The U.S. House of Representatives has voted to pass legislation that would get rid of exemptions from federal securities law for registered securities offered in U.S. territories, including Puerto Rico. The bill is called the U.S. Territories Investor Protection Act of 2016. Rep. Nydia Velazques (D-NY), who sponsored the legislation, said that if passed into law it would give key protections to American citizens in the territories. The bill would also put an end to long standing exemptions that were granted to territorial securities under the Investment Company Act.
Rep. Velazquez believes that had there been such a law previously, certain investment losses that have been sustained in the U.S. territories could have been prevented. She recently noted that certain issuers of securities in Puerto Rico have allegedly become their own underwriters, allowing them to sell and package the securities without letting investors know of this conflict of interest.
Unfortunately, this exact situation is what played out in Puerto Rico over the last decade. Many residents in Puerto Rico have suffered because they were not told of conflicts of interest and about how risky the bond funds they bought were. Their losses have been further compounded by the U.S. territory’s debt crisis. Puerto Rico owes $70 billion to investors, many of whom purchased the bonds indirectly through bond funds.
With Velazquez’s bill, investment companies on the island and other U.S. territories would have to deal with the same rules as their counterparts on the mainland. The legislation includes a three-year grace period for companies to get into compliance with new rules. (It also grants the SEC the authority to extend that timeframe via rulemaking if necessary.)
Last month, U.S. President Barack Obama signed into law PROMESA, the Puerto Rico Oversight Management and Economic Stability Act, which will help the island restructure its debt. On July 1, Puerto Rico defaulted on $911 million of bond payments that were due to creditors that day. At least $799 million of that was general obligation debt, which was supposed to be constitutionally guaranteed. However, Puerto Rico Governor Alejandro Garcia Padilla issued a debt moratorium that made the default on these debt payments possible.