Morgan Stanley Faces $1M FINRA Fine for Excessive Markups and Markdowns on Corporate and Municipal Bond Transactions

The Financial Industry Regulatory Authority has fined Morgan Stanley Smith Barney LLC and Morgan Stanley & Co. Inc. $1 million for charging excessive markdowns and markups to corporate and municipal bond transactions clients. The SRO has also ordered that the financial firm pay $371,000 plus interest in restitution to these investors. By agreeing to settle, Morgan Stanley has not denied or admitted to the securities charges.

According to FINRA, the markdowns and markups that Morgan Stanley charged ranged from under 5% to 13.8%. Considering how much it costs to execute transactions, market conditions, and the services valued, these charge were too much.

The SRO also determined that the financial firm had an inadequate supervisory system for overseeing markups and markdowns of corporate and municipal bonds. Morgan Stanley must now modify its written supervisory procedures dealing with markups and markdowns involving fixed income transactions.

FINRA Market Regulation Executive Vice President Thomas Gira has said that Morgan Stanley violated fair pricing standards. He noted is important for financial firms that sell and purchase securities to make sure that clients are given reasonable and fair prices whether/not a markdown or markup exceeds or is lower than 5%.

A Markup is what is charged above market value. It is usually charged on principal transactions involving NASDAQ and other OTC equity securities. Markups on principal transactions usually factor in the type of security, its availability, price, order size, disclosure before the transaction is effected, the type of business involved, and the general markups pattern at a firm.

A markup on an equities security that is over 5% is seldom considered reasonable or fair. Regulators have rules in place for how much registered representatives can charge customers for services rendered. Not only do the charges have to be reasonable, but also they must be fair and not show particular preferences to any clients.

The 5% policy also applies to agency transactions. Commissions for such transactions also must be “fair and reasonable.” Commissions that go above that must be justified and are often closely examined by regulators.
While most securities professionals are committed to doing their jobs fairly and ethically, there are those determined to take advantage of the system to defraud investors. There are also honest mistakes that can occur that also can result in investor losses.

Financial firms and their representatives are responsible for protecting investors and their money from unnecessary losses resulting from securities fraud or other negligence.

Morgan Stanley Fined $1M Over Muni-Bond Markups, Bloomberg, November 10, 2011

FINRA Fines Morgan Stanley $1 Million and Orders Restitution of $371,000 for Excessive Markups and Markdowns, FINRA, November 10, 2011

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Whistleblower Claims SEC is Illegally Destroying Records of Closed Enforcement Cases, Institutional Investor Securities Blog, August 31, 2011

Ex-Bank of America Employee Pleads Guilty to Mortgage Fraud Scam Using Stolen Identities to Buy Homes Not For Sale, Institutional Investor Securities Blog, August 30, 2011

Securities Lawsuits Expected to Reach Record High in ’11, Says Advisen Ltd. Report, Institutional Investor Securities Blog, April 23, 2011

**This blog has been backdated.

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