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Articles Posted in Suitability

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The United States Securities and Exchange Commission (“SEC”) has filed charges Cardinal Energy Group, Inc. (“Cardinal”), a Texas-based oil and gas company, as well as and its former CEO Timothy W. Crawford (“Crawford”).  The SEC charges defendants with fraudulently concealing the loss of Cardinal’s major source of revenue.

Oil Drilling Rigs
In mid-2017, Cardinal reportedly lost control of its interest in two oil-and-gas leases that accounted for nearly all (approximately 90%) of the company’s revenue, according to the SEC’s complaint.  However, according to the SEC complaint, instead of revealing these issues, Cardinal and Crawford filed quarterly reports with the SEC that misrepresented to investors that the leases were still expected to be part of the company’s future business plans.

During this period, while allegedly concealing the setback to the business, Cardinal also allegedly raised additional money from investors, misreported stock ownership, and failed to make the required disclosures that its Crawford had sold millions of shares of Cardinal stock.

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Investors in Steadfast Apartment REIT, a publicly registered non-traded real estate investment trust or REIT, have an opportunity to sell their shares- but at a price far below the REIT’s estimated per-share value of $15.84 a share, or its initial $15.00 a share offering price.

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According to Securities and Exchange Commission filings, Comrit Investments I, a Tel Aviv-based investment fund, has commenced an unsolicited tender offer.  Comrit has offered to purchase up to 337,268 shares of Steadfast Apartment REIT Inc. stock at a price of $11.86 per share in cash. The offer expires on March 28, 2019.

Steadfast Apartment REIT, a publicly listed non-traded REIT, invests in “multifamily properties” throughout the United States.  The REIT closed its public offering in March 2016 and has reportedly raised $788 million in investor equity, as of December 31, 2018. The REIT closed its public offering on March 24, 2016.  Steadfast Apartment REIT marketed itself as focused on purchasing established, stable apartment communities with operating histories that demonstrated consistently high occupancy and income levels across market cycles.  Despite its characteristic high offering fees and expenses, Steadfast Apartment REIT is purportedly worth slightly more than its offering price of $15.00 a share, with management estimating its NAV at $15.84 a share.  However, shares have reportedly recently traded in a limited secondary market at prices as low as $12.70 a share.

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A UBS Financial Services options trading program marketed as a “Yield Enhancement” strategy to brokerage customers of UBS, reportedly including risk averse investors with substantial bond portfolios, suffered substantial losses approaching 20% of the capital committed in late 2018 and early 2019, although customers to whom the strategy was sold had reportedly been under the impression that the maximum loss they faced in a given month was  1-2%.

Iron Condor Basics
This impression of minimal risk was borne out by UBS’s marketing materials for YES, which at least strongly suggested that the central trading strategy of YES- the Iron Condor– exposed the client to finite or limited risk.  For example, one UBS marketing presentation touted historic returns that featured very few months with losses, and many months with gains.  UBS marketing materials also characterized YES’s central strategy as follows: “selling short term out-of-the-money European style puts and calls on the S&P 500 Index.  To help mitigate downside and upside market exposure, short term below-market and above-market call options are purchased with the same duration as the puts and calls sold.”

Other UBS marketing materials summarize the strategy as follows:

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An options trading program marketed as a “Yield Enhancement” strategy to brokerage customers of UBS, reportedly including risk averse investors with substantial bond portfolios, has suffered a hard landing in November and December as the so-called “Iron Condor” index options spread-based scheme has reportedly delivered losses in excess of 20% of the capital committed.

Iron Condor Basics
UBS’s Yield Enhancement Strategy (“YES”) reportedly has over $5 billion under management and over 1,200 investors.  Investors in YES must agree to commit capital to the program, a so-called “mandate,” which may take the form of securities or cash.  The committed capital provides collateral for options spread trading in each investor’s account.  Although marketed to bond investors, the bonds held by each investor have nothing to do with the YES strategy other than serving as collateral for the options trades.  Some investors pledge other securities or cash as collateral for the YES program.

The YES strategy entails generating option premium income through the strategic sale and purchase of SPX (S&P 500) index option spreads.  This strategy, which is also sometimes referred to as an “Iron Condor” spread, involves writing two vertical options spreads – a bear call spread and a bull put spread.  Thus, this strategy entails four different options contracts, each with the same expiration date and differing exercise prices.  The “Iron Condor” strategy involves writing both a short put and a short call against the SPX, with these naked, or uncovered, options are designed to generate income for the investor via the receipt of premium.  Further, the “Iron Condor” strategy involves writing both a long put and long call against the SPX, with these trades, or options legs, designed to mitigate the risk associated with the uncovered options positions.

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Oil Drilling RigsIf your financial advisor recommended an investment in All American Oil & Gas (“AAOG”) stock, limited partnership units, or high yield (“junk”) bonds, you may be able to recover losses sustained through FINRA arbitration, in the event your broker lacked a reasonable basis for the recommendation, or if your financial advisor failed to disclose the many risks associated with an investment in AAOG.  Headquartered in San Antonio, TX, AAOG is a privately held oil and gas producer that is the parent company of subsidiaries Western Power & Steam, Inc. (“WPS”) and Kern River Holding Inc. (“KRH”), an upstream exploration and production outfit with approximately 124 producing wells in the Kern River Oil Field.  Together, AAOG, WPS and KRH are referred to as the Company.

On November 12, 2018, the Company filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy in U.S. District Court in the Western District of Texas, citing “an ongoing dispute with its lenders.”  As of the date of filing its petition, the Company has a total of $141,942,197 in debt obligations.  According to the bankruptcy petition, in a number of instances KRH is the borrower on the Company’s loan facilities, as it requires regular ongoing cash flows to maintain its exploration and production activities.

With U.S. crude oil now trading below $50 per barrel (in 2014 oil was trading around $100, and as recently as September 2018 was hovering around $80 per barrel), many oil and gas companies may now be encountering financial distress after leveraging their balance sheets in order to fund costly exploration, drilling and related operations.  Predictably, this overleveraging has placed some oil and gas companies in a precarious financial position, particularly those operating in the capital-intensive and risky upstream sector of the oil and gas market.

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Piggybank in a CageOn November 9, 2018, GPB Capital Holdings, LLC (“GPB”) notified certain broker-dealers who had been selling investments in its various funds that GPB’s auditor, Crowe LLP, elected to resign.  As reported, GPB’s CEO, David Gentile, stated that the resignation purportedly came about “[d]ue to perceived risks that Crowe determined fell outside of their internal risk tolerance parameters.”  GPB has since engaged EisnerAmper LLP to provide it with audit services moving forward.

As we recently discussed, GPB has come under considerable scrutiny of late.  In August 2018, the sponsor of various private placement investment offerings including GPB Automotive Portfolio and GPB Holdings II, announced that it was not accepting any new investor capital, and furthermore, was suspending any redemptions of investor funds.  This announcement followed GPB’s April 2018 failure to produce audited financial statements for its two largest aforementioned funds.  By September 2018, securities regulators in Massachusetts disclosed that they had commenced an investigation into the sales practices of some 63 independent broker-dealers who have reportedly offered private placement investments in various GPB funds.  To name a few, these broker-dealers include: HighTower Securities, Advisor Group’s four independent broker-dealers – FSC Securities, SagePoint Financial Services, Woodbury Financial Services, and Royal Alliance Associates, in addition to Ladenburg Thalmann’s Triad Advisors.

The various GPB private placement offerings include:

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https://i0.wp.com/www.investorlawyers.net/blog/wp-content/uploads/2018/05/15.10.14-apartment-buildings.jpg?resize=300%2C210&ssl=1NorthStar Healthcare Income, Inc. (“NorthStar Healthcare”) is a public, non-traded REIT formed in October 2010 as a Maryland corporation.  NorthStar Healthcare is in the business of acquiring a geographically diverse portfolio of various healthcare real estate assets, including equity and debt investments (including various joint ventures with other non-traded REITs) in the mid-acuity senior housing sector, as well as in memory care, skilled nursing, and independent living facilities.  Pursuant to its initial offering, which closed on February 2, 2015, the non-traded REIT raised gross proceeds of $1.1 billion (subsequently, NorthStar Healthcare conducted a Follow-on Primary offering, raising total gross proceeds of $1.9 billion through March 22, 2017).

As a publicly registered, non-traded REIT, numerous retail investors were solicited by a financial advisor to invest in NorthStar Healthcare.  Unfortunately, customers who purchased shares through the IPO upon the recommendation of a broker may, in some instances, have been uninformed of the complex nature of the investment, including its high upfront commissions and fees (as set forth in its prospectus, NorthStar Healthcare charged investors a selling commission of up to 7% of gross offering proceeds, a dealer-manager fee of up to 3%, and an acquisition fee of 2.25% for properties acquired by the REIT).

Furthermore, as a non-traded REIT, NorthStar Healthcare is illiquid in nature.  Investors seeking liquidity have limited options at their disposal in the event that they wish to exit their investment position in the near term.  Briefly, investors seeking liquidity may: (i) seek to redeem their shares directly with the sponsor (it is worth noting that NorthStar is “not obligated to repurchase shares” under its Share Repurchase Program), or (ii) be presented with limited, market-driven opportunities to tender their shares to a third party professional investment firm (typically at a disadvantageous price), or finally, (iii) seek to sell their shares on a limited secondary market specializing in creating a market for illiquid securities.

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BuildingHeadquartered in Newport Beach, CA, KBS Real Estate Investment Trust II, Inc. (“KBS II”) was formed as a Maryland REIT in July 2007.  Pursuant to its public offering, KBS II offered 280 million shares of common stock, of which 200 million shares were registered in its primary offering, and an additional 80 million common shares were registered under the non-traded REIT’s dividend reinvestment plan.  KBS II’s initial offering closed on December 31, 2010, with 182,681,633 shares sold, thus raising gross offering proceeds of $1.8 billion.

Many KBS II investors may have been steered into this complex investment by a financial advisor or stockbroker.  Unfortunately, KBS II investors may have been uninformed as to the illiquid nature of their investment (as a non-traded REIT, KBS II shares do not trade on a national securities exchange), and now have limited options if they seek liquidity on their investment.

In January 2016, KBS II’s board of directors formed a Special Committee for the purpose of exploring “the availability of strategic alternatives.”  Subsequently, the Special Committee determined that it was in the best interest of KBS II stockholders to market some of the non-traded REIT’s assets, and depending on the scope of the asset sales, “thereafter adopt a plan of liquidation that would involve the sale” of remaining KBS II assets.

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On August 14, 2018, the Enforcement Section of the Massachusetts Securities Division (the “Division”) filed a Complaint against StockCross Financial Services, Inc. (“StockCross”) (CRD# 6670), as well as one of its registered representatives, Mr. Peter E. Cunningham (“Cunningham”) (CRD# 2400211).  Through its administrative action, the Division has alleged that Cunningham engaged in “[i]mproper buys and sells of an investment known as a unit investment trust (“UIT”) throughout Cunningham’s Massachusetts client accounts.”  The Division also alleges that StockCross failed to properly supervise Cunningham, and even promoted him, despite its awareness of Mr. Cunningham’s previous checkered regulatory history — including six customer complaints resulting in approx. $330,000 in settlement payments to investors.

Piggybank in a Cage
A UIT is a type of security that shares some similarities to mutual funds and closed-end funds (CEFs), insofar as a UIT consists of a basket of different investments.  Historically, most UITs were structured as vehicles in which to purchase a basket of municipal bonds.  Over time, UITs have evolved to the point where today, retail investors might invest in a variety of UITs offering exposure to various asset classes and economic sectors.  However, unlike traditional mutual funds or CEFs, UITs are structured with a finite lifespan, and thus cease upon a given predetermined date.  Additionally, UITs generally charge investors high fees, as high as 3-5% of the initial investment.  Unfortunately, as a result of their fee structure, some brokers and investment advisers will encourage their clients to actively trade in and out of UITs, a practice commonly referred to as “switching” and akin to churning an investment portfolio, in an effort to generate excessive commissions for the benefit of the broker, and to the detriment of the uninformed investor.  Switching transactions that appear to be fee-motivated may give rise to investor claims against advisors.

As alleged by the Division, since as early as 2012, “[C]unningham has engaged in short-term UIT trading in the accounts of his Massachusetts clients.  Of [his] approximate 180 clients, nearly 60, or approximately 30%, are Massachusetts residents.  Statements from [his] Massachusetts client accounts reflect sales of UITs as soon as 26 days after purchase and sometimes years before the UIT is predetermined to reach its maturity date.  Cunningham often used proceeds of the sales to buy other UITs.”

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investing in real estate through a limited partnershipAs recently announced, the board of directors of Hines Real Estate Investment Trust, Inc. (“Hines REIT” or the “Company”) — one of three publicly registered non-traded REITs sponsored by Hines — has unanimously voted for approval of a plan of liquidation and dissolution of the Company (“Liquidation Plan”).  Under the Liquidation Plan, which calls for  shareholder approval, the Company will sell seven of its West Coast office building assets in a cash transaction valued at $1.162 billion to an affiliate of Blackstone Real Estate Partners VIII.  In addition, Hines REIT also seeks to liquidate the remainder of its portfolio, including Chase Tower in Dallas, TX, 321 North Clark in Chicago, and a grocery-anchored retail portfolio located in the Southeastern U.S.

Pursuant to the Liquidation Plan, Hines REIT shareholders will receive $0.08 per share, to be paid on or about July 31, 2018.  Specifically, the Liquidation Plan entails a final distribution of $0.07 per share, as well as an additional $0.01 per share stemming from a recent class action settlement.  The class action settlement involves a lawsuit filed by Baltimore City in the Circuit Court of Maryland, alleging breach of fiduciary duty, waste of corporate assets, and misappropriation of assets surrounding certain payments made in connection with the Liquidation Plan.

Hines REIT shareholders previously approved the Liquidation Plan in November 2016; subsequent to shareholder approval, the Company declared an initial liquidating distribution of $6.20 per share in December 2016, as well as a $0.30 per share liquidating distribution in April 2017.  Following the final distribution of $0.08 per share, Hines REIT investors will have received total special and liquidating distributions of approximately $7.59 per share, in addition to regular annual distributions.  Shares were originally sold for $10 each.