Articles Posted in Puerto Rico Bond Funds

In an effort to fight a $20 million coverage lawsuit brought by insurance carriers over Puerto Rico bond fraud cases, UBS Financial Services, Inc. (UBS) argued in court that the exclusions at issue cannot be applied to these investors’ claims. The plaintiffs in the case include XL Specialty Insurance Co., Hartford Fire, and Axis.

According to Law360, a Securities and Exchange Commission filing notes that as of last year UBS is contending with $1.9 billion in claims – including civil, arbitration, and regulatory cases – over its Puerto Rico closed-end bond funds, and to date has already paid $740 million to resolve some of those claims. The bank has come under fire for the way it handled $10 billion of these closed-end bond funds, including claims that they pushed the securities onto investors who could not handle the risks involved and, in some cases, encouraged them to borrow funds to buy even more.

The bank wants coverage under new subsidiary policies that the insurers agreed to even though it includes a specific exclusion for claims that involve the closed-end fund debacle in any way. In its opposite brief, submitted to Puerto Rico federal court, UBS argued that the plaintiffs have not made much of an effort to argue how the exclusion could preclude every related claim, of which there are more than 1600. UBS noted in its brief that insurance law in the U.S. territory mandates that an insurance company defend the whole action even if just one claim is potentially covered.
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Two years after the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority (FINRA) barred former UBS Financial Services of Puerto Rico (UBS-PR) broker Jose Ramirez, nicknamed the Whopper, our UBS Puerto Rico fraud attorneys are continuing to provide representation to investors who sustained losses because they took his and other UBS-PR brokers’ advice to borrow from credit lines in order to invest in even more securities. If you are one of these investors and you would like to explore your legal options, please contact Shepherd Smith Edwards and Kantas, LTD LLP today.

It was in 2015 that the US Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) brought charges against Ramirez accusing him of fraud in the offer and sale of $50 million of UBS-PR affiliated, non-exchange traded closed-end mutual funds. The former UBS broker allegedly enriched himself by advising certain customers to use non-purpose credit lines that a firm affiliate, UBS Bank USA, was offering so that they could buy even more shares.

These customers were not, in fact, allowed to use credit lines to buy the securities and Ramirez allegedly knew this. He is accused of getting around restrictions by telling customers to move money to a bank that had no affiliation with UBS and then re-depositing the funds to their UBS Puerto Rico brokerage account in order to buy additional closed-end mutual funds or Puerto Rico bonds. Such a scheme was a violation of numerous rules and regulations and, if misrepresented to the investors as the SEC has alleged, would have been a major legal violation.

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In the United States District Court in San Juan, the hedge fund Aurelius Capital has filed a lawsuit seeking to have Puerto Rico’s bankruptcy case dismissed. Aurelius Capital is the holder of more than $470 million of Puerto Rico General Obligation bonds (“GO Bonds”). All Puerto Rico GO bonds were supposed to have been guaranteed under the Commonwealth’s constitution. Now, however, GO bonds are subject to a five-year plan that could force bondholders to take substantial reductions on what they are owed upon repayment.

Puerto Rico filed for Title III bankruptcy protection in May. Although bankruptcy protection was not originally available to Puerto Rico, under the Puerto Rico Oversight, Management, and Economic Stability Act (PROMESA), the law was changed to allow for Puerto Rico to file a bankrupt-like procedure if it could not resolve all of its debt with bondholders.

As with other bankruptcies, the island has been granted a “stay” from creditors. Now, Aurelius wants the federal court to lift the stay, which has prevented it and other creditors from suing the Puerto Rican government.

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A group of hedge funds, including Oaktree Capital Management LP and Glendon Capital Management LP, has filed a lawsuit against the federal government in the U.S. Court of Federal Claims. The hedge fund group are Puerto Rico bondholders who could suffer losses from bonds that were issued in 2008 to help the island’s retirement system, the Puerto Rico Employment Retirement System (ERS), stay afloat. Unfortunately, beginning in 2013, the ERS investments faltered, leading the pension system toward bankruptcy.

The hedge funds’ complaint comes after PROMESA, the federal oversight board that was appointed to help the island of Puerto Rico address its $73 billion of debt, placed the Commonwealth’s biggest public retirement fund under bankruptcy protection to help restructure $3 billion in pension obligation bonds (commonly called POBs).

The ERS’s bonds can be paid for by pension contributions that public employers make toward the retirements of their employees. The hedge fund plaintiffs thought that these payments would go to them first. However, in June, the federal oversight board approved legislation to transfer these employer contributions beyond the pension system and away from these creditors. Now, the hedge funds want a court order determining that the move was illegal. They are seeking $3.1 billion in principal plus interest on the ERS bonds.

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Barclays (BARC) and Morgan Stanley (MS) were underwriters when the island sold $3.5 billion of bonds in 2014. According to Bloomberg, brokerage firm records submitted to the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority (“FINRA”) indicate that the U.S. Securities & Exchange Commission’s (“SEC”) staff is recommending that the SEC file an enforcement case against Barclays bankers James Henn and Luis Alfaro. The two men are under investigation for allegedly violating fair dealing in selling Puerto Rico bonds. They are also under investigation for alleged violations of securities rules and municipal bond rules as they pertain to misrepresentation, deception and fraud related to the securities.

Additionally, Bloomberg reports the SEC’s staff wants to issue a sanction against Morgan Stanley Managing Director Charles Visconsi and his ex-colleague Jorge Irizarry over disclosures that Puerto Rico made in documents that were sent to investors. The staff is interested in whether the broker-dealer adequately examined representations that were made by the island’s government. Visconsi and Irizarry reportedly have not been accused of any intentional misconduct.

In other Puerto Rico bond fraud news, the Puerto Rico Electric Power Authority (“PREPA”) has joined the island in filing bankruptcy protection. PREPA is currently overburdened with $9 billion of debt.

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A Financial Industry Regulatory Authority (“FINRA”) arbitration panel has awarded two investors $793,000 in their Puerto Rico municipal bond fraud case against UBS Financial Services (UBS) and UBS Financial Services of Puerto Rico (UBS-PR). The claimants, Madeleine Carrero (as an in individual and as the trustee of Ulises Barros Carrero and Fideicomiso Ulises Barros), accused UBS of negligence, misrepresentation, breach of fiduciary duty, unauthorized trading, unsuitability, and breach of contract.

This is the latest ruling in which UBS and its Puerto Rico-based brokerage firm have been ordered to pay investors for the losses they suffered from investing in Puerto Rico bonds and closed-end bonds.

On the island and the U.S. mainland, our UBS Puerto Rico bond attorneys are continuing to work with investors seeking to recover their losses from investing in Puerto Rico securities. Many investors lost everything, with some even borrowing funds at the inappropriate recommendation of their advisor so that they could invest even more in the island’s bonds.

If you think that you may have grounds for a Puerto Rico bond fraud claim against UBS Puerto Rico, Santander Securities (SAN), Banco Popular or another brokerage firm, it’s not too late to file your claim. Contact Shepherd Smith Edwards and Kantas, LTD LLP today.

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According to Bloomberg, trading in Puerto Rico securities has gone up even after the U.S. territory filed for Title III bankruptcy protection last month. Over the last 50 days, $267.4 million of Commonwealth debt was the daily average that traded, which is more than the $195.9 million daily average from the last 200 days. Analyzing the increase, Matt Fabian of Municipal Market Analytics speculated to Bloomberg that investors who purchased the bonds might have assumed that the federally appointed financial control board tasked with fixing the island’s financial problems would succeed.

Puerto Rico owes more than $70 billion of bond debt and, additionally, has over $40 billion in unfunded pension liabilities. After talks with creditors went nowhere, Puerto Rico sought bankruptcy protection. Now, creditors will have to go to court to try to get back their losses.

However, those legal cases are being led by institutional investors, such as hedge funds and mutual funds. Nevertheless, retail investors and others continue to try to get back their investment losses starting from when Puerto Rico bonds and closed-end bond funds began plummeting almost four years ago. What seemed like a good investment—tax-exempt and allegedly low-risk—ended up proving catastrophic for many who were told, falsely, that investments were safe and appropriate for their portfolios. Hundreds were encouraged by brokers to borrow so they could invest even more money in these securities.

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In Manhattan federal court, U.S. District Judge Laura Taylor Swain has blocked a $16.3 million interest payment that is due to COFINA bondholders on June 1 (COFINA bonds are those issued by the Puerto Rico local taxing authority and that are supposed to be supported by Puerto Rico sales taxes). Judge Swain said that future payments also have been suspended until a number of disagreements over who should receive the funds are settled. This marks the first time a payment on COFINA bonds will not be made.

Judge Swain is tasked with presiding over Puerto Rico’s Title III bankruptcy case, which is meant to restructure the over $70 billion of debt that the U.S. territory owes. In addition to this latest halt, Swain has decided to wait to resolve two other disputes, including whether COFINA is in default on the $17 billion of debt that is its responsibility and if general obligation bondholders are entitled to receive sales-tax receipts that are backing COFINAs as payment.

Although general obligation bondholders and COFINA holders have been in disagreement over bond payments for some time, fighting also has now erupted among senior COFINA holders and junior COFINA holders regarding how interest should be distributed, with the senior contingency claiming that they should receive full payment before the junior COFINA holders receive anything. Junior COFINA holders want $5 million of the interest on subordinated bonds. They also want their claim on COFINA funds preserved.

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Although many of the thousands of cases investors in Puerto Rico bonds and closed-end funds have brought over the last three years have focused on UBS Financial Services Incorporated of Puerto Rico (“UBS-PR”), other brokerage firms in the Commonwealth engaged in the same wrongful sales practices. One such firm that has also been the subject of many FINRA arbitrations and other lawsuits is Santander Securities, LLC (“Santander”), a division of Banco Santander Puerto Rico.

Bloomberg reports that between the ends of 2012 and 2013, Santander marketed and sold over $280 million in Puerto Rico municipal bonds and close-end funds while getting rid of its own holdings of these same securities. In 2015, Santander settled allegations from FINRA of deficiencies in Santander’s structured product business, including those involving the sale of reverse-convertible securities to Puerto Rican retail customers when such investments were often unsuitable for them. FINRA also accused the brokerage firm of inadequate supervision of structured product sales. Santander agreed to pay customers over $7 million for their losses from reverse convertible securities.

In other Puerto Rico news, the office of the U.S. Trustee announced that it will appoint a committee of retired persons to negotiate for pensioners in the wake of the Commonwealth’s recent bankruptcy filing. The island is carrying about $50 Billion in unfunded pension liabilities, in addition to the more than $70 Billion in bond debt it still owes. At the first bankruptcy hearing for Puerto Rico, the island’s main creditors expressed interest in continuing mediation talks to figure out how to deal with these debts. Among those seeking repayment of the debts owed to them are general obligation bondholders and Cofina bondholders.

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Puerto Rico, a U.S. territory, is now under bankruptcy protection. Since the island is not a municipality, it could not file for Chapter 9 bankruptcy protection as did the city of Detroit. It is, however, availing itself of a Title III process that resembles Chapter 9 bankruptcy.

The process will allow Puerto Rico to use the court to restructure part of the more than $70 Billion in debt the island owes. According to The Wall Street Journal (WSJ), mutual funds hold about $10 Billion of the territory’s outstanding bonds.

Title III, under the Puerto Rico Oversight, Management, and Economic Stability Act (PROMESA), includes bankruptcy provisions that will be applied for the first time ever and it deals with insolvent territorial governments. Puerto Governor Ricardo Rosselló sent his petition for Title III protection today and the federal board tasked with overseeing the island’s finances approved his request soon after. Now, Supreme Court Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. will have to appoint a bankruptcy judge to Puerto Rico’s case.

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