Articles Tagged with Inland American

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Law Office of Christopher J. Gray, P.C., a New York City law firm handling arbitration claims on behalf of investors throughout the United States, has filed multiple Financial Industry Regulatory Authority (“FINRA”) arbitration proceedings on behalf of investors who allege that registered representatives of LPL Financial Holdings, Inc.’s (Nasdaq:LPLA) brokerage subsidiary recommended unsuitable investments in non-traded REITs.

Suitability claims arise when stockbrokers or investment advisors recommend investments that are not appropriate for an investor’s financial circumstances, risk tolerance, or investment goals. FINRA Conduct Rule 2310 requires that Members and their Representatives have a reasonable basis to recommend a transaction or investment strategy suitable for the customer, based on information obtained through reasonable diligence and the customer’s investment profile. A customer’s investment profile includes, but is not limited to, the customer’s age, other investments, financial situation and needs, tax status, investment objectives, investment experience, time horizon, liquidity needs, and risk tolerance.

Cases filed by the Gray Firm allege that in certain circumstances, LPL lacked a reasonable basis to recommend certain non-traded REITs, including Inland Western REIT (now known as Retail Properties of America. As a private unlisted investment, Inland Western was a Non-Conventional Investment (“NCI”). FINRA’s Notice to Members 03 71 states that “since NCIs often have complex terms and features that are not easily understood,” there exists the potential for customer harm or confusion since investors do not understand the risks involved. Members must conduct appropriate due diligence/reasonable basis suitability before offering these investments to the public. Specifically the Notice states that when offering NCI investments, FINRA Members are required to:

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Many investors are currently seeking recovery of their Inland American REIT losses through Financial Industry Regulatory Authority securities arbitration. Following Inland American’s 10Q Securities and Exchange Commission Q1 filing, investors were made aware of a current investigation being conducted by the SEC. According to this 2012 quarterly report, which was issued in May, Inland American had “learned that the SEC is conducting a non-public, formal, fact-finding investigation to determine whether there have been violations of certain provisions of the federal securities laws regarding our business manager fees, property management fees, transactions with our affiliates, timing and amount of distributions paid to our investors, determination of property impairments, and any decision regarding whether we might become a self-administered REIT.”

Recovery of Inland American REIT Losses

Inland American’s prospectus, initially filed in August 2005, shows fees and commissions including a .5 percent due diligence expense allowance, a 2.5 percent marketing contribution and a 7.5 percent selling commission. Furthermore, Inland American’s 2011 annual report indicates that a $40 million business management fee and a $1.6 million investment advisory fee to be paid to its business manager.

Other concerns related to the Inland American REIT that investors should be aware of include the fact that even though it was recognized as the largest non-traded REIT, with real estate assets totaling over $11 billion, nearly 30 percent of the REIT’s properties are located in only four cities. The quarterly report cited above states that “Geographic concentration of our portfolio may make us particularly susceptible to adverse economic developments in the real estate markets of those areas or natural disasters in those areas.” Furthermore, the report discloses the fact that around 16 percent of the properties owned by the REIT are leased by SunTrust Bank and AT&T.

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According to stock fraud lawyers, the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority has and will continue to relentlessly target non-traded real estate investment trusts, or REITs. Specifically, the regulatory authority is focusing on how broker-dealers sell these investments and potential shortcomings in their strategies. According to the Executive Vice President of Member Regulation Sales Practices at FINRA, Susan Axelrod, examiners at FINRA have been scrutinizing “numerous retail sellers of non-traded REITs.” Axelrod also stated that, “In several instances, FINRA examiners have found that firms selling these products failed to conduct reasonable diligence before selling a product and failed to make a determination that the product was suitable for investors.”

FINRA Targets Non-traded REITs

Investment fraud lawyers note that independent broker-dealers have a responsibility to perform adequate due diligence when selling any investment, especially complex, illiquid products. Since the 2008 market collapse, FINRA has been aggressive with broker-dealers who failed to do so. Axelrod stated to the Securities Industry and Financial Markets Association’s Complex Products Forum that, “FINRA examiners have noted that in the instances of REITs that have experienced financial difficulties, red flags existed and should have been considered by firms prior to the product being offered to firm clients.”

Another problem with non-traded REITs, according to Axelrod, is that “non-traded REITs may also borrow funds to make distributions if operating cash flow is insufficient, and excessive borrowing may increase the risk of default or devaluation. In addition, non-traded-REIT distributions may actually be a return on principal.”

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