Articles Posted in Mutual Funds

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Money MazeThe Financial Industry Regulatory Authority (“FINRA”) entered into a Letter of Acceptance, Waiver and Consent (“AWC”) with First Allied Securities, Inc. (CRD #32444, San Diego, California) on August 21, 2017 arising from the firm’s practices with respect to mutual fund sales charges.  FINRA censured First Allied and required the firm to provide FINRA with a remediation plan for eligible customers for mutual fund sales-charge waivers.  First Allied also agreed in the AWC to pay restitution to eligible customers, which is estimated to total approximately $876,915 (the amount eligible customers were allegedly overcharged, with interest).

FINRA alleged that First Allied disadvantaged certain retirement plan and charitable organization customers that were eligible to purchase Class A shares in certain mutual funds without a front-end sales charge.  FINRA alleged that these eligible customers were instead steered toward Class B or C fund shares, or Class A shares with a front-end sales charge, resulting in the customers’ paying higher charges than necessary to purchase the shares.

FINRA also alleged that First Allied failed to apply available fee waivers to mutual fund purchases made by eligible customers.  Finally, FINRA alleged that First Allied failed to establish and maintain a supervisory system sufficient to accurately determine the applicability of sales-charge waivers.

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Cage MoneyRecently, the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority (“FINRA”) ordered Wells Fargo & Co. to pay a $3.4 million fine in connection with sales practice issues related to recommendations of volatility-linked exchange-traded funds (“ETFs”) and volatility-linked exchange-traded notes (“ETNs”) to customers.  Specifically, FINRA determined that between July 2010 and May 2012, some Wells Fargo brokers affiliated with the company’s wealth management business recommended that their customers purchase volatility-linked exchange-traded funds (“ETFs”) and volatility-linked exchange-traded notes (“ETNs”) “without fully understanding their risks and features.”  In addition, FINRA indicated that Wells Fargo lacked the appropriate supervisory procedures and safeguards to facilitate sales of the volatility-linked investment products.

By their very nature, volatility-linked investments are designed to return a profit when the market experience choppiness (or volatility) and are not intended for ordinary investors.  In fact, when volatility-linked ETFs began rolling out to retail investors in early 2011, Michael L. Sapir, Chairman and CEO of ProShare Capital Management, stated that “The intended audience for these ETFs are sophisticated investors.”

Investing in a volatility-linked product is a very risky enterprise that is likely only suitable for professional investors seeking to trade on a short-term basis (e.g., several hours or day trading).  Furthermore, because the VIX or so-called ‘fear index’ is not actually tradeable, investors who wish to invest in the VIX must trade derivatives instead (including volatility-linked ETFs and ETNs)- products that are beyond the understanding of ordinary retail investors.

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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 Matthew Becker and Merrill Lynch. Consent orders against Becker and Merrill Lynch were recently announced by the New Hampshire Bureau of Securities Regulation. According to the orders, Matthew Becker was not properly supervised by Merrill Lynch and, as a result of this failure, he was able to engage in short-term trading that was unsuitable for his clients.

Merrill Lynch Fined for Agents Unsuitable Trading

According to stock fraud lawyers, the investigation began when one of Becker’s clients filed a complaint with the bureau. The complaint alleged unsuitable and excessive trading by Becker in the client’s account. Reportedly, it wasn’t until five months after the complaint was received by Merrill Lynch, in September 2010, that Merril Lynch required heightened supervision of Becker.

“After a thorough investigation and review by Bureau auditor William Masuck, we determined that there was a basis for the client’s complaint of excessive trading, especially with regard to mutual funds and structured products,” says Deputy Director of Enforcement Jeff Spill. “These kinds of investments are not suitable for frequent, short-term trading.”

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Investment fraud lawyers are currently investigating claims on behalf of customers of JP Morgan Securities LLC. At issue is whether the customers received recommendations that were unsuitable or not in their best interest because of a JP Morgan policy that conflicted with brokers’ responsibilities to their customers.

JP Morgan Policy Allegedly Conflicted with Best Interest of Customers

According to a securities arbitration claim filed by a former JP Morgan broker, the firm allegedly “had a policy to only recommend in-house product to customers, irrespective of whether that product was the best choice for customers to meet their investment objectives.” Furthermore, the firm continued to discourage the selling of outside products by allegedly making it difficult for brokers to collect commissions and fees for those products. In addition, the claim alleges that the firm’s continuing insistence on the sales of proprietary mutual funds created a perpetual conflict between the firm’s policies and a broker’s responsibility to his or her clients.

Financial Industry Regulatory Authority rules have established that 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.  The alleged practices of JP Morgan would have discouraged and/or made it difficult for brokers to act in the best interest of their clients.

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Securities fraud attorneys are currently investigating claims on behalf of investors who suffered significant losses as the result of an unsuitable recommendation of floating-rate bank loan funds. Earlier this month, the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority announced that it ordered Banc of America and Wells Fargo to pay a fine and restitution for the improper and unsuitable recommendation and sale of floating-rate bank loan funds.

Investors Could Recover Losses for Unsuitable Recommendation of Floating-rate Bank Loan Funds

Wells Fargo Advisors LLC was ordered to pay a $1.25 million fine and restitution of approximately $2 million for losses sustained by 239 customers. As Banc of America’s successor, Merrill Lynch, Pierce, Fenner & Smith was ordered to pay a $900,000 fine and restitution of approximately $1.1 million for losses sustained by 214 customers.

Floating-rate bank loan funds can be illiquid and carry significant risks because they invest in loans to entities with below-investment-grade ratings. According to FINRA’s findings, Banc of America and Wells Fargo made recommendations of concentrated purchases of these investments to customers for whom the recommendation was unsuitable. Stock fraud lawyers say that most investors with conservative risk tolerances or who want to conserve principal should not have received a recommendation to invest in a floating-rate bank loan fund.

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Securities fraud attorneys are currently investigating claims on behalf of investors who suffered significant losses in the non-traded Hines REIT. Potential claims related to the Hines REIT include unsuitable recommendations, misrepresentation and overconcentration of investment funds. The Hines REIT was launched in 2004; as of September 20, 2012, it comprised 55 properties in 24 geographic markets. As of December 2009, Hines suspended its share redemption plan except when in connection to the disability or death of a stockholder.

Hines REIT Investors Could Recover Losses

Unfortunately, Hines REIT investors have found themselves in a tight spot when they want to sell their investment. Because the Hines REIT is non-traded, investors are forced to sell through a secondary market, through an auction or privately.   Investors who sell through a secondary marketmay be forced to accept a price far below their purchase price.  Investors also may choose to hold onto their shares in the hopes that the real estate investment trust will decide to make a public offering and register with the Securities and Exchange Commission or pursue another liquidity event such as a merger with a publicly traded company.

Investment fraud lawyers are investigating the possibility that full-service brokerage firms may be held liable for the recommendation of the Hines REIT.   Financial Industry Regulatory Authority rules have established that brokers and 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.  Non-traded REITs like this one are illiquid and inherently risky and, therefore, not suitable for many investors.

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Securities fraud attorneys are currently investigating claims on behalf of investors who suffered significant losses as a result of their financial investments with Jeffrey A. Cashmore and LPL Financial. According to the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority allegations against him, Cashmore prepared and distributed sales literature to prospective and current customers that was misleading. Furthermore, he allegedly failed to retain copies of the misleading sales literature, a violation of NASD Conduct Rules. The alleged misconduct reportedly occurred between November 1994 and October 2012, while Cashmore was registered with LPL.

Clients of Jeffrey A. Cashmore and LPL Financial Could Recover Losses

According to FINRA’s findings, Cashmore distributed “Power Optimizer” packages during the relevant period, which is at least from January 2006 through December 2010. These packages consisted of documents that contained investment information and portfolio recommendations and typically included a Cash Flow Report, a Power Optimizer Report, a Portfolio Recommendations/Asset Allocation page, a Fee and Asset Summary Report and Morningstar Reports for each recommended mutual fund. These packages were distributed to at least 100 clients and potential clients. However, according to stock fraud lawyers and FINRA, these packages contained misleading information. Specifically, FINRA says the documents provided incomplete and oversimplified information which did not provide a sound basis for investors to be able to evaluate facts about the information provided by the package.

Reportedly, the Cash Flow Report’s cash flow summary was based on only one projected rated of return, rather than including alternate cash flow scenarios, and did not include any possible cash flows that would illustrate a negative rate of return. Furthermore, the Morningstar Reports allegedly included in the package all addressed Class A investments while Cashmore recommended and sold Class C investments almost exclusively. Securities fraud attorneys say that Class A and C investments have differing rates of return, surrender charges and fees, despite being similar investments when in the same mutual fund.

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David L. Rothman, a Pennsylvania resident, has been charged by the Securities and Exchange Commission for allegedly defrauding elderly clients. Stock fraud lawyers say the civil and criminal charges accuse Rothman of sending his clients falsified account statements that inflated the value of their accounts. Then, in a repayment scheme, Rothman took funds from another client in order to repay those who received phony statements.

Elderly Investors Targeted by Pennsylvania Financial Advisor

According to the SEC’s complaint, the two clients were “elderly and unsophisticated investors” which, securities arbitration lawyers say, made them ideal targets for Rothman’s fraud. The complaint further alleges that the fraud occurred from 2006-2011 and the falsified statements “materially overstated” the value of the clients’ investments. In addition, allegations against Rothman state that once the investors realized the fraud had taken place, the financial advisor stated that he would repay the statements’ reported value. However, his financial resources eventually ran short.

Apparently, Rothman was previously censured by the CFP Board in 2004. This separate matter involved the purchasing of mutual fund Class S shares.

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Securities fraud attorneys are currently investigating claims on behalf of the customers of Sanders Morris Harris Inc. and Fifth Third Securities Inc. in light of recent fines and censures by the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority. Fifth Third Securities was fined $80,000 and ordered to pay restitution to investors in the amount of $26,876.52, plus interest. The firm was also ordered to revise its WSPs in regard to step-out transactions. Sanders Morris Harris was fined $75,000. Both firms submitted a Letter of Acceptance, Waiver and Consent but neither admitted or denied FINRA’s findings.

Sanders Morris Harris and Fifth Third Securities Fined by FINRA

In the case of Sanders Morris Harris, FINRA’s findings indicated that the firm’s registered representatives distributed advertising material to retail customers for hedge funds that did not adequately disclose the risks of the funds. Furthermore, it was alleged that the advertising contained unclear graphs or charts that contained misleading statements and omitted material information. In addition, the material allegedly implied that investors could avoid negative returns and/or indicated that the fund’s past performance would yield future positive returns. According to stock fraud lawyers, FINRA’s findings also indicated that two of the nine subject pieces of advertising were distributed by the firm, without principal review, to retail customers.

Securities fraud attorneys say that in the case of Fifth Third Securities, FINRA’s findings indicated that the firm’s transactions with or for a customer resulted in a failure to execute due diligence to determine the most appropriate inter-dealer market and, further, failed to execute transactions in such a market to procure the most favorable price to its customer as possible, given market conditions. Reportedly, the firm did not properly report transactions in municipal securities to the RTRS, and an adequate supervisory system was not in place to maintain compliance with applicable MSRB rules, securities laws and regulations in regard to step-out transactions.

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