Articles Posted in Stockbroker Regulation

A number of watchdog groups want Senate Banking Committee Chairman Chris Dodd (D-Conn.) to support an amendment to the financial regulatory reform bill that he is sponsoring. The bill lets the Securities and Exchange Commission and the Commodity Futures Trading Commission set up bounty programs for whistleblowers that approach them with information about financial fraud. However, if the government doesn’t act on these tips, the bill has two key provisions that prevent whistleblowers and the public from ever finding out. Leahy’s amendment would eliminate the provisions while protecting the identities of whistleblowers.

In a letter to Senator Dodd, the groups said that such limits on public access are “poison pill secrecy measures” that would not only prevent the public and whistleblowers from ever knowing whether the tips were pursued, but also would keep the latter from proving they are whistleblowers if they were ever retaliated against. The groups said that such secrecy would allow regulators to avoid being held accountable if they failed to act on any whistleblower tips.

The watchdog groups that support the amendment include Public Citizen, OMB Watch, the Project on Government Oversight, Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington,, Government Accountability Project, Common Cause, Progressive States Network, Consumer Action, National Community Reinvestment Coalition, Americans for Financial Reform, and the National Fair Housing Alliance.

Related Web Resources:
S.3217 – Restoring American Financial Stability Act of 2010,
Read the groups’ letter to Senator Dodd (PDF)
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NYSE Regulation fined 14 of its member firms a total of $10.4 million in fines for failing to deliver trade confirmations to their clients and other violations.

Citigroup Global Markets received the heaviest fine of $2.25 million for failing to deliver trade confirmation documents in more than a million consumer transactions. Lehman Brothers and DeutscheBank were each fined $1.25 million.

Other firms sanctioned included UBS Securities; Bear Stearns & Co.; Credit Suisse Securities (USA) LLC ; Banc of America Securities LLC; Goldman Sachs & Co.; JP Morgan Securities; Wachovia Capital Markets LLC; and Keefe, Bruyette & Woods Inc. Fines levied against these firms ranged from $375,000 to $800,000.

The NASD imposed a $200,000 fine against EKN Financial Services Inc. and levied sanctions against the firm’s CEO, President, Head Trader and Financial and Operations Principal for improper short selling in connection with three unregistered PIPE securities offerings. As part of the settlement, EKN was also suspended for six months from engaging in transactions in PIPES.

“This action represents NASD’s continued commitment to ensuring that those firms and individuals who engage in improper activity involving PIPE trading will be held accountable,” said the NASD’s Head of Enforcement. “Suspending the firm for six months from future PIPE deals illustrates the seriousness with which we view these violations.”

A PIPE is a private offering in which accredited investors agree to purchase restricted, unregistered securities of public companies. The companies agree, in turn, to file a resale registration statement so that investors can resell the shares to the public. Only after the PIPE shares registration is approved by the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) are investors free to sell them on the open market.

Last week, a securities law journal published a study illustrating how securities regulators went “soft” last year. According to the study, NYSE and NASD fined securities companies and individuals $111 million in 2006, which was lower than the $184 million in collective fines that their two regulatory units issued in 2005. Regulators only issued 19 actions of $1 million or greater. There were 25 such actions the year prior.

The report cited a similar decrease in penalties at the SEC. Penalties issued in 2005 were $1.5 billion. Penalties went down to $974 million in 2006.

Barbara Roper, Consumer Federation of America’s Director of Communications, says, however, that public-company managements and brokerage firms actually outdid themselves in their handling of research-analyst conflict, accounting scandals, and mutual fund-trading scandals.

The new Financial Industry Regulatory Authority has launched a section on its website to provide online information for retail investors.

The “Market Data” section on FINRA’s website provides data on equities, options, mutual funds and corporate, municipal, Treasury and Agency bonds. The site also provides a page for all stock exchange-listed companies, including a company description, recent news stories and Securities and Exchange Commission filings, and an interactive list of domestic securities the company issues.

The site also provides equities indices and the FINRA-Bloomberg Active U.S. Corporate Bond Indices for investment-grade and high-yield bonds. Additionally, the site features U.S. Treasury Benchmark yields, market news an economic calendar and other information indicating current market conditions.

The North American Securities Administrators Association Inc. of Washington (NAASA) plans a vote by its members by the end of this year on a proposal which would make it a violation of state securities regulations to “misuse, mischaracterize or fraudulently represent a designation that has little or no value,” said the President of NASAA, Alabama securities commissioner Joseph Borg.

Mr. Borg announced the NASAA plan at a hearing being held this week by the Senate Special Committee on Aging. Mr. Borg appeared to testify on matters involving securities fraud of the elderly, and within his presentation he chose to specifically adress the use of questionable senior financial adviser designations.

State securities regulators have authority to take action against financial advisers for unethical sales practices, such as churning and selling unsuitable products, he said. “This would be an enhancement to cover fraudulent use of designations,” Mr. Borg said. NASAA initiative is part of ongoing efforts by state and federal regulators to beef up regulatory authority to protect seniors from financial fraud.

Justice for investors is simply denied in New York courts and a trend of no justice for investors threatens to spread nationwide as more and more “activist” business-friendly judges are appointed to the federal bench.

The U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York, known to be friendly to Wall Street, has struck again, this time ruling Ameritrade was not required to route orders to multiple markets to fulfill its duty of “best execution” of trades. This is one of many case filed by investors which was dismissed, with prejudice, in a decision which could affect investors nationwide. (Gurfein v. Ameritrade Inc., S.D.N.Y., No. 04 Civ. 9526 (LLS), 7/17/07

Although language on Ameritrade, Inc.’s Website advertised that it had the capability of distributing customer orders to multiple markets and could thereby seek best execution, the judge decided this did not oblige Ameritrade to route orders to different markets for execution. The judge also found Ameritrade had no duty to the plaintiff to execute the limit order at the “best price” or fulfill the “best execution” regulatory requirement.

“There are two things I worry about: Clients dying and the government putting me out of business,” said a Merrill Lynch rep who says he gets about 80% of his revenue from B-shares shares and fee-based business. Apparently, the safety of his clients’ assets must be down the list.

Meanwhile, regulators are currently engaged in a crackdown on brokers who shove clients into B-shares when the breakpoints of A-shares are much more appropriate, and those who use wrap accounts then ignore their clients. Hundreds of millions of mutual fund load refunds have been ordered. It has been discoverd that some clients have paid $5,000 to $20,000 per transaction while ignored in fee-based accounts at major firms.

Loss of the fees “would make me wonder whether I should stay in business,” said Curtis Mohr, a Pasco, Wash., broker affiliated with Royal Alliance Associates Inc. Good riddance!

In one of its final regulatory acts before being folded into the NASD, the New York Stock Exchange’s regulatory unit has censured and fined Smith Barney $50 million over illegal trades, failures to supervise and record-keeping violations. The firm agreed to the sanctions without admitting or denying the charges.

The Smith Barney unit of Citigroup Global Markets Inc. will pay a fine of $10 million to the NYSE, and a fine of $5 million to the State of New Jersey, related to a “separate regulatory matter arising out of the same conduct.” An additional $35 million will be paid into a restitution fund to compensate victims.

The NYSE regulators say Smith Barney agreed to these huge sanctions to resolve charges related to a variety of fraudulent trading activities, including excessive trading, improper trading in mutual fund shares, improper trading in variable annuity mutual fund sub-accounts, illegal market timing trades, plus the firm’s failures to supervise and to maintain adequate books and records.

It seems that Wall Street has convinced state and federal regulators, as well as Congress and Presidential candidates, that the regulatory bar must be lowered if we are to compete in the international securities market (or perhaps Wall Street’s donations have affected the judgment of these politicians). Yet, studies continue to show that most investors prize a company’s behavior over rich returns.

After the crash of 1929, and for over 70 years, our securities markets have been regulated by a network of federal and state securities laws. During that period, U.S. financial markets have thrived and becme the envy of the world. Conventional wisdom is that investors want to feel safe in investment waters – as shark free as possible. Yet, those on Wall Street, many of whom have proven themselves to be sharks, lobby regulators and lawmakers to attempt to win a “race to the bottom” in worldwide financial regulation.

Yet a recent study found, for example, that two-thirds of investors say they would sell their shares of a company that engages unethical but legal behavior-even if that behavior brought in higher returns. These results were found through poll research performed by Opinion Research Corp. for Pepperdine University’s Graziadio School of Business and Management.