Articles Posted in Exchange Traded Funds

CNBC reports that according to a recent survey, advisors are preferencing exchange-traded funds over any other investment choice, in part because of their transparency, liquidity, and low costs. ETFs can also be traded throughout the day and are primarily passive. Their expense ratio is lower than actively managed mutual funds and they offer certain tax benefits. For example, unlike with mutual funds, capital gains are not as likely to arise with exchange-traded funds.

In the 2015 Trends in Investing Survey, conducted by the Journal of Financial Planning and the FPA Research and Practice Institute, 81% of advisors said that they recommend or use ETFs—that’s significantly up from 2006 when the survey found that just 40 % of advisors used exchange-traded funds. Meantime, Morningstar, an investment research firm, reports that ETFs hold about $2.1 trillion of investor assets. However, the use of smart-beta ETFs is still low.

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F-Squared Investments Inc. has laid off 40 workers-that’s one-fourth of its staff-as it continues to deal with the ongoing asset losses in the wake of the securities fraud charges filed against it by the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission last year. During a routine examination, the regulator discovered that the asset management company allegedly had deceived investors by claiming its performance history was based on a real trading record going as far back as 2001 when F-Squared had just back-tested its algorithm. F-Squared is the biggest marketer of index products using ETFs (exchange-traded funds).

The SEC accused the firm of falsely promoting its AlphaSector investment strategy and its supposed excellent track record as based on its investment performance for real clients instead of the backtesting. Due to a calculation error, the results were inflated by 350%.

F-Squared settled the SEC charges for $35 million and the firm’s new CEO, Laura P. Dagan, said that F-squared has been putting more effort into compliance and its main product line. However, in the last several months, investors have withdrawn billions of dollars from F-squared strategies while several brokerage firms refuse to let advisers put more funds into the strategies.

SEC Accuses Elm Tree Investment Advisors, its Founder, of $17M Securities Fraud

The Securities and Exchange Commission has filed fraud charges against Elm Tree Investment Advisors LLC and its founder Frederic Elm for running a Florida-based securities scam that raised over $17 million in a little over a year. The regulator contends that Elm, his firm, and the funds Elm Tree Motion Opportunity LP, Elm Tree “e”Conomy Fund LP, and Elm Tree Investment Fund LP misled investors and used the bulk of the funds to issue Ponzi-like payments. Elm also is accused of using the money to purchase expensive homes, jewelry, and autos, as well as cover his daily living expenses.

According to the SEC, Elm, his unregistered advisory firm, and the three funds violated the regulator’s anti-fraud rules as well as federal securities laws. The Commission wants relief for investors as well as the restoration of the purportedly ill-gotten gains and financial penalties.

F-Squared Investments Inc. has consented to pay $35M to settle Securities and Exchange Commission charges accusing the firm of making false claims regarding the performance of a key investment product. F-Squared admitted that it misled clients for several years about its AlphaSector strategy.

F-Squared is the largest marketer of index products that use Exchange-Traded Funds. The SEC claims that F-Squared falsely advertised that the AlphaSector investment strategy had a successful track record that was based on actual investment performance for real clients when, in fact, the algorithm touted didn’t even exist during the noted time period.

The algorithm was the basis of signals sent from a third party data provider indicating when to sell or buy an investment. F-Squared and Howard Present, its co-founder and ex-CEO, used the signals to develop the AlphaSector, a model portfolio of sector ETFs that could be rebalanced from time to time when the signals changed. After its launch in 2008, AlphaSector’s indexes became the company’s largest revenue source.

In a preliminary ruling, The U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission said it expects to reject BlackRock Inc.’s (BLK) proposal to put out a nontransparent exchange-traded fund. BlackRock sought permission to sell the ETF from the regulator in 2011.

The fund wants to keep its investments secret, which go against SEC rules. BlackRock proposed using a blind trust to manage the securities of a portfolio without revealing the contents. It sought exemption from the agency’s rules, which mandate that disclosure be provided daily. Instead, BlackRock would have disclosed its holdings with the nontransparent ETF on a quarterly basis. One reason that certain fund managers are pushing for less frequent disclosure is their worry that daily disclosures could allow investors to imitate the trades.

Now, however, the SEC is saying that without portfolio transparency such as a plan does not guarantee that that the ETF would trade consistently or near net asset value. The regulator said that the proposed structure sets up substantive risk that ETF share market prices might materially deviate from the ETF’s NAV/share, especially during stressful periods in the market. This could “inflict substantial cost on investors,” noted the Commission.

The Securities and Exchange Commission is getting ready to revisit a 2008 rule proposal about exchange-traded funds. In the wake of new issues that have cropped up since then, changes to the original proposal are likely.

Speaking at the Investment Company Institute’s Mutual Fund and Investment Management Conference this week, SEC’s Division of Investment Management associate director Diane Blizzard said that a revised rule would likely address the differences between index and active funds, transparency of underlying and direct instruments, inverse leverage, and creative flexibility within the funds.

Currently, there is no specific timeline for a revised proposal roll out. Since no rule is in place at the moment, the Division of Investment Management is in charge of making individual choices about whether to approve new exchange-traded funds. This SEC division is also looking at enhancing disclosure requirements related to variable annuities, including whether senior investors and those seeking to build their retirement funds are being properly and thoroughly notified of the benefits, complexities and costs.

Financial Industry Regulatory Authority says that Century Securities Associates, Inc. and Stifel, Nicolaus & Company, Inc. must pay almost $1 million over the sale of inverse and leveraged exchange-traded funds. Stifel Financial Corporation (SF) owns both firms.

According to the SRO, for more than four years Century and Stifel recommended non-traditional ETFs that were not suitable to customers because a number of its representatives did not fully comprehend the products’ features or the risks involved. The instruments were marketed to retail investors with conservative investment goals. A number of customers ended up holding the investments for long periods and they suffered net losses.

The regulator says that Century and Stifel failed to set up proper training for their representatives and lacked the reasonable supervisory systems for the sale of these non-traditional ETFs. Instead, the firms oversaw these investments the way they did traditional ETFs. Also, they did not set up a procedure to deal with the risk for the longer-term holding periods involving these complex investments.

The Financial Industry Regulatory Authority Inc. says that J.P. Turner & Co. has to pay restitution of $707,559 to 84 clients over the sale of inverse and leveraged ETFs that were unsuitable for them, as well as for excessive mutual fund switches. The SRO says that the broker-dealer did not set up and keep up a supervisory system that was reasonable but instead oversaw inverse and leveraged ETFs the same way it did traditional ones. It also accuses the financial firm of providing inadequate training regarding ETFs. By settling, J.P. Turner is not denying or admitting to the charges.

Leveraged and Inverse Exchange Traded-Funds

Inverse and leveraged ETFs “reset” every day. They are supposed to meet their objectives daily so their performance can rapidly diverge from that of the benchmark or underlying index. Unfortunately, even if long-term index performance exhibits a gain, investors can be susceptible to substantial losses. Markets, when they are volatile, can only exacerbate the situation. Also, leveraged and inverse ETFs are not suitable for all investors.

SRO Says Brokerage Can Institutional Customers PIP Data About ETPs Under Certain Conditions

Financial Industry Regulatory Authority staff have determined that under certain conditions, broker-dealers are permitted to include pre-inception performance information in communications with institutional investors about exchange-traded products, also known as ETPs. Staffers said that FINRA Rule 2210, which governs institutional communications, allows for the use of this data in the way that a fund company is proposing. ALPA Distributors is proposing using the PIP information just in institutional communications, per FINRA Rule 2210 and subject to certain criteria.

However, in “applying the suitability standards” for recommendations to institutional customers,” the SRO said brokerage firms should be cautious about putting too much “weight” on PIP information, while taking into consideration the correlation between performance of other, similar ETPs managed by the investment adviser, sponsor, or index provider and the PIP data. The staff’s letter was in response to a letter written by the fund company, which sees value in giving institutional investors the information for ETPs analysis.

Focus Capital Wealth Management and its owner Nicholas Rowe are now barred from having a license to serve as either an investment adviser or a broker-dealer in New Hampshire. Rowe and his financial firm are accused of elder financial fraud. Per the settlement with the state, they must pay $2.4 million in client restitution.

The Bureau of Securities Regulation acted against Rowe last year following complaints from clients claiming they’d lost significant amounts of money in risky investments of leveraged exchange-traded funds, which are also known as ETFs. According to the bureau, these investments are not for clients who have a low or medium tolerance for risk. Rowe also allegedly misrepresented his credentials and charged investors unreasonable fees, claiming that these were going to third parties with close Wall Street ties, when, actually, he was keeping part of that money.

Rowe eventually consented to FINRA arbitration over claims filed by a number of his former clients, who alleged civil fraud and negligence. One of the arbitrator’s panels ruled against him for $1.8M in restitution.

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