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Articles Tagged with Banco Santander

Although many of the thousands of cases investors in Puerto Rico bonds and closed-end funds have brought over the last five years have focused on UBS Financial Services Incorporated of Puerto Rico (“UBS-PR”), other brokerage firms in the Commonwealth engaged in the same wrongful sales practices. One such firm that has also been the subject of many new FINRA arbitrations and other lawsuits is Santander Securities, LLC (“Santander”), a division of Banco Santander Puerto Rico. The large number of cases against Santander are not a surprise given the public information about Santander. For example, Bloomberg reports that between the ends of 2012 and 2013, Santander marketed and sold over $280 million in Puerto Rico municipal bonds and close-end funds while reportedly selling its own holdings of these same securities.

Santander also has a regulatory history that suggests ongoing problems with the Puerto Rico operations for the bank. For example, in 2011, Santander settled allegations from FINRA of deficiencies in Santander’s structured product business, including those involving the sale of reverse-convertible securities to Puerto Rican retail customers when such investments were often unsuitable for them. FINRA also accused the brokerage firm of inadequate supervision of structured product sales. Santander agreed to pay a $2 million fine for these alleged deficiencies. More recently, in 2015, FINRA fined Santander $2 million and ordered restitution to Santander customers of an additional $4.3 million for Santander’s sales practices related to Puerto Rico bonds and closed-end funds. In particular, FINRA found that Santander’s supervisory system did not accurately reflect the risk of Puerto Rico investments in the period leading up to the collapse of the Puerto Rico market in 2013 and 2014. However, Santander was aware of the increased risk, and according to FINRA, instead of informing its clients of these increased risks, used that knowledge to sell its entire inventory of Puerto Rico investments by the end of October 2013, and thus missing much of the losses Santander’s own clients suffered.

In other Puerto Rico news, the 1st Circuit court of invalidated the PROMESA board which provides oversight for restructuring local debt. After the board placed Puerto Rico in a bankruptcy like process, many hedge funds and institutional corporate investors were unhappy as their investments were now in jeopardy. These entities filed a constitutional challenge to the way the board was appointed and eventually won on appeal. The ruling was not much of a win however, as the 1st Circuit refused to invalidate the board’s prior actions, which included placing Puerto Rico in the bankruptcy like proceedings, even though they invalidated the board itself.

The Federal Home Loan Bank of New York will pay Lehman Brothers and its Special Financing unit a $70M settlement in an interest-rate swaps case. The plaintiffs sued FHLBNY two years ago seeking over $150M that they claim they were owed related to their position on more than 350 swaps and options transactions.

Lehman filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection in 2008. The move froze the markets while spurring the end of millions of derivative transactions in which it was involved. A few days later, when FHlBNY ended its swaps with Lehman, it did so with a $16.5B notional amount.

According to Lehman, due to interest rate fluctuations after its bankruptcy filing, FHLBNY returned and “cherry picked” other end dates. As a result, claims the plaintiff, the latter “massively understate” how much it owed Lehman.

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The U.S. Supreme Court struck down a Puerto Rico law that would have let its public utilities restructure $20 billion of debt. The territory’s officials enacted the Recovery Act in 2014 in an attempt to help it deal with its $70 billion of debt. Puerto Rico’s large public utilities owe about $26 billion to bondholders and banks. It was their creditors that challenged the law in federal court.

Puerto Rico is not allowed to file for bankruptcy protection. The Commonwealth is excluded from Chapter 9, which is the section of the bankruptcy code that usually applies to local governments, including cities, public utilities, counties, and other branches that have become insolvent and need help. (Puerto Rico has tried to convince the U.S. congress to get rid of the 1984 rule that excluded it from Chapter 9. No reason has been provided for why it was deliberately left out.)

Writing for the majority in the Supreme Court ruling, Justice Clarence Thomas reminded us that the federal bankruptcy code does not let lower government units and states enact their own bankruptcy laws. However, U.S. legislators are looking for ways to potentially help Puerto Rico.

A bill passed by the U.S. House of Representatives to help the territory deal with its debt crisis has gone to the Senate for consideration. If passed into law, the bill would establish a board to manage the restructuring of Puerto Rico’s debt and oversee the territory’s finances. The Commonwealth sure could use the help.

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Puerto Rico Governor Alejandro García Padilla says that the U.S. territory cannot pay back its $72 billion debt without concessions from its creditors, including U.S. mutual funds and hedge funds. According to the Governor, the Commonwealth’s efforts to restructure its debt and cut spending have failed.

Following the Governor’s announcement, credit rater Standard & Poor’s Ratings Services downgraded Puerto Rico’s credit rating from CCC-plus to CCC-minus. The rating covers the island’s entire debt, including the debt of its Employees Retirement System and the Municipal Finance Agency.

García Padilla and Puerto Rico’s government development bank also issued a report backing his statements. The executive summary was written by Anne Krueger, a former World Bank Chief Economist and the International Monetary Fund’s first deputy managing director, as well as Ranjit Teja and Andrew Wolfe, who are both economists.

In their “Krueger Report,” the economists said that they found the territory’s debt to be unsustainable. Based on the report and Puerto Rico’s own analysis, García Padilla wants to defer debts so that Puerto Rico can continue to negotiate with creditors. Some payments could be deferred for up to five years. The Governor said, “This is not politics, this is math.”
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Hope that the US Treasury will save ailing Puerto Rico bonds does not appear to be warranted. According to a spokesperson for the department, who did not wish to be named, the Treasury will not be providing help to the US territory over the municipal bond fund debacle.

However, reports Fox News, the federal government is expected to provide incentives to enhance Puerto Rico’s failing economy. Right now, Puerto Rico’s debt, which is mostly in mutual funds, is at about $70 billion. That’s close to 2% of the $3.7 trillion municipal bond market. This is significantly higher than Detroit’s $18 billion debt that forced that city to file for municipal bankruptcy earlier this year.

Yet even as Puerto Rico’s debt continues to grow, it won’t be allowed to file for Chapter 9 bankruptcy because like US states, territories cannot seek such protection. That said, officials in Puerto Rico maintain that it isn’t bankrupt yet.

The securities attorneys with Shepherd Smith Edwards & Kantas are investigating claims of investors who purchased Puerto Rico municipal bonds. Many of the largest brokerage firms that operate in Puerto Rico, including UBS, Banco Popular, and Banco Santander, have been selling huge amounts of securities which directly or indirectly were supposed to be investments in Puerto Rico municipal bonds. Those bonds have been viewed as attractive investments by many investors for years as a result of their tax incentives and relatively high yield.

Interest paid by municipal bonds issued by Puerto Rico is exempt from taxation of any type in the United States. This is a significant incentive over municipal bonds issued by United States government entities, which are typically only exempt from Federal income tax, and would still be considered income by state and/or local income taxes. (The exception for the State and local taxes is that most states exempt their own issuances from income taxes, but tax municipal bonds issued by other states.) Additionally, municipal bonds issued by Puerto Rico have, for years, carried relatively high-interest rates. Those high rates, coupled with the preferential tax treatments, have made it easy for brokers to convince their clients, particularly in Puerto Rico, to invest heavily in these securities.

However, even as early as 2009 there were strong indications, as well as publicly available information, that these bonds were in trouble. In 2009, Puerto Rico’s governor declared a state of fiscal emergency. At the time, the territory carried approximately $47 billion in debt and was already bordering on junk-bond/high-risk credit ratings. Yet at the same time, Puerto Rico’s economy shrank by roughly 5.5% in the same year, marking huge challenges for Puerto Rico’s ability to support such a level of debt.

The SSEK Partners Group is investigating claims by investors who bought Puerto Rico municipal bonds from UBS (UBS), Banco Santander (SAN.MC), Banco Popular and other brokerage firms. We are also looking into claims involving other muni funds that have been exposed to Puerto Rico, including the:

• Franklin Double Tax-Free Income A (ticker: FPRTX): 65% of its holdings involve Puerto Rico obligations.

• Oppenheimer Rochester VA Municipal A (ORVAX): 33% of its holdings in Puerto Rico bonds.

As the value of proprietary closed-end bond funds invested created by a UBS AG unit (UBS) in Puerto Rico continue to drop, the financial firm and its 132 financial advisers find themselves facing what is expected to be a protracted legal battle with local investors who want their money back. The value of the Puerto Rico bond funds sank after over $10 billion were sold to investors. UBS is also contending with allegations that a number of its brokers persuaded clients to purchase the bond funds and bonds on a credit line and margin.

The UBS Puerto Rico funds are comprised of 14 close-end funds that were sold through UBS Financial Services Inc. of Puerto Rico’s registered representatives and brokers. As tension over the broader municipal bond market hit the US commonwealth, the net asset value of the funds became eroded, falling from an initial price of $10 to roughly $3 for some of the funds.

Unlike closed-end municipal bond funds domiciled in the US—these are only allowed to have leverage as high as 30% of the assets in the fund—the Puerto Rico bond funds’ leverage can reach as high as 50% of total assets (55%, under certain conditions). Such leverages can only make any losses greater.

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