Leveraged and Inverse ETFs May Not Be Suitable For All Investors

ProFunds Group, one of the largest issuers of leveraged and inverse ETFs recently issued a warning that some of its leveraged and inverse ETFs may not be suitable for all investors. In the prospectus dated October 1, 2009, the company repeatedly states:

The Fund is different from most exchangetraded funds in that it seeks leveraged returns and only on a daily basis. The Fund also is riskier than similarly benchmarked exchange-traded funds that do not use leverage. Accordingly, the Fund may not be suitable for all investors and should be used only by knowledgeable investors who understand the potential consequences of seeking daily leveraged investment results. Shareholders should actively monitor their investments.

(See, e.g., prospectus at pp. 49, 54, 59, 64, 69, 74, 79.)

While additional disclosures are an improvement, this disclosure is still somewhat vague. It is similar to telling someone that an investment is suitable for them if they are seeking growth of their investment. Who isn’t seeking growth of their investments? I have never heard anyone say “I am looking for an investment that will cause me to lose money.”

In addition, many investors who are sold leveraged ETFs such as these never receive a copy of the prospectus. If an investor does not receive the prospectus, the disclosure does not protect them (however, it could protect the fund company from liability).

Leveraged ETFs invest their shareholders’ money in futures and/or derivatives in order to multiply the daily return of an index. Some leveraged ETFs seek a return that is 200% or even 300% of the daily performance of the index. Inverse ETFs work in much the same way, except that these funds seek a return that is equal to 100%, 200%, or even 300% of the opposite of the daily performance of the index. With these funds, an investor actually profits when the index declines in value. Typical leveraged ETFs and inverse ETFs reset each day and therefore, over periods longer than one day, their performance can vary considerably from the index. In addition to ProFunds, the most popular leveraged ETFs and inverse ETFs are managed by Rydex and Direxion.

FINRA has already declared that leveraged ETFs are typically unsuitable for retail investors. Therefore, the announcement by ProFunds is not a revelation. If your stockbroker or financial advisor has sold you any leveraged ETFs or inverse ETFs, or purchased any leveraged ETFs or inverse ETFs in your accounts, you may be entitled to recover any losses on these investments. The Kueser Law Firm represents investors who were sold leveraged ETFs and inverse ETFs. If you are concerned that your investments have been mismanaged, contact us to learn more about your rights.

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Colorado Division of Securities Charges Stifel Nicolaus with Fraudulent Sales of Auction Rate Securities

On October 1, 2009, Colorado Securities Commissioner Fred Joseph announced that the Securities Division had filed a complaint against Stifel, Nicolaus & Company. According to the Division’s news release, the complaint alleges:

Stifel Nicolaus falsely represented auction rate securities as liquid, short-term investments to Colorado investors without discussing the risks. These representations gave investors a false sense of security that the investments would always be liquid when auction rate securities, in fact, faced significant, inherent liquidity risks.

A copy of the Notice of Charges is available in pdf format here.

Auction rate securities, which are also referred to as auction rate preferred shares, ARS, ARPS, and MARS, to name a few, have been at the epicenter of regulatory investigations across the country. Auction rate securities are long-term (or perpetual) investments that traded in periodic “auctions.” They are designed to allow companies, mutual funds, municipalities, and other organizations to borrow money for a long-term period while paying short-term rates of interest, which were reset during the periodic auctions. It was in these auctions that investors who held the securities could also sell their holdings if they needed to have access to cash. Because these auctions occurred on a relatively frequent basis (i.e., weekly, bi-weekly, or monthly), investors had the ability to sell their positions and obtain cash in a relatively short period of time.

For years, Wall Street firms sold auction rate securities as short-term, cash equivalent investments that paid marginally higher rates of interest as compared to other short-term investments. What these firms did not tell their customers was that the liquidity of the auction rate securities markets was entirely dependent on the ability and willingness of these same firms to participate in the auctions — in other words, these firms had to be willing and able to purchase the securities that were not purchased by the other auction market participants. In most cases, these firms were purchasing more securities than the other market participants. The firms (and their representatives) did not disclose these critical facts, but rather, only disclosed that the interest rates paid on the securities was reset at the auctions. In addition, these firms generally failed to inform investors that they would not be able to access their invested capital if the auctions froze.

In 2007, these Wall Street firms came under massive liquidity problems. As a result, these firms made a decision to cease participation in the auction rate markets, leaving investors across the country with illiquid investments that typically paid short-term rates of interest. In some cases, the auction rate securities paid no interest for months at a time. Therefore, investors were left holding a bag of illiquid long-term securities that paid little, if any interest.

Several class actions have been filed across the country on behalf of auction rate securities investors. In addition, numerous securities arbitration claims have been filed by investors. Some of these cases, as well as action by state regulators, has resulted in redemption of some investors’ auction rate securities. However, many investors remain stuck with these illiquid investments.

If you own auction rate securities that have not been redeemed, you may want to contact an attorney to discuss your rights. The Kueser Law Firm is a boutique legal practice that focuses its practice on protecting the rights of investors and recovering investment losses for companies and individuals. You may contact us by completing the form to the right, or by visiting our website.

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