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Articles Posted in Structured Products

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 ›

Unfortunately, there are elderly investors who end up suffering financial losses because a broker placed their money in investments that are unsuitable for their needs. Many of these investors don’t realize that they may have grounds for a securities fraud claim.

The AARP says that for many elderly Americans, the prospect of running out of money is scarier to them than the thought of dying-especially for those who are too old or sick to go back to work and rebuild their nest eggs. Although broker-dealers and investment advisers know how important it is for older investors to make sure that their money is placed in investments that are low risk, this isn’t always what happens, such as with structured products.

While highly profitable for sellers, structured products aren’t always a great benefit to buyers who could stand to lose everything on an illiquid investment that has limited potential gain. Already, investors have lost about $164 billion in such risky investment. Yet structured product sales continue to grow.

According to California Superior Court Judge Richard Kramer Fitch Inc., Standard and Poor’s parent (MHP) McGraw-Hill Companies Inc., Fitch, Inc., and Moody’s Corp. (MCO), were merely exercising their First Amendment right to free speech when they gave their highest rating to three structured investment vehicles (SIVs) that collapsed when the mortgage market failed in 2008 and 2007. The ruling, in California Public Employees’ Retirement System v. Moody’s Corp. now leaves the plaintiffs with a steep burden of proof. The plaintiff, the largest pension fund in the US, is seeking more than $1 billion in securities fraud damages stemming from the inaccurate subprime ratings.

Per the securities complaint, CAlPERS is accusing the defendants of publishing ratings that were “unreasonably high” and “wildly inaccurate” and applying “seriously flawed” methods in an “incompetent” manner. The plaintiff contends that the high ratings that were given to the SIVs contributed to their collapse during the economic crisis.

BNA was able to get court transcripts that indicate that the ruling came on a motion under California’s anti- Strategic Lawsuit Against Public Participation (SLAPP) statute, which offers a special procedure to strike a complaint involving the rights of free speech and petition. If a defendant persuades the court that the cause of action came from a protected activity, the plaintiff must prove that the claims deserve additional consideration. Now CalPERS must show a “probability of prevailing.”

Under the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act, there is no longer any protection from private litigation for ratings agency misstatements. Now, an investor only has to prove gross negligence to win the case. However, per Wayne State University Law School Peter Henning, in BNA Securities Daily, Dodd-Frank’s provision may not carry much weight if a ratings agency’s First Amendment rights are widely interpreted.

Shepherd Smith Edwards & Kantas LTD LLP Founder and Stockbroker fraud lawyer William Shepherd had this to say: “There have long been many restrictions on ‘speech,’ including life threats, trademarks, defamation, conspiracy, treason and threats of blackmail. But the age-old standard restriction is ‘you can’t shout fire in a crowded theater.’ The reason is that strangers might rely on the words and be injured by your ‘speech.’ How is this different than shouting ‘AAA- rated,’ knowing that strangers will rely on the words and be harmed by this ‘speech?’ The difference is that Wall Street can say anything it wants, while the rest of us have to just sit down and shut up.”

CalPERS has until March 18, 2011 to respond to the court.

Related Web Resources:
Ratings by Moody’s, Fitch, S&P Ruled to Be Protected Speech, BusinessWeek, December 11, 2010

Calpers Sues Rating Companies Over $1 Billion Loss, Bloomberg, July 15, 2010


California Public Employees’ Retirement System v. Moody’s Corp., Justia Dockets

Calif. Court Concludes Credit Ratings Entitled to First Amendment Protection, BNA Securities Law Daily, December 10, 2010

Credit Ratings Agencies, Stockbroker Fraud Blog

California Anti-SLAPP Project

Continue Reading ›

In what one investment banking official is calling a “second wave” of securities litigation stemming from the credit and subprime crisis of 2008, financial firms are now suing other financial institutions for damages. While speaking on a Practising Law Institute panel, Morgan Stanley managing director D. Scott Tucker noted that this “second wave” is the “exact opposite of the first wave,” which was primarily brought by smaller pension funds or states claiming violations of the 1933 Securities Act and the 1934 Securities Exchange Act.

Tucker said that with this new wave, most of the plaintiffs are financial institutions, including investment managers and hedge funds, that are asserting common law fraud and making other state law claims. Also, these latest lawsuits are primarily individual cases, rather than class actions. The securities at the center of this latest wave of litigation are complex structured products, such as credit default swaps, collateralized debt obligations, and mortgage-backed securities, as well as complaints involving private placements and derivatives or securities that don’t trade on liquid markets.

Our securities fraud lawyers at Shepherd Smith Edwards & Kantas LTD LLP represent institutional investors who suffered financial losses because of their dealings with investment companies. Unlike other law firms, our stockbroker fraud lawyers will never represent brokerage firms.

A former Bank of America employee is accusing the investment bank of aggressively recommending complex derivatives products to investors while at the same time failing to tell them of the risks involved. In a letter to Securities and Exchange Commission Chairman Mary Schapiro, the whistleblower said that the sales of these structured notes were so important to the BofA’s brokerage unit during the economic collapse that workers were threatened with termination if they warned clients against investing in the products or did not meet their quotas.

The ex-employee writes that another employee’s job was threatened after he told clients to liquidate their notes because of the possibility that BofA might become “nationalized,” which would make the notes worthless. The whistleblower claims to have been notified that aggressive sale of the notes was the only way the brokerage unit could fulfill its revenue goals at that time.

Bill Halldin, a Bank of America spokesperson, says that the investment firm has not heard about any such complaint regarding these allegations. He maintains that the investment bank has a policy abiding by “applicable laws and industry practices” when conducting business.

Broker Misconduct
Broker-dealers are obligated to notify investors of risks involved in an investment. They must also make sure that any investment that they recommend is appropriate for a client. Failure to fulfill these duties of care can be grounds for a securities fraud case.

Structured Notes
These derivative-like contracts allow investors to bet on bonds, stocks, or other securities. While some notes are “guaranteed” and promise a return on principal upon expiration, there are still those, such has Lehman Brothers’ notes, that fail to meet that guarantee. This can leave the holders to deal with the financial consequences. Banks may also stop trading the notes at any time.

Related Web Resources:
Informer: BofA hawked risky deals to customers, NY Post, October 29, 2010
Informer: Bofa Hawked Risky Deals to Customers, iStockAnalyst
Bank of America Blog Posts, Stockbroker Fraud Blog
Whistleblower Lawsuits, Stockbroker Fraud Blog Continue Reading ›

According to Bloomberg, the sale of structured notes (also known as principal protected notes, or PPN) that come with derivatives to thousands of individual investors has driven up their sale by 58% to $31.9 billion through August. Unfortunately, investors are often lured into making such purchases without fully comprehending the risks, and this can result in significant losses. This year, the US Securities and Exchange Commission’s enforcement division began a group concentrated on investigating structured products.

Banks create structured notes products by bundling privately negotiated over-the-counter derivatives with bonds. Because the Commodity Futures Modernization Act excludes most trades between institutions from oversight, banks can sell OTC derivatives to individuals as long as they are put together with bonds into hybrid securities. Individual investors, even though they lack the background and knowledge to fully understand the risks involved, are targeted for these notes to increase banks’ profit margins. Also, because structured notes aren’t standardized, brokers are paid more to sell structured notes than they are for selling some of the other financial products.

Structured notes have grown in popularity since the Federal Reserve has maintained its target rate for overnight loans between banks at 0% to .25%. With US interest rates close to 0%, investors are buying up the bonds. Reverse convertible notes has paid 13% interest on average in 2010.

Granted, investors can obtain higher returns if their bets work out, and principal-protected notes and some of the other products are not as risky as stocks because sellers guarantee that investors won’t suffer losses if the market falls. However, because there are variables outside the scope of interest rate movements, investors can lose money. Institutional Risk Analytics Managing Director Christopher Whalen has said that structured notes will likely become the next investment bubble.

Retirees Duped by Derivatives With Structured Notes Sale Surge, Bloomberg, September 22, 2010
Structured Notes Becoming New “Investment Bubble” on Wall Street, says Institutional Risk Analytics Director,, August 12, 2010
Shepherd Smith Edwards & Kantas LTD LLP Investigates Claims for Purchasers of Structured Notes, GlobalNewswire, August 11, 2010 Continue Reading ›

Bloomberg recently reported on a report by Institutional Risk Analytics Managing Director Christopher Whalen. According to the former Federal Reserve Bank of New York official, structured notes are about to become the “next investment bubble.” Whalen is the one who predicted a little over three years ago that the mortgage-backed securities market was going to collapse. Now, he says that investment firms are applying the same “loophole” that allowed auction-rate securities and collateralized debt obligations to be sold over-the-counter.

Structured notes are derivatives packaged with bonds. Their value comes in part from bets on interest rates. Accredited buyers purchase them through private deals, while the public can buy them in trades. says that structured note sales to individual investors in this country has gone up 72% to $29.6 billion in the last year.

As with ARS, the firms originating these illiquid structured notes are not obligated to “show clients a low-ball bid” or create markets in these OTC structured assets. Whalen says that even as the larger financial firms are making it appear that they are abiding by the new Dodd-Frank law (which does not allow proprietary trading and limits private-equity fund investments), they are now concentrating on structured assets that are based on Treasury bonds, corporate debt, or nothing at all.

Whalen says that it is the individual investors that will lose money on structured notes when the benchmark interest rates go up. Among the the other reasons why structured notes worry Whalen:

• They come with high risk yields.
• They are not regulated.
• They frequently come with minimal disclosure.

According to Whalen, there are already two hedge funds set up for when the rates start to rise and “distressed” retail investors will want to sell.

Individual and institutional investors that believe their financial losses are a result of broker-dealer misconduct or misleading information should explore their legal options.

Related Web Resources:
Structured Notes Are Wall Street’s `Next Bubble,’ Whalen Says, Bloomberg, August 9, 2010
Chris Whalen Gives 6 Reasons Why The Next Bubble Will Be In Structured Notes, Business Insider, August 10, 2010
Institutional Risk Analytics

Obama Signs Dodd-Frank Reform Bill, Journal of Accountancy, July 21, 2010 Continue Reading ›

Brokers are once again getting behind structured products, hoping that investors will bite. While sales of structured products during 2008’s 4th quarter-at $5.8 billion-was down 75% from the year’s 1st quarter, sales are starting to go up. One reason for this is that certain structured products, such as return-enhanced notes and principal protected notes, are considered safer than reverse convertibles, which led to some of the worst losses for investor.

Ideally, structured products are supposed to provide sturdy profits, while limiting losses, and brokers like them because the commissions are high. However, representatives must still account for why these products haven’t delivered the way investors were told they would. Many investors that bought structured products from Lehman Brothers, such as the Lehman principal-protected notes, incurred some large losses. Some of these notes were bought through a UBS Financial Services office in Houston, Texas.

Until the bear market struck, structured products did incredibly well, and sales almost doubled to $105 billion in 2007 before dropping to $70 billion last year when structured products, collateralized debt loans, and credit default swaps played a huge role in the global financial collapse.

Reverse convertibles are considered the most high-risk structured product-short-term bonds with a large interest that can seriously hurt investors if the underlying stock drops dramatically. Investors can end up with shares with a value far below the principal. For example, 78-year-old Dominic Annino says he invested $300,000 in IndyMac shares and JetBlue shares and lost money after the stocks fell. He filed an arbitration complaint with FINRA and claims that the broker that sold him the Wells Fargo reverse convertibles never fully explained to him what he was getting himself into. Still, brokers are hoping that last year’s stock market fiasco won’t discourage investors from trying structured products again.

Twice Shy On Structured Products? Wall Street Journal Online, May 28, 2009
Understanding Structured Products, Investopedia Continue Reading ›

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