UBS Bet on Puerto Rico and Lost Your Money

The level of co-dependence between UBS Puerto Rico and Puerto Rico over the past several years is shocking. UBS Puerto Rico has been operating for almost 50 years. It has grown to the point that it manages almost as much money in Puerto Rico as every other brokerage firm combined. UBS Puerto Rico has simultaneously been a growing player with Puerto Rico’s government. Between 2008 and 2013, UBS helped Puerto Rico borrow over $13 billion for a variety of uses. This means that UBS Puerto Rico was involved in more of these bond offerings than the next three largest brokerage firms combined.

UBS Puerto Rico was also designated as the manager for Puerto Rico’s pension funds, which serve more than 200,000 current and retired government workers. This led to outrageous conflicts; UBS Puerto Rico underwrote bonds issued by Puerto Rico and backed by the pension system itself. UBS Puerto Rico then purchased approximately $1.5 billion of those very bonds for its proprietary investment funds. Those funds were in turn sold back to public investors. It would be surprising if the state pension did not own shares of these investment funds. So UBS helped create bonds to pay for government employee benefits, bought those bonds, and then sold those bonds back to the very same government employees who were supposed to be paid with the proceeds. UBS was loaning those employees their own money back, plus interest.

Similarly, UBS Puerto Rico was ignoring basic investment concepts like diversification. UBS Puerto Rico bragged that over 67% of its own assets were invested in Puerto Rico. Over half of the money investors had entrusted to UBS Puerto Rico were invested in UBS’s proprietary funds, the vast majority of which invested heavily, if not exclusively, in Puerto Rican debt. Many of those funds also were highly leveraged, meaning that they borrowed extra money to make even bigger investments. This greatly increases the risks of the investments.

Previous posts have discussed the number of reasons why UBS Puerto Rico was or should have been aware that this system was unsustainable. In fact, UBS Puerto Rico was in the process of selling out huge portions of its own holdings in Puerto Rican debts when much of this came to light. So UBS was well aware that when the house of cards came tumbling down, it would be its many clients that would suffer the brunt of the losses.