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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JP Morgan Returns More Than $28 Million to Missouri Auction Rate Securities Investors

On September 21, 2009, Missouri Secretary of State Robin Carnahan announced that her office had finalized a consent order with JP Morgan Chase & Co. related to the firm’s marketing and sale of auction rate securities (ARS) to Missouri investors.

According to the press release, Missouri investors will receive more than $28 million. In addition, JP Morgan will pay $86,000 to the Missouri Investor Education and Protection Fund, which is used to educate Missourians about potential investment fraud and other fraudulent schemes.

JP Morgan, like many of the other investment firms across the country marketed auction rate securities as “safe,” “liquid,” and “same as cash,” when, in fact, the investments were subject to the willingness of many of the same firms to provide the necessary liquidity to sustain the auction rate securities market. As these firms’ liquidity began to diminish in late 2007 and early 2008, they became unable to support the market with the necessary liquidity. As a result, in mid-February 2008, the auctions failed and investors were stuck holding long-term and perpetual investments that paid short-term interest rates.

The Kueser Law Firm represents investors in securities arbitration and litigation. 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. Feel free to contact us if you have any questions or would like additional information.

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New York Attorney General Sues Charles Schwab Over Auction Rate Securities (ARS) Sales

Yesterday, August 17, 2009, the Attorney General of the state of New York announced that it had filed a lawsuit against Charles Schwab & Co. for its sales of auction rate securities. According to the press release, the Complaint charges Schwab with violations of the Martin Act for:

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

This is another action by Mr. Cuomo’s office to remedy the massive fraud perpetrated by Wall Street firms relating to auction rate securities. In fact, late last month, the Attorney General announced a $456 million settlement with TD Ameritrade related to its sales of auction rate securities.

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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Message to Investors: Don’t Ignore Losses in Your Investment Accounts

According to a recent article on InvestmentNews.com, a study commissioned by Charles Schwab revealed that a significant percentage of investors are unaware of the losses sustained in their accounts. To make matters worse, more than one-third of the investors surveyed did not know which mutual funds they owned and less than one-third spoke with their financial advisor or stockbroker on a regular basis.

In the article, a Charles Schwab executive was quoted as stating that “some investors tend to be overwhelmed or intimidated by investing.” This is interesting because it confirms the important role that stockbrokers and financial advisors play in investors’ financial decisions. While this seems elementary, it astonishes me as to how many broker-dealers take the position in arbitration cases that the stockbroker or financial adviser played a passive role in the losses sustained in the investor’s accounts.

The survey also reported that 60% of the investors surveyed do not plan to make any changes to their investment allocations following the stock market’s rapid post-September descent. Stockbrokers and financial advisers often tell their clients to “stay the course.” In addition (or alternatively), many advisers and stockbrokers will show their clients charts or other documents that show how following a decline in the stock market a large portion of the recovery often occurs on select days — thus reinforcing their recommendation to stay the course, otherwise taking the risk that the investor will miss those few opportunities to participate in the recovery. Following this recommendation, clients feel forced to hold the same investments that created their losses.

It is important not to ignore losses in your investment accounts for many reasons, including but not limited to the following:

1. It is more difficult to recover from a significant loss than it is to sustain the loss in the first place. For example, if you start with $100,000 in an investment account and you sustain losses of 50%, the value of your account would be $50,000. Therefore, you would need a gain of 100% of this reduced amount ($50,000) in order to recover from the 50% loss you sustained.

2. If you are sustaining losses that cause you to lose sleep (or suffer other emotional distress), your investment accounts are probably invested in an unsuitable manner. This is something that you need to discuss with your stockbroker or financial adviser. If your adviser is unwilling to make significant changes to the accounts, or worse yet, if the stockbroker tries to reassure you that the investments are appropriate, you should seek a second opinion. In addition, you may want to consult with a securities attorney to discuss whether you have a legal claim.

3. If you decide to file a claim related to your losses, any failure to act could reduce or diminish your ability to succeed in arbitration or litigation. Whenever legal action is initiated, there are several issues related to the timing of the investor’s actions and the claim itself that must be considered (including statutes of limiations, equitable defenses, and arbitration eligibility rules).

When a stockbroker or financial adviser makes a recommendation to his or her client, they (and the firms they represent) may be liable for losses resulting from the recommendation. The Kueser Law Firm represents investors in securities arbitration. If you are concerned that your investments have been mismanaged, 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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