Articles Posted in Exchange Traded Funds

The Financial Industry Regulatory Authority said that Wells Fargo Advisors Financial Network and Wells Fargo Clearing Services LLC must pay over $3.4M in restitution to customers who were impacted by unsuitable recommendations involving exchange-traded products and the supervisory failures involved. By settling, Wells Fargo (WFC) is not denying or admitting to the regulator’s charges.

According to FINRA, between 7/1/200 and 5/1/2012, there were registered representatives at Wells Fargo (WFC) who recommended these volatility-linked ETPs without fully comprehending the investments’ features and risks. The self-regulatory organization also found that the broker-dealer did not put into place a supervisory system that was reasonable enough to properly supervise the ETP sales during the period at issue.

The regulator said that the brokers did not have reasonable grounds for recommending these ETPs to customers whose risk profiles and investment goals were considered moderate or conservative. The representatives are accused of making inappropriate recommendations about when to leave these positions in a “timely manner.”

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The US Securities and Exchange Commission has secured a final judgment by default in its broker fraud case against Demitrios Hallas. The former broker was charged by the regulator in April for allegedly trading unsuitable investment products in five customers’ accounts. The customers were unsophisticated investors with not much, if any, experience in investing. Their net worth and income levels were modest enough that risky investments were not a good fit for their portfolios.

According to the regulator’s complaint, in a period of a little over a year, Hallas traded 179 daily leveraged exchange traded funds and exchange traded notes in these accounts. (Both ETFs and ETNs products are considered high-risk, volatile, and only suitable for sophisticated investors.)

The SEC said that Hallas had no reasonable grounds for recommending these investments to customers. Meantime, the latter were charged fees and commissions of about $128K. The net loss sustained over all the positions was about $170K.

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Morgan Stanley Smith Barney (MS) has consented to pay a penalty of $8M to resolve Securities and Exchange Commission charges accusing the firm of wrongdoing involving single inverse exchange-traded fund investments. Morgan Stanley admitted wrongdoing as part of the settlement.

According to the SEC’s order, Morgan Stanley failed to adequately put into place procedures an policies to make sure that clients comprehended the risks involved in buying inverse ETFs and did not procure signatures from several hundred clients on a client disclosure notice that stated that these ETFs are usually not suitable for investors intending to keep them longer than a trading session unless the securities are part of a hedging or trading strategy.

Morgan Stanley persuaded investors to buy single inverse ETFs in accounts, including retirement accounts. Securities were held-long term. As a result, many of these advisory clients suffered losses.

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A Financial Industry Regulatory Authority Panel is ordering Mid Atlantic Capital Corp. to pay David Wellman and Beverly Bien $922K. The married couple sued the independent brokerage firm for losses they sustained after they invested in Sonoma Ridge Partners (a real estate private placement), KBS-sponsored nontraded REITs, silver and gold exchange-traded funds  (ETFs) like iShares Silver and Market VectorsGold Minors, and Contago Oil and Gas securities. They alleged that Mid Atlantic Capital Corp. was liable for negligent misrepresentation, negligence, omissions, breach of fiduciary duty, breach of contract, negligent supervision, restitution, common law fraud, and violation of Colorado’s Securities Act.

The couple was close to retirement age when they made the investments several years ago prior to the 2008 economic collapse. According to the couple’s legal team, among the issues that they believe were problematic is that Mid Atlantic’s two brokers that managed Sonoma Ridge Partners were not the same brokers who marketed and sold the private placement to investors. The claimants believe that this presented a conflict of interest.

Previously called the Jadda Secured Senior Mortgage Fund,  Sonoma Ridge Partners was promoted as an alternative to low-yielding CD’s, as well as to the stock market with its volatility. It was supposed to render 9-11% annual yields. Also, although Bien bought most of the illiquid real estate investments, she lacked the required net worth necessary to qualify as an accredited investor under private placement industry rules.

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The Financial Industry Regulatory Authority has filed a case against Richard William Lunn Martin, a former broker. According to the self-regulatory organization, from at least 3/11 through 7/15, and while he was a GF Investment services broker, Martin encouraged clients to invest in high-risk non-traditional exchange-traded funds so he could hedge against what he anticipated would be a pending financial crisis. Martin purportedly believed that the financial and monetary system was going to fail. FINRA said that he lost customers $8M as a result of the bad investment advice he gave them.

Because of his fears, said FINRA, Martin recommend that clients put their money in inverse and leveraged funds, which are typically not suitable for retail investors. This is especially true when the market is volatile and the investor intends to hold the funds for longer than one trading session. Examples of recommendations that he made:

· Direxion Daily Gold Miners Bear 2x Shares (DUST)

· Proshares UltraPro Short Russe112000 (SRTY)

· Proshares UltraPro Short QQQ (SQQQ)

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FINRA is fining Oppenheimer & Co. Inc. (OPY) $2.2M for the sale of non-traditional exchange-traded funds, including inverse, leveraged, and inverse-leveraged ETFs, to retail customers without proper supervision and for suggesting them to clients even though they were not appropriate investments for them. The self-regulatory organization is also making the firm pay over $716,000 to the customers who were impacted.

FINRA said that even though Oppenheimer put into place policies barring representatives from both selling non-traditional ETFs to retail customers and executing non-traditional ETF purchases that were unsolicited for said customers unless they met certain requirements—including liquid assets greater than $50OK—the firm did not do a reasonable job of making sure that these policies were properly enforced. (The firm had put them into effect after FINRA issued a notice advising brokerage firms of the risks involved in non-traditional ETFs.) Because of this, Oppenheimer continued to market non-traditional ETFs to retail customers and effect transactions that were unsolicited for those who failed to meet the requirements.

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The U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission is barring Nicholas Rowe, the former owner of registered investment advisor Focus Capital Wealth Management, from the industry. The charges come in the wake of parallel proceedings in New Hampshire where state regulators barred him from being licensed as an investment adviser. The New Hampshire Bureau of Securities Regulation also said he had to pay $20K.

Rowe and his RIA are accused of using inverse and leveraged exchange-traded funds in a way that was not suitable for clients. They also purportedly made misrepresentations regarding the fees that the clients would be charged.

Focus Capital had been registered with the SEC until 2012 when it registered with New Hampshire instead. The state launched a probe into the RIA’s investment practices, which allegedly included placing the assets of older investors into unsuitable strategies without notifying them that was what was happening. A number of elderly clients, including three widows, allegedly lost close to $1.M.

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A Financial Industry Regulatory Authority panel has awarded The Elliot Family Trust DTD, Eugene Elliot, Genraza LLC, and Shawn Elliot Over $1M in their securities arbitration case against J.P. Morgan Securities (JPM).

The claimants are contending fraud, breach of fiduciary duty, misrepresentation and omissions, failure to control and supervise, and violations of federal and state securities laws related to the alleged short trading of US Treasury securities and the unsuitable purchase and allocation of securities, including leveraged exchange-traded funds and unspecified options. They had initially sought compensatory damages no lower than $1.75M, rescission of the purportedly unsuitable investments, punitive damages, legal fees, and other costs. Meantime, the financial firm sought to have their case dismissed.

Following the pleadings, the FINRA arbitration panel decided that the respondent is liable for and must pay claimants over $1.145M in compensatory damages, interest on that amount, and over $43,000 in other fees.
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In the last five years, artificially low interest rates have resulted in yield hungry investors being drawn to investments such as iShares Mortgage Real Estate Capped ETF, an exchange-traded fund that trades under the symbol REM. Since 2010, this ETF has gathered over $1 Billion in assets, in part because of its 14% dividend.

Unlike older and more traditional REIT ETFs, REM does not own companies that possess properties. Instead, the exchange-traded fund puts its money in financial firms that borrow at short-term rates and buy long-term mortgage securities while making a profit from the difference and passing that over as income. All this creates the 14% yield.

Unfortunately, with the increased likelihood of a Fed rate hike, the yield curve has started to become flat, reducing the spread that creates the 14% yield for REM. Also, short-term rates have started going up faster than long-term ones. The result has been that REM’s price has started to drop. And, if the central bank were to initiate a rate hike, that 14% yield and REM’s performance could end up in even more trouble. Bloomberg says that already REM has been down 5% since the Memorial Day weekend.

According to Shepherd Smith Edwards and Kantas Partner and Securities Fraud Attorney Sam Edwards, “Funds like REM seem very attractive to investors, especially when rates are so low. The risk of a fund like REM is far greater than traditional REIT investments and will suffer greatly in a rising interest rate environment. The vast majority of investors in funds such as this do not comprehend the risk of such a complicated strategy and find out too late they were taking more risk than was appropriate.”
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Exchange-traded fund manager F-Squared Investments Inc. has filed for bankruptcy. The firm wants the U.S. Bankruptcy Court for the District of Delaware to allow it to sell its intellectual property, including its investment strategies and contracts to manage money, to Broadmeadow Capital, a Chicago-based money manager.

It was in December that F-Squared agreed to pay investors $35 million to settle Securities and Exchange Commission charges alleging that the firm misled investors about the performance of its Alpha Sector investment strategy. The regulator said that the ETF fund manager falsely marketed the strategy as having a successful track record that was based on actual performance.

Instead, contends the SEC, the data was from a hypothetical performance for a past period that was generated from backtesting. Also, a performance calculation error caused results to be inflated by 350%.

Advisers were attracted to this inflated performance record and F-Squared’s contention that its strategy could get around tough market shifts by engaging in opportunistic trading in and out of multiple industrial-sector ETFs. In seven years, the firm went from being practically a nonentity to having a $28.5 billion strategy as of last year.

F-Squared became the largest marketer of index products using ETFs. By the end of the year that ended in March 2015, however, the firm experienced a close to $8 billion asset decline. It reduced its workforce by 25%.
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