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Articles Tagged with Puerto RIco Municipal Bonds

The Financial Industry Regulatory Authority (FINRA) says that it is ordering Santander Securities LLC (Santander) to pay $6.4M for supervisory failures involving the sale of Puerto Rico Municipal Bonds and Puerto Rico closed-end funds. Of the payment to FINRA, $2 million is a fine and censure and over $4.3 million is customer restitution.

The restitution will go toward certain customers who were solicited to buy the municipal bonds. Santander will pay $121,000 and make rescission offers to repurchase the securities from certain customers that were affected by the firm’s purported failure to supervise employees while they were trading.

FINRA said that between December 2012 and October 2013, Santander failed to make sure that its proprietary product risk-classification tool accurately reflected the risks of investing in Puerto Rico bonds. The regulator contends that the systems and procedures that were in place at Santander did not mandate an evaluation or review of this tool, which is what its representatives used when recommending financial products to customers.

For example, said FINRA, when “significant market events” occurred, such as when credit rating agency Moody’s downgraded a number of Puerto Rico bonds-including Puerto Rico General Obligation bonds-to a level just above junk, Santander did not re-examine the tool’s risk classifications for the bonds. Instead, one day after the credit rating agency issued its ratings downgrade, the firm stopped buying the municipal bonds that its customers in Puerto Rico wanted to sell and ramped up its efforts to lower the firm’s own Puerto Rico municipal bond inventory.
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Credit rating agency Fitch Ratings (“Fitch”) has downgraded the general obligation and related debt of Puerto Rico to “B”, rating it even further into junk territory and three notches under investment grade, because of worries about the U.S. territory’s ability to go through with planned financing. As a result of the downgrade of the general obligation debt, the Puerto Rico Aqueduct and Sewer Authority senior lien revenue bonds were also downgraded.

The ratings reduction is related to a new law in the Commonwealth. The law is supposed to help overhaul public debt by letting certain government agencies with a reported $19.4 billion in outstanding bonds restructure their debt. Fitch is worried that because of the way the restructuring is delineated in the law, this could result in debt payment suspensions while “precluding timely payments” of principal plus interest until proceedings are finalized.

Fitch also reduced the rating of Puerto Rico’s sales tax entity COFINA, pension funding bonds, and the Public Building Authority government facilities’ revenue bonds. The credit rating agency pointed to mixed economic signs, such as accelerated year-over-year declines in the labor force and yearly drops in the monthly economic activity index of the Government Development Bank, as the reason for the new downgrades. Recently, Standard & Poor’s also reduced the general obligation debt of Puerto Rico to junk bond status- a BB, which is right below investment grade.

UBS, AG (UBS) says that it intends to nominate BlueMountain Capital Management Executive Jes Staley to its board in May. Staley formerly served as a JPMorgan Chase & Co. (JPM) executive.

In a statement, UBS Chairman Axel Weber said that Staley is perfect for the role due to his professional expertise from working in global banking leadership roles for three decades. However, that may not be the only reason.

Earlier this year, BlueMountain, which is a New York-based hedge fund, joined a legal challenge against a law that would let some of the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico’s agencies restructure their massive debt. UBS Puerto Rico (UBS-PR) is one of the banks accused of inappropriately placing clients’ money into closed-end funds that had high exposure to Puerto Rico municipal bonds.

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