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Articles Posted in Structured Products

Structured Product Losses Stun Retail Investors Who Should Never Have Been Told By Brokers To Buy Them

The recent market turbulence caused by the coronavirus has caused many investors’ portfolios to suffer huge losses, and nowhere is this more evident as the losses suffered by those who invested heavily in structured products, including exchange-traded notes (ETNs) and exchange-traded funds (ETFs). 

And while yes, no one could have anticipated COVID-19 battering the economy and the markets, for many investors, they likely shouldn’t have and wouldn’t have gotten involved in these complex investments were it not for the recommendation of their stockbroker.

Accused of Defrauding Plant Workers, Including Retirees

Centaurus Financial advisor Ricky Mantei (Mantei Group), formerly a JP Turner stockbroker, is alleged to have been the mastermind behind a large enterprise that spanned four offices in two states and resulted in the retirement savings of many unsuspecting investors being lost.  

Mantei is now named in 35 customer disputes. The majority, 30 of these broker fraud complaints, were filed over the last two years and many of them are still pending. Most of the complaints filed in the last two years accuse Mantei of heading up a one size fits all investment fraud that overconcentrated customers’ accounts in structured products and other risky, illiquid, and speculative investments. Many of his alleged victims were retirees, including plant workers in South Carolina and Tennessee.

Our San Francisco structured product fraud lawyers at Shepherd Smith Edwards and Kantas (SSEK Law Firm) work with investors throughout the San Francisco Bay Area in helping them to recoup their losses. 

Structured products are not for everyone, although investors find them very attractive because they can provide the opportunity to earn the high yield not likely to happen with more traditional types of investments. 

Unfortunately, even though these market-linked investments should only be marketed to sophisticated investors that can handle a certain level of risk, brokers lured by the healthy commissions have been recommending them to retail investors, including senior investors and retirees, for years.

Did you invest with Centaurus Financial, Inc. or J.P. Turner & Co., Inc. and suffer losses in Structured CDs, Structured Notes, Non-Traded Real Estate Investment Trusts (“REITs”), or other investments?  If so, we may be able to help you recover your losses.

The Doss law firm and Shepherd, Smith, Edwards & Kantas are investigating claims on behalf of investors, many of which are retired and current Flour Corp. employees, who have suffered losses at the hands of Centaurus financial advisors who were formerly with J.P. Turner.  Those advisors, in many cases, mismanaged client investment accounts by placing them in high-risk and illiquid structured CDs, structured notes, non-traded REITs and other complicated investments.

Structured products, such as structured CDs and notes, are very complex and highly risky investments that are rarely suitable for most investors.  Similarly, non-traded REITs and other private placement investments are illiquid and risky investments that are not appropriate for most individual investors, especially retirees.  These investments are often sold as being safe and paying higher interest rates than most other investments.  However, the promised higher rates are often only guaranteed for a short time – typically a year – and are much riskier than more traditional investments.  Additionally, with most private placements, the supposed interest payments are often just a return of the investor’s own money, not a rate of return for the investment.  Ultimately, these investments typically lock investors into them long-term, resulting in limited income and often substantial losses.

Merrill Lynch will pay $415M to resolve civil charges accusing the firm of misusing customer funds and not safeguarding customer securities from creditor claims. According to the Securities and Exchange Commission, the firm violated the regulator’s Customer Protection Rule by using customer funds inappropriately instead of depositing them in a reserve account.

Instead, said the SEC, Merrill Lynch took part in complex options trades that artificially lowered how much in customer funds needed to be in the reserve account. This liberated billions of dollars a week from ’09 to ’12. The firm used the funds for its own trades. If Merrill had failed with these trades there would have been a substantial shortfall in the reserve account.

Merrill Lynch, which is owned by Bank of America (BAC), has admitted wrongdoing as part of the settlement.

The SEC said that the firm violated the Customer Protection Rule when it didn’t abide by the requirement that customer securities that had been fully paid for be kept in lien-free accounts and protected from third parties claims in the event that Merrill Lynch were to collapse. Such a failure would have exposed customers to great risk and there would have been uncertainty as to whether they’d be able to get their securities back.
Also, contends the Commission, from ’09 to ’15, Merrill held up to $58B of customer securities a day in a clearing account that was subject to a general lien to be handled by its clearing bank.

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The Securities and Exchange Commission has put out an alert warning brokerage firms that they need to better monitor the sale of high risk complex investments to retail investors. The regulator said that its analysis of 26,600 transactions of $1.25 billion of structured securities products revealed that there has been quite a number of times when the investments were sold to investors for whom they were not appropriate.

According to InvestmentNews, the Commission examined 10 branch offices of brokerage firms. The assessments took place from January 2011 through the end of 2012. In one firm, they discovered $96 million of structured-product sales that were made to conservative investors. At two other broker-dealers, the SEC discovered high concentrations of structure products in the accounts of older investors. One representative purportedly modified a customer’s investment goals without that person’s consent after a sale went through to make the complex product purchases appear justified.

Brokers are required to abide by suitability standards, which mandate that investment products that are sold meet each client’s risk tolerance and investment goals. The SEC said that in exams that were conducted, there were firms that appeared to have weak suitability controls.

The Commission wants broker-dealers to regard this alert as a wake up call so that they will take a closer look at their compliance programs. The regulator noted that while all the broker-dealers that were scrutinized had written procedures and policies for suitability, the controls were not consistently or properly implemented. In some instances, suitability controls differed among the different branches of a firm.
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According to state regulators, non-traded real estate investment trusts, structure products, and private placements, are some of the financial instruments that the states and insurance regulators are watching closely. First Deputy Commissioner of the Iowa Insurance Division Jim Mumford and Alabama Securities Commission director Joseph P. Borg recently spoke at a panel at the Insured Retirement Institute’s Government, Legal and Regulatory Conference.

Borg noted that a growing number of agents are now selling unlicensed financial products, with insurance agents selling private placements and getting clients away from insurance products and into Regulation 506 of Regulation D. The rule establishes a safe harbor for securities’ private offerings. Such instruments are only supposed to be made available to accredited investors and non-accredited investors that have enough sophistication to be able to assess this type of investment. Agents, however, have tried to circumvent securities laws by claiming that a (nonexistent) attorney gave them a letter stating that the private offering actually wasn’t a security.

Also up for sale lately are self-directed IRAs and promissory notes. Structured products have also been quite popular, although unfortunately, Borg noted, many agents and brokers don’t even understand what they are selling.

Securities Claims Against Lehman Brothers Holdings Inc. Underwriters Are Dismissed

The U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York has thrown out the California Corporations Code claims made against the underwriters of two offerings of Lehman Brothers Holdings Inc. debt securities per the precluding of the 1998 Securities Litigation Uniform Standards Act. This, despite the fact that the securities case was brought by one plaintiff and lacks class action allegations.

The SLUSA’s enactment had occurred to shut a 1995 Private Securities litigation Reform Act loophole that let plaintiffs filing lawsuits in state courts circumvent the Act’s tougher securities fraud pleading requirements. It generally allows for federal preemption of state law class actions contending misrepresentations related to the buying or selling of a covered security. However, the court granted the motion to dismiss noting that even though the securities case was brought only on the State Compensation Insurance Fund’s behalf, it is still a covered class action within the act’s meaning.

According to the Securities and Exchange Commission, the sales practices that broker-dealers engage in when structured securities are hurting investors. The SEC released this recent finding in a report this week. Structured securities products are derivatives whose value is determined from baskets of indexes, other securities, options, debt issuances, commodities, and foreign securities.

The SEC reached its conclusion after conducting a sweep examination of 11 broker-dealers. The Commission says that the financial firms may have guided clients toward complex products even though they were unsuitable for these investors. In certain instances, they also appear to have:

• Charged too high of prices • Failed to adequately reveal all risks involved
• Traded at prices that were not to the benefit of retail investors • Committed possible supervisory deficiencies

At the heart of the SEC sweep examination were reverse convertible notes, which is a security that has an embedded put option. RCN are considered among the riskiest structured products. According to the SEC report, there were clients who purchased RCN’ even though these financial products not in line with their investor profiles or stated goals. Many of these RCN investors sustained significant financial losses.

The SEC report is recommending that broker-dealers:
• Implement procedures and controls to detect and stop structured securities-related abuses • Reveal material facts about the structured product notes when offering them to investors • Make sure that supervisors and registered representatives undergo specialized training before they sell structured securities
• Properly list structured securities products on client statements
It was just recently that the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority Inc. warned investors to exercise caution when evaluating whether to buy complex investment products.

Our securities fraud lawyers represent investors that have suffered financial losses because they were encouraged to purchase financial instruments that were inappropriate for them.

SEC blasts B-Ds over sales of reverse convertibles, Investment News, July 27, 2011
Staff Summary Report on Issues Identified in Examinations of Certain Structured Securities Products Sold to Retail Investors, SEC, July 27, 2011 (PDF)


More Blog Posts:

RBC Wealth Management Unit Ferris Baker Watts to Pay Investors Restitution Over Reverse Convertible Notes Allegations, Says FINRA, Stockbroker Fraud Blog, October 23, 2010
Increase of Structured Notes with Derivatives Sales Seduces Retirees, Reports Bloomberg, Stockbroker Fraud Blog, September 25, 2010
FINRA Fines H & R Block Financial Advisors (Now Ameriprise Advisor Services) over Sales of Reverse Convertible Notes (RCN), Stockbroker Fraud Blog, February 17, 2010 Continue Reading ›

FINRA and the SEC’s Office of Investor Education and Advocacy has put out an alert called Structured Notes with Principal Protection: Note the Terms of Your Investment. The purpose of the alert is to let investors know about the risks involved in investing in this type of note while providing information that will allow them to better understand how the notes work.

These notes usually put together zero-coupon bond that doesn’t pay interest until maturity with a derivative product that has a payoff tied to an underlying asset, benchmark, or index that may consist of commodities, currencies, and spreads between interest rates. The investor can take part in a return tied to a specific change in the underlying asset’s value. That said, investors should be aware that the way these notes may be structured could cap or limit their upside exposure to the underlying asset, benchmark, or index.

Investors with structured notes with principal protection that hold them until they mature will usually get a return of at least part of their investment even if there is a decline in the underlying benchmark, index, or asset. However, protection levels aren’t all the same. Some products are guaranteed just 10%, and all guarantees are dependent on the company that made it and its financial strength.

The SEC and FINRA want investors to know that structured notes with principal protection can have complex pay-out structures, which can make it hard to accurately determine their potential for growth and their risk. Investors should also know that their principal could get tied up for up to 10 years and they may end up not making a profit on their initial investment.

The Alert recommends asking a number of questions before investing in a structured note with a principal protection:
• Is this product appropriate considering your investment objectives?

• What are the risks involved?

• What type of principal protection is offered?

• What are the conditions of the protection?

• Are there additional costs?

• How long is your money going to be tied up?

• Are you allowed to liquidate or sell prior to the maturity date?

• Is a call feature provided?

• Are there limits to possible gains?

• Are there tax implications?

• How does the pay-out structure work?

• What are your other investment options?

Usually, investors with structured notes with principal protection that hold them until they mature will usually get a return of at least part of their investment even if there is a decline in the underlying benchmark, index, or asset. However, protection levels aren’t all the same. Some products are guaranteed just 10%, and all guarantees are dependent on the company that makes it and its financial strength.

The SEC and FINRA want investors to know that structured notes with principal protection can have complex pay-out structures, which can make it hard to accurately determine their potential for growth and their risk. Investors should also know that their principal could get tied up for up to 10 years and they may end up not making a profit on their initial investment.

Related Web Resources:
SEC, FINRA Warn Retail Investors About Investing in Structured Notes with Principal Protection, SEC, June 2, 2011
Structured Notes with Principal Protection: Note the Terms of Your Investment


More Blog Posts:

Wall Street Targeting Older Investors With Structured Product Sales, Reports AARP, Stockbroker Fraud Blog, March 11, 2011
Increase of Structured Notes with Derivatives Sales Seduces Retirees, Reports Bloomberg, Stockbroker Fraud Blog, September 25, 2010
Moody’s, Fitch, and Standard and Poor’s Were Exercising Their 1st Amendment Rights When They Gave Inaccurate Subprime Ratings to SIVs, Says, Institutional Investors Securities Blog, December 30, 2010 Continue Reading ›

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