Articles Posted in Auction-Rate Securities

Merrill Lynch Pierce Fenner & Smith, a Bank of America (BAC) unit will pay Tutor Perini Corp. $37M to settle a securities case accusing the broker-dealer of selling the construction company millions of dollars of auction-rate securities (ARS) without giving it the heads up that the market was likely to experience a “spectacular crash.” Despite settling, neither party is admitting to wrongdoing.

Tutor Perini, which brought its ARS fraud case in 2011, claims that the brokerage firm, then called Banc of America Securities LLC, purposely directed it to buy ARS in 2008 even while knowing that the investments were problematic. By December 2007, the construction company had invested about $196M in ARSs. After the market failed Tutor Perini said that it had no choice but to sell the securities at a huge discount in a secondary market.

A district judge initially granted the broker-dealer summary judgment based on the determination that the construction company did not demonstrate misconduct by the Bank of America unit when the latter sold student loan-backed ARSs. Last year, however, the First Circuit partially reversed that ruling after finding that a jury could potentially determine that at least some of the ARSs bought by the construction company were a result of assessments that proved inaccurate because the broker-dealer did not examine certain key developments. Reviving the lawsuit, the federal appeals court said that dismissing certain Massachusetts state securities fraud claims and federal claims was a mistake.

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Goldman Sachs and Reno, NV Settle Securities Fraud Case 
According to the Reno Gazette-Journal, the city of Reno is about to settle its securities fraud lawsuit against Goldman Sachs (GS) for $750K. Nevada’s capital city claims that the firm misled it into taking on risky debt that nearly caused Reno to become insolvent. The Reno City Council will vote on approving the settlement next week. Other details of the settlement remain undisclosed at this time.

The auction-rate securities lawsuit involved over $210M in bonds issued by Reno in ’05 and ’06 to refinance the debt for an events center and another facility. The city claims that Goldman Sachs never disclosed that the ARS market was very risky or that the firm was bidding interest rates down to hold up the market.

When the financial collapse happened in 2008 and banks ceased to bid on auction rates, rates went soaring. This left Reno with a 15% debt interest rate and millions of dollars in penalties that it now owed Goldman. For example, in 2012 Reno paid the firm $2.6M. It paid the Goldman Sachs $7M the following year.

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The 1st U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Boston has resuscitated Tutor Perini Corp.’s (TPC) securities fraud lawsuit against Bank of America (BAC). Circuit Judge Ojetta Rogeriee Thompson said that a district court judge made a mistake when tossing the Massachusetts and federal securities claims accusing the bank of selling the construction company millions of dollars in auction-rate securities that it knew were about to fail.

Tutor Perini, which is estimating over $50M plus interest in losses, claims that Bank of America persuaded it to purchase ARSs prior to the financial crisis, toward the end of 2007 and the beginning of 2008, even though it knew that the securities were on the brink of becoming illiquid. It was in February 2008 that the dealer stopped supporting the $330B ARS market, leaving investors with debt that was illiquid—debt that they had been reassured time and again was liquid, like cash. Instead, investors were unable to access their funds.

In 2015, the district court judge dismissed Tutor Perini’s ARS fraud case, noting that Bank of America did not have the “duty” to reveal every fact about the risks involved to the construction company and that the bank had, in fact, already made a number of disclosures. Judge Thompson, however, said that because the ARS market was failing, this might have meant that Bank of America now had the duty to warn about the new risks, including those involving its earlier recommendations. Thompson noted that a jury could very well find that as the bank had sought to protect itself from the ARS market, it pushed the construction company toward greater exposure.

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A New York Appellate Division’s panel has unanimously agreed to revive the state attorney general’s auction-rate securities lawsuit against Charles Schwab and Co. (SCHW). The 2009 securities case accuses the financial firm of committing fraud in its sale and marketing of the financial instruments. The decision reverses a state judge’s ruling to throw out the complaint.

According to the NY ARS lawsuit, the broker-dealer’s brokers made false representations that the securities were safe and liquid. In a 4-0 decision, the appeals panel said that the state had given enough evidence to merit a trial on two claims submitted per its Martin Act, a 1921 law that gives the attorney general of New York the ability to prosecute fraud without proof of intent. Under the law fraud is defined as acts that involve misleading or fooling the public.

Per the panel’s ruling, the claims are revived only as it pertains Schwab’s alleged misconduct before 9/5/07, which is when the first ARS sold by Schwab failed. The state wants the company to repurchase securities from customers and pay civil penalties and restitution.

A district court judge in Minnesota has ordered a $125 million auction-rate securities arbitration case filed by Allina Health System against UBS (UBS) to proceed.

U.S. District Judge Michael Davis found that claimant Allina is indeed a UBS client even though the financial firm had argued that under Financial Industry Regulatory Authority rules ARS issuers are not underwriter customers. The Minnesota non-profit healthcare system had filed its securities claim over ARS it issued in October 2007 that were part of a $475 million bond issuance to finance renovations and remodeling, as well as refinance debt. UBS was its underwriter.

Allina contends that the market collapsed in 2008 because UBS and other financial firms stopped putting in support bids to keep auctions from failing. The healthcare group says that because of this, it had to pay a great deal of money to refinance the securities and make higher bound payments after losing its bond insurance. Allina claims that UBS did not properly represent the ARS market risks, breached its fiduciary duties, and violated state and federal securities laws.

A US District judge is ordering Morgan Keegan & Co. to repurchase auction-rate securities and make a payment of $110,500 in an ARS lawsuit filed by the SEC that accuses the financial firm of misleading investors about these investments’ risks. The SEC contends that the $2.2B in securities that the firm sold left clients with frozen funds when the market failed in 2008.

Even after the financial firm started buying back ARS—it has since repurchased $2B in ARS of its own accord—the SEC decided to proceed with its securities case. The Commission contends that even as the ARS market failed, Morgan Keegan told clients that the securities being sold came with “zero risk” and were short-term investments that were liquid.

Now, Judge William Duffey Jr. has found that although Morgan Keegan’s brokers did not act fraudulently, some of them acted negligently when they left out key information and made misrepresentations when selling the securities. This including not apprising investors about the risk of failure, liquidity loss, or that interest rates might vary.

Duffey is the same judge who dismissed this very case in 2011. However, last May, the US Court of Appeals in Atlanta overturned his decision after determining that he wrongly found that verbal comments made to certain customers were not material because of disclosures that could be found on the financial firm’s web site.

Morgan Keegan Trial Judge to Decide SEC Case He Dismissed, Bloomberg.com, November 26, 2012

More Blog Posts:
Morgan Keegan Founder Faces SEC Charges Over Mortgage-Backed Securities Asset Pricing in Mutual Funds, Institutional Investor Securities Blog, December 17, 2012

Judge that Dismissed Regulators’ Claims Against Morgan Keegan to Rule on ARS Lawsuit Again After His Ruling Was Reversed on Appeal, Institutional Investor Securities Blog, November 27, 2012

Court Upholds Ex-NBA Star Horace Grant $1.46M FINRA Arbitration Award from Morgan Keegan & Co. Over Mortgage-Backed Bond Losses, Stockbroker fraud Blog, October 30, 2012

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A Financial Industry Regulatory Authority arbitration panel says that Oppenheimer & Co. has to pay US Airways Group Inc. (LCCC) $30 million for losses that the latter sustained in auction-rate securities. The securities arbitration case is related to the airline group’s contention that the financial firm and one of its former brokers misrepresented certain ARS that were structured and private placement.

US Airways had initially sought $110M in compensatory damages and $26 million in interest and legal fees. The FINRA panel, however, decided that Oppenheimer and its ex-broker, Victor Woo, owed $30 million—Woo’s part will not be greater than what he made in commissions. Oppenheimer is now thinking about whether to submit a motion to vacate the arbitration panel’s order.

The financial firm is, however, going to go ahead with the arbitration it had filed against Deutsche Bank (DB) to get back the award money and associated costs from this case. Oppenheimer’s claim against Deutsche Bank is linked to the US Airways case but became a separate proceeding in 2010.

Almost a year and a half after US District Judge William Duffey Jr. dismissed the SEC’s lawsuit accusing Morgan Keegan & Co. of misleading thousands of auction-rate securities investors about the risks involved with these investments, he must now rule on the same case again. This latest trial in federal court comes after the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Montgomery, Alabama dismissed Duffey’s decision on the grounds that he erred when he concluded that the verbal comments made by brokers to four clients were immaterial because of disclosures that were on the retail brokerage firm’s website. Morgan Keegan is a Raymond James Financial (RJF.N) unit.

In SEC v. Morgan Keegan & Company Inc., regulators are claiming that the brokerage firm told its clients that over $2B securities came with no risk, even as the ARS market was failing, and that the investments were short-term and liquid. The commission filed its ARS fraud lawsuit against the broker-dealer in 2009.

During opening statements at this latest trial, prosecutors again contended that the brokers did not tell the investors that their cash could become frozen indefinitely. Reports Bloomberg News, orange grower John Tilis, who is a witness in this case, said that he decided to invest $400K in ARS in 2007 because he thought they were a safe place to keep his money until he had to pay taxes in April the next year. Tilis claims that the firm’s broker had informed him that he would be easily able to get his funds when he needed them. Yet when Tilis attempted to do so, he said that all the broker would tell him is that the ARS couldn’t be sold. (Morgan Keegan later refunded his principal.)

The SEC is arguing that Morgan Keegan found out about a number of failed auctions in November of 2007. In March 2008, one month after even more auctions had begun failing, the brokerage company started mandating that customers that wanted to buy ARS sign statements noting that they were aware that it might be some time before the investments became liquid again.

Meanwhile, Morgan Keegan is maintaining that it did not fail to inform clients about the risks involved in auction-rate securities, which had a history of being very “safe and liquid.” The firm contends that not being able to predict the future is not the same as securities fraud (Duffey noted this same logic when he dismissed the SEC lawsuit last year), and that even prior to the SEC lawsuit, it bought back $2B in ARS from clients. Morgan Keegan says that those who took part in the buyback program did not lose any money.

Morgan Keegan Trial Judge to Decide SEC Case He Dismissed, Bloomberg, November 26, 2012

U.S. SEC fraud lawsuit vs Morgan Keegan revived, Reuters, May 2, 2012

SEC v. Morgan Keegan & Company Inc. (PDF)


More Blog Posts:

The 11th Circuit Revives SEC Fraud Lawsuit Against Morgan Keegan Over Auction-Rate Securities, Institutional Investor Securities Blog, May 8, 2012

Court Upholds Ex-NBA Star Horace Grant $1.46M FINRA Arbitration Award from Morgan Keegan & Co. Over Mortgage-Backed Bond Losses, Stockbroker fraud Blog, October 30, 2012

Morgan Keegan & Company Ordered by FINRA to Pay $555,400 in Texas Securities Case Involving Morgan Keegan Proprietary Funds, Stockbroker fraud Blog, September 6, 2011

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The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit has affirmed a lower court’s ruling to dismiss the ARS lawsuit filed against Merrill Lynch (MER), Merrill Lynch, Pierce, Fenner, and Smith Inc. ( MLPF&S), Moody’s Investor Services (MCO), and the McGraw-Hill Companies, Inc. (MHP). Pursuant to state and federal law, plaintiff Anschutz Corp., which was left with $18.95 million of illiquid auction-rate securities when the market failed, had brought claims alleging market manipulation, negligent misrepresentation, and control person liability. The case is Anschutz Corp. v. Merrill Lynch & Co. Inc.

According to the court, Merrill Lynch underwrote a number of the Anchorage Finance ARS and Dutch Harbor ARS offerings in which Anschutz Corp. invested. To keep auction failures from happening, Merrill was also involved as a seller and buyer in the ARS auctions and had its own account. Placing these support bids in both ARS auctions allowed Merrill to make sure that they would clear regardless of the orders placed by others. The financial firm is said to have been aware that the ARS demand was not enough to “feed the auctions” unless it too made bids and that its clients did not know of the full extent of these practices.

Per its securities complaint, Anschutz contends that the description of Merrill’s ARS practices, which were published on the financial firm’s website beginning in 2006, were misleading, untrue, and “inadequate.” The plaintiff accused the credit rating agency defendants of giving the ARS offerings ratings that also were misleading and false and should have been lowered (at the latest) in early 2007 when Merrill knew or should have known that the ratings they did receive were unwarranted.

The U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia said that Citigroup (C) and UBS (UBS)cannot preliminarily enjoin Financial Industry Regulatory Authority arbitration over an auction-rate securities offering that did not succeed. The case is UBS Financial Services Inc. v. Carilion Clinic. Carilion is a nonprofit health care and the two financial services firms had provided it with services, including underwriting, for an issuance of auction rate securities that ended up failing.

Per Judge John Gibney, Jr., in 2005, the nonprofit had looked to Citigroup and UBS for help in raising raise $308.465 million to renovate and grow its medical facilities. The two financial firms allegedly recommended that Carilion issue $72.24 million of bonds as variable demand rate obligations. The nonprofit then issued the rest of the funds—$234 million—as ARS, which are at the center of the case.

After the ARS market failed in 2008, the interest rates on Carillion’s ARS went up, forcing the nonprofit to refinance its debt so it wouldn’t have to contend with even higher rates. The auctions then started failing.

Carilion contends that it didn’t know that UBS and Citigroup had been helping to hold up the ARS market prior to its collapse (which they then stopped doing) and said it wouldn’t have issued the securities if they had known that this was the case. The nonprofit filed FINRA arbitration proceedings against the two financial firms and said it could submit the dispute as a “customer” of both even though arbitration isn’t a provision of their written agreements.

Citigroup and UBS sought to bar the arbitration with their motion for a preliminary injunction. The district court, however, rejected their contention that the nonprofit is not a customer of theirs (if this had been determined to be true, then Carilion would not be able to arbitrate against them in front of FINRA). It said that the nonprofit was a “customer,” to both UBS and Citigroup, seeing as both firms provided it with numerous financial services and were paid accordingly.

The court also turned down the financial firms’ argument that Carilion had waived its right to arbitration when it consented to a mandatory forum selection clause that requires for disputes to go through the litigation in front of the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York. It pointed out that the “forum selection clause” could only be found in the agreements with one of the parties and that language used, as it relates to arbitration, is ambiguous and would not be interpreted as a waiver of Carillion’s arbitration rights.

Carilion can therefore go ahead and have FINRA preside over its arbitration dispute.

UBS Financial Services Inc. v. Carilion Clinic, Reuters, July 30, 2012

More Blog Posts:
Texas Securities Fraud: BNY Mellon Capital Markets LLC Settles Allegations of Rigged Bond Bidding for $1.3M, Stockbroker Fraud Blog, January 24, 2012

Securities Claims Accusing Merrill Lynch of Concealing Its Auction-Rate Securities Practices Are Dismissed by Appeals Court, Stockbroker Fraud Blog, November 20, 2012

The 11th Circuit Revives SEC Fraud Lawsuit Against Morgan Keegan Over Auction-Rate Securities, Institutional Investor Securities Blog, May 8, 2012

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