Articles Posted in BNY Mellon Capital Markets LLC

Hedge fund Whitebox Advisors has filed a lawsuit against Bank of New York Mellon (BNY Mellon) over revenues from Puerto Rico’s sales tax bonds, which are commonly called COFINAs, that support $17 Billion of the island’s debt. Currently, the US territory is continuing to struggle to pay back the $70 Billion of debt it owes to creditors and BNY Mellon is a trustee for the island. (A number of hedge funds aside from the plaintiff, hold about $2.5 Billion in senior COFINA bonds, but they are not part of this case.)

In its lawsuit, brought in state court in New York, Whitebox Advisors accused BNY Mellon of breaching its duties to senior COFINA bondholders by continuing to make payments to junior creditors even after the US territory indicated that it wants to make concessions related to different kinds of debts. The hedge fund wants a court order stopping further payments to junior creditors, as well as a statement declaring that BNY Mellon has a conflict of interest. The plaintiff is also seeking monetary damages.

This week, the island is set to begin confidential talks with COFINA creditors as well as holders of competing general obligation debt. Creditors have until May 1 to arrive at mutually agreed upon settlements. The deadline was put into place, temporarily halting creditor lawsuits, to give the federally appointed oversight board a chance to work out a debt restructuring deal outside of court. At this moment, an extension to the freeze is unlikely.  After that, the board is allowed to try to place Puerto Rico into quasi-bankruptcy proceedings.

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Morgan Stanley Accused of Overbilling Investment Advisory Clients

The US Securities and Exchange Commission announced that Morgan Stanley Smith Barney (MS) will pay a $13M penalty to resolve charges accusing the firm of overbilling clients through billing system and coding mistakes and violating the custody rule regarding yearly surprise exams.

As a result, said the regulator’s order, Morgan Stanley has agreed to pay over $16M in excess fees because of billing mistakes that took place from ’02 to ’16. Investment advisory clients that were affected have been paid back the excess fees in addition to interest.

According to the Commission, Morgan Stanley overcharged over 149,000 investment advisory clients. The reason for this is that the firm did not put into place compliance policies and procedures that were designed reasonably enough to make sure that clients were accurately billed according to their advisory agreements. The SEC said that Morgan Stanley did not validate billing rates that were in its billing system against client billing histories, contracts, and other documents.

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BNY Mellon Capital Markets LLC has agreed to pay the states of Texas, Florida, and New York $1.3M to settle allegations that it was involved in a bond bidding scam to reduce Citizens Property Insurance Corp. of Florida’s borrowing expenses. The Texas portion of the securities fraud settlement is $500,000, which will go toward its general revenue fund.

Per the Texas Securities Commissioner’s Consent Order, which it submitted last month, Mellon Financial Markets is accused of helping Citizens manipulate its ARS interest rate. Reducing these rates allowed Citizens to save money while costing investors that held the ARS when they ended up making $6.7M less in interest.

The Consent Order comes from a separate probe that the Texas State Securities Board had been involved in. The board found out that Citizens had sought the assistance of MFM in both the bidding on its own auctions and the concealment of this activity.

Per the Order, although an MFM broker reported the trading situation to a supervisor, the latter did not bring it to the financial firm’s compliance department or talk about it with legal counsel. As ARS interest rates went up, MFM placed bids for the debt at interest rates that were lower than going rates for similar ARS issues. The Order accuses MFM traders of understanding the consequences that would result from the way they were bidding.

Even after the ARS market failed in 2008, MFM traders continued to choose lower rates for Citizens until BNY’s compliance and legal departments stepped in to halt the process. The Texas State Securities Board determined that BNY Mellon Capital Markets’ actions involved “inequitable practices” related to securities sales. It also said that the financial firm violated regulations by not setting up, maintaining, and enforcing supervisory procedures that were reasonably designed.

Auction-Rate Securities
ARS are long-term debt issues with interest rates that are reset at auctions, which usually occur at set interval periods. The yield is a result of bidding that takes place at the auction, where investors are given an opportunity to get their funds without waiting for the debt to reach maturity. The ARS market let Citizen and other entities obtain long-term financing at interest rates that are usually connected with shorter-term investments.

Unfortunately, when the ARS market failed, investors found out that their money had become illiquid and inaccessible despite claims by financial firms that auction rate securities were safe, liquid investments.

BNY Mellon Settles with Texas Over Probe Into Rigged Bond Bidding, December 22, 2011
Texas State Securities Board

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