sustained in at least two Puerto Rico Closed-end Bond Funds: Puerto Rico Investors Tax Free Fund IV and Puerto Rico Income Fund II.

Oriental Financial Services Customers Could Recover Losses From Puerto Rico Closed-end Bond Funds

A claim was recently filed on behalf of one couple who wanted to invest the money from their matured CDs in conservative investments. However, Oriental Financial Services allegedly recommended they invest 65 percent in the Puerto Rico Closed-end Bond Funds. According to the claim, the couple was unaware that this significant portion of their $1 million investment would be put into investments that were illiquid, concentrated, high-risk and leveraged. Reportedly, when the Puerto Rico market declined, their investment value declined by around 60 percent. In addition, the couple is unable to get out of their declining investments because there is no secondary market readily available.

Under FINRA rules, firms have an obligation to fully disclose all the risks of a given investment when making recommendations, and those recommendations must be suitable for the individual investor receiving the recommendation given their age, investment objectives and risk tolerance. According to stock fraud lawyers, many of the investors who have suffered significant losses in Puerto Rico closed-end bond funds were unaware of the risks, and these investments were unsuitable given their risk tolerance.

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Securities fraud lawyers continue to investigate claims on behalf of investors who suffered significant losses as a result of the unsuitable recommendation and sale of Puerto Rico bonds and UBS Puerto Rico bond funds in light of the products’ downgrade to “junk bond” status. Reportedly, earlier this month Standard & Poor downgraded most of the Puerto Rico bonds to “high-risk junk bond” status.

Losses Mount as Puerto Rico Bonds Downgraded to Junk Status

This is bad news for a lot of investors, as about 70 percent of U.S. municipal bond funds currently hold some portion of Puerto Rico bonds and those funds that are required to hold investment-grade bonds will be forced to sell the Puerto Rico bonds at significant discounts. According to stock fraud lawyers, this selling pressure may result in bond holders seeing significant price drops. In addition, the downgrade could throw a wrench in Puerto Rico’s plan to borrow $1-2 billion in the near future. Puerto Rico would likely have to agree to a much higher interest rate for investors to accept the risks associated with the bonds.

Puerto Rico bond investors suffered losses of more than 20 percent in 2013, with even higher losses for investors who were exposed to the internal leverage (or borrowing of money to buy additional municipal bonds) in UBS Puerto Rico bond funds.  Investors who were 50 percent leveraged reportedly experienced losses of around 40 percent. In addition, securities fraud attorneys say that many investors were convinced to use a margin account, a second mortgage or a bank loan to borrow more money for larger investments. Both of these recommendations carried significant risk and were unsuitable for many investors.

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Securities fraud attorneys are currently investigating claims on behalf of the clients of UBS Financial Services Inc. and David Lugo. Lugo allegedly made unsuitable recommendations and misrepresentations of Puerto Rico municipal bonds and UBS proprietary Puerto Rico municipal bond funds.

Clients of UBS David Lugo Could Recover Losses

In one claim already filed by stock fraud lawyers, the claimant, one of Lugo’s clients, seeks to recover approximately $15 million. According to the allegations in this claim and others, Lugo reportedly recommended that his clients invest significant portions of their accounts in UBS proprietary Puerto Rico municipal bond funds and Puerto Rico municipal bonds. In addition, the amount invested frequently represented large concentrations of the total net worth of the client. Reportedly, these investments were marketed and sold as low-risk and clients were told they would be paid high, tax-advantaged dividends.

Lugo’s clients also allege that they were not warned that the UBS bond funds were highly leveraged. Lugo also allegedly recommended a UBS margin account in order to borrow funds to increase his clients’ Puerto Rico municipal bond investments. While this investment strategy was highly speculative and posed a high risk of principal loss, Lugo allegedly did not warn his clients of the risks and made unsuitable recommendations.

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Investment fraud lawyers continue to investigate claims on behalf of investors who suffered significant losses in Puerto Rico municipal bonds and closed-end mutual funds exposed to losses in such bonds,  even as declining credit ratings threaten to drastically increase the losses suffered by many investors.

Declining Credit Ratings More Trouble for UBS Puerto Rico Bond Investors

Both Standard & Poor and Moody had already put Puerto Rico’s general obligation municipal bonds on negative watch when Fitch Ratings joined them on November 14. The Puerto Rico bonds are already rated by all three agencies at just one step above “junk,” or non-investment grade. Currently, Puerto Rico has outstanding debt amounting to around $11 billion in this category, and securities arbitration lawyers say that the negative watch given to the bonds by all three rating agencies is an indication that the debt will likely be downgraded in the coming months to junk-bond status.

If these bonds are downgraded to junk status, the resulting flood of sales could cause another drastic drop in the bonds’ price, and could also result in losses in closed-end mutual funds invested in the bonds. Unfortunately, most buyers are unwilling to accept the risk of purchasing these bonds unless significantly discounted, leaving many investors forced to keep the investment or sell it at a significant loss.

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Investment fraud lawyers at the Law Office of Christopher J. Gray P.C. recently filed a securities arbitration claim with the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority regarding UBS Puerto Rico investments. This case, which was filed on behalf of a retiree, focuses on one of a group of closed-end funds structured by UBS Puerto Rico, known as the Puerto Rico Fixed Income Fund I.

According to the allegations stated in the claim, Fund I was marketed and sold as a safe fixed-income investment, and was primarily invested in bonds issued by the Puerto Rican government. However, according to securities arbitration lawyers, because these funds suffered heavy exposure to the Puerto Rico government-issued bonds, there were substantial risks associated with the fund’s concentration these bonds in the event that they lost value. Due to their leveraged exposure to Puerto Rico government bonds, the value of the close-end funds has significantly declined as the underlying municipal bonds have dropped in price.

Fund I had a stated value of $8.55 per share as of July 2013. However, the value per share dropped to $6.06 in September and, as of October 1, shares of Fund I were only valued at $3.73. There are 23 closed-end funds currently in question, some of which have lost more than half their value, according to recent reports. Some of the funds currently being investigated by investment fraud lawyers are:

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Investment fraud lawyers are currently investigating claims on behalf of investors who suffered significant losses in U.S. mutual funds that contained Puerto Rico bonds. Massachusetts securities regulators are currently investigating these investments and claim that many investors may have been unaware of the exposure to the Puerto Rico fiscal crisis.

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According to securities arbitration lawyers, many state-specific municipal bond funds contained Puerto Rico debt and, as a result, other investigations may ensue. According to Massachusetts Secretary of the Commonwealth, William Galvin, the investigation includes three large fund managers: OppenheimerFunds (a unit of MassMutual Life Insurance Co.), UBS Financial Services and Fidelity Investments. The investigation is regarding how these managers sold and disclosed the risk of mutual funds containing heavy concentrations of the Puerto Rico bonds.

“Puerto Rico is currently on the verge of insolvency and many of its obligations are at or near junk rating, thus the risks associated with its municipal debt obligation are disproportionately high,” Galvin notes.

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Securities fraud attorneys are currently investigating claims on behalf of customers of Morgan Stanley and other full-service brokerage firms regarding the sales of bonds and other securities. In some cases, full service brokerage firms may have failed to provide fair and reasonable prices or best execution in some customer transactions involving municipal bonds, corporate bonds, agency bonds or other securities.

According to a FINRA news release, on August 22, 2013, the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority fined Morgan Stanley & Co. LLC and Morgan Stanley Smith Barney LLC for failure to provide reasonable prices in certain municipal bond customer transactions and failure to provide best execution in certain corporate and agency bond customer transactions. The firms were fined $1 million and ordered to pay restitution and interest in the amount of $188,000, above and beyond what Morgan Stanley has already paid. Stock fraud lawyers say Morgan Stanley did not admit or deny the FINRA charges.

Reportedly, the violations affected 116 corporate and agency bond customer transactions and 165 municipal bond customer transactions.

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On December 17, a Financial Industry Regulatory Authority arbitration panel reportedly sided with an investor against Morgan Keegan & Co. Inc. Stock fraud lawyers say the FINRA arbitration panel awarded the investor $1.38 million in settling his complaint related to Morgan Keen proprietary bond funds called the Intermediate Fund. Of the award, $851,000 was for compensatory damages and $400,000 was for other compensation and legal fees.                                                                                     

Investor Recovers $1.38 Million from Morgan Keegan

The claim, which originally requested $4.3 million in relief, was filed in 2010 by Lawrence B. Dale, an investor in the Intermediate Fund. The award stated that Morgan Keegan allegedly “represented to the claimants that the (bond fund) was a safe and conservative investment.” Further allegations by Dale were that the Intermediate Fund “did not match Morgan Keegan’s misrepresentations, failed to disclose material information, misrepresented values, and invested in structured finance and asset-backed securities” that were unsuitable for Dale. The firm also allegedly failed to adequately supervise its employees, according to Dale.

Securities arbitration lawyers say that Morgan Keegan and Regions Financial have been facing many problems because of the Intermediate Fund and its blowup during the financial crisis. This fund was one of a group that saw a significant decline in net asset value in 2007 and 2008, reportedly between 60 and 80 percent. Furthermore, the firm was later charged by regulators with overstating the value of the funds’ mortgage-backed securities. The firm agreed to pay a fine to regulators amounting to $200 million in 2011. In addition, a civil complaint was filed by the Securities and Exchange Commission against the funds’ former board members in December. According to this complaint, the board members allegedly failed to properly oversee the managers of the fund.

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