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Retail Investors Make Stock Market History

The week of January 25, 2021, saw a remarkable market event where retail investors bid up the price of a handful of stocks in an attempt to force a “short-squeeze” on major Wall Street hedge funds.  When an investor “shorts” a stock, which is a bet the stock is going to go down in price, the investor borrows the shares and then sells them at the existing price.  If the share price goes down, the investors will “cover” the short by buying at the lower price to return the borrowed shares, capturing the difference between what the investor sold the shares at and the cost to buy the shares back in order to return them.  Conversely, if the stock price goes up, the investor has to buy the shares at a high price than what the investor received when they were sold in order to return the borrowed share and loses the difference on the short play.

When shorting a stock, since the investor does not own the stock, the investor’s position is done on margin, that is, using credit from the brokerage firm.  As the value of the stock increases, the margin balance increases.  In such a situation, an investor can receive a “margin call”, where the brokerage firm forces the investor to close the position.  In a margin call from a short position, that means forcing the investor to buy the stock, regardless of the price, which is when there is this short-squeeze.

Customer Seeks $1M Over Harvest Volatility Management, Put Writing Strategy 

Matthew Donald Babrick and James W. Wilcox, both First Republic Securities stockbrokers, have been named in a $1M Financial Industry Regulatory Authority (FINRA) arbitration claim against the firm over alleged losses from the Harvest Volatility Management Put Writing Strategy (Harvest PWS). 

Wilcox, who is based out of Jackson, Wyoming, and Babrick, who is in Los Angeles, California, are also registered investment advisors with First Republic Investment Management, Inc. 

David Rosenberg, the CEO of Prime Automotive Group and a business partner of GPB Capital Holdings, is suing the private placement issuer in a Massachusetts Superior Court. According to Rosenberg’s complaint, GPB Capital has been operating a Ponzi-like scam that involved using investors’ funds to pay other investors and enhance its auto dealerships’ performances. Rosenberg is now the second former GPB Capital business partner to allege in public filings that GPB is essentially operating a Ponzi Scheme.

GPB Capital is a New York-based issuer of risky private placements that is invested primarily in auto dealerships and trash hauling companies. The firm has been under close scrutiny in the wake of allegations that it engaged in financial misconduct and as the value of its numerous GPB funds have dropped significantly from around $1.8 Billion down to about $1 Billion.

The U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC), the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority (FINRA), the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), the New York City Business Integrity Commission, and the New Jersey Bureau of Securities are all investigating GPB Capital and its various funds. Additionally, Massachusetts Secretary of the Commonwealth William Galvin is investigating more than 60 brokerage firms whose brokers sold GPB private placements to investors. The “temporary” cessation of distributions to investors, since late last year, the firm’s failure over the last two years to provide financial statements, and its auditor’s resignation without completing its audit last year have only served to raise questions and increase concerns.

The Financial Oversight Management Board for Puerto Rico (the Board) is asking a federal district court judge to invalidate over $6 Billion in general obligation (GO) bonds by disallowing any claims brought by the bonds’ holders. The legal action, brought by the Board and the island’s unsecured creditors’ committee, focuses on GO debts that the U.S. territory sold in 2012 and 2014.

The Board and the committee contend that the debt at issue violates Puerto Rico’s Constitution, including the balanced budget clause as well as the debt service limit provision. According to Law360, both parties claim that previous administrations of the island’s government engaged in different “accounting gimmicks” to get around these provisions.

For example, the petitioners maintain that bonds issued through the Puerto Rico Public Buildings Authority were an attempt to get around the 15% debt service limit when, in fact, the bonds should have been factored into that limit. If that had been done, the Board and committee are now arguing, then bonds issued after March 2012 should be rendered invalid and taken off the balance sheet of what the island owes.

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