Brokerage Firms Pay Billions in Bonuses in 2008 While Taking Taxpayer Money

On July 30, 2009, New York Attorney General Andrew Cuomo issued a report entitled “No Rhyme or Reason: The ‘Heads I Win, Tails You Lose’ Bank Bonus Culture.”

In the report, Mr. Cuomo discusses the compensation programs instituted by banks and brokerage firms while the economy was heading for, and in the midst of, crisis. The findings are truly astonishing are summed up well as “When the banks did well, their employees were paid well. When the banks did poorly, their employees were paid well. And when the banks did very poorly, they were bailed out by taxpayers and their employees were still paid well. Bonuses and overall compensation did not vary significantly as profits diminished.”

The report illustrates that while Citigroup and Merrill Lynch suffered losses of $54 billion in 2008, they “paid out nearly $9 billion in bonuses and then received TARP bailouts totaling $55 billion.” Furthermore, the bonuses paid in 2008 by Goldman Sachs, Morgan Stanley, and J.P. Morgan Chase exceeded their net income. Specifically, the report notes that “these three firms earned $9.6 billion, paid bonuses of nearly $18 billion, and received TARP taxpayer funds worth $45 billion.” The report also noted that State Street paid approximately $470 million in bonuses while receiving $2 billion in TARP funding.

Appendix A to the Report is a must read for anyone concerned about the problems in the financial system. A table contained in the Appendix shows that J.P. Morgan Chase & Co. paid each of more than 1,600 employees bonuses that were equal to or greater than $1 million (while the firm accepted $25 billion in TARP). Goldman Sachs and Citigroup paid similar bonuses to more than 950 and 730 employees, respectively (while accepting $10 billion and $45 billion, respectively from TARP). In 2008, Merrill Lynch suffered losses of more than $465,000 per employee. Nevertheless, the firm paid total bonuses that averaged more than $61,000 per employee.

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Considering Hiring a New Investment Adviser?

Earlier this week, The Wall Street Journal reported that while the four major Wall Street brokerage firms experienced an outflow of $8 billion of assets in 2008, Registered Investment Advisers brought in more than $108 billion in new assets during the same period. This activity likely reflects a shift in investor preference from transaction-based broker relationships to fiduciary relationships.

Investors generally choose to have their financial affairs handled by someone they feel they can trust. Given the financial meltdown that has taken place over the last 2+ years, it is easy to see why investors would prefer to have a fiduciary manage their investments rather than a brokerage firm that has unavoidable conflicts of interest with their clients.

If you are considering hiring an investment adviser, another Wall Street Journal article also set out some questions that investors should ask financial advisers. Every adviser-client relationship is based upon different goals, and, as a result, each investor should ask different questions when interviewing a financial adviser. However, if you are looking for a list of standard questions, this is a good place to start.

It is important to know as much as you can about your financial adviser, stockbroker, etc. You can also find information about stockbrokers by checking FINRA’s BrokerCheck website and research registered investment advisers through the SEC’s Investment Adviser Public Disclosure (IAPD) website.

The Kueser Law Firm represents investors in securities arbitration and litigation. If you are concerned that your investments have been mismanaged, please contact us to learn more about your rights.

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SEC Charges Morgan Keegan for Fraudulent Marketing and Sales of Auction Rate Securities

On July 21, 2009, the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) charged Morgan Keegan & Company. In its Complaint, the SEC seeks an injunction for violation of the federal securities laws, as well as equitable relief for Morgan Keegan investors. Included in this equitable relief is a request for a court order requiring Morgan Keegan to repurchase illiquid ARS from its customers. More about the SEC’s case, including a link to the Commission’s Litigation Release and Complaint can be found here.

The SEC’s Complaint alleges that Morgan Keegan misled thousands of investors about the liquidity risks related to auction rate securities (ARS). This is another example of the massive fraud related to Auction Rate Securities that was perpetrated by financial services firms across the country. To date, several firms, including UBS, Wachovia, TD Ameritrade, Fidelity, and Stifel Nicolaus have entered into settlements with federal and/or state securities regulators. Some of these settlements have broader relief for investors, while others have left many investors still holding onto these illiquid investments.

If you were sold Auction Rate Securities and your positions have not been redeemed or repurchased, you should contact an attorney to discuss your rights. The Kueser Law Firm represents investors in securities arbitration and litigation. Feel free to contact us if you have any questions or would like additional information.

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SEC permanently changes rules related to “naked” short selling

In a much anticipated move, the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) made permanent a rule that it hopes will curb abusive “naked” short selling practices in the securities markets.

Short selling is the practice of selling a security that a person does not own. In essence, the person (the “short seller”) “borrows” the security from their broker (or another third party) and sells it to a buyer. This strategy is implemented where the short seller anticipates that the value of the security will drop. As the value of the security goes down, the short seller makes money. Conversely, if the value of the security increases, the short seller loses money. At some point in the future, the short seller will purchase an amount of shares equal to the amount borrowed. This is referred to as “covering” the short position. Often the short seller has to pay a fee to borrow the securities and has to pay interest on the value of the securities until the short position is covered.

The new rule (Rule 204T) requires broker-dealers to promptly purchase or borrow securities to deliver on a short sale. In addition, the SEC is working with self-regulatory organizations to make public information related to short sale volume. Lastly, the SEC is planning to hold a public roundtable on September 30 to discuss securities lending, pre-borrowing, and possible additional short sale disclosures. According to the SEC’s press release, “the roundtable will consider, among other topics, the potential impact of a program requiring short sellers to pre-borrow their securities, possibly on a pilot basis, and adding a short sale indicator to the tapes to which transactions are reported for exchange-listed securities.”

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