Principal Protected Notes, or PPNs, are structured investments, meaning they connect the performance of commodities, equities, currencies and other assets to fixed income notes and CDs. PPNs are legitimate investments, though they have received a lot of negative attention lately. PPNs may have a full principal protection, but only partial principal protection is possible as well. In addition, PPNs can pay at their maturity in different ways, some paying a variable sum and others in coupons connected to a security or index. While PPNs are appropriate for many investors, there are risks associated with them.
The now infamous class action suit against Lehman Brothers has its roots in the claim that the risks associated with PPNs were not disclosed to investors. When Lehman Brothers filed for bankruptcy, the principal on the PPNs — for which Lehman was the borrower — became unprotected and investors were left with unexpected losses. According to claimants in the case, they were led to believe that as long as they held them to maturity, their PPNs were 100 percent principal protected. Claimants also say they were told that as long as their underlying indices maintained their worth, the PPNs were principal protected. Furthermore, the risks associated with PPNs were not disclosed and customers were not notified of the decline of Lehman Brothers which could affect the value of the investments.
The case against Lehman Brothers deals primarily with broker misconduct in misleading investors about the safety of their investments. However, if other allegations are true and firms truly pushed PPNs at the same time that they were reducing their own PPN holdings, it is a question outright broker fraud as opposed to failure to disclose.