Articles Posted in Derivatives

The Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. has adopted new rules mandating that banks collect more collateral, also known as margin, for swaps transactions. This would serve as a type of insurance in the event that trades were to fail.

Swaps involve two parties swapping price swing risks in interest rates, currencies, commodities, and other matters. Manufacturers, financial firms, energy firms, and farmers use swaps to hedge and bet against these swings. Swap dealers and significant swap participants should be registered with the Securities and Exchange Commission and the Commodity Futures Trading Commission. They typically take part in over $8 billion in swaps yearly.

Swaps are part of a multi-trillion-dollar global market of contracts. They let counterparties trade a benchmark or fixed price for one that fluctuates. This allows companies to hedge exposure to the changes in the market in terms of its values and process. The new rules come in the wake of the 2010 Dodd-Frank Act, which required such regulations to lower the risks involved in derivatives.

According to The Wall Street Journal, the FDIC’s new rules seek to prevent the kind of risk-taking that led to the government having to bail out certain firms, such as American International Group Inc. Prior to the financial crisis AIG establish a huge derivatives book. When the trades failed, counterparties demanded that collateral be increased. Because the insurer couldn’t pay, the government had to get involved. If the new rules were in place back then, AIG would have been required to put aside more collateral before getting involved in the contracts. This would have placed a limit on its portfolio’s growth.

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Barclays (BARC) has just settled two Libor-related securities cases alleging mis-selling related to Libor. In the first lawsuit, filed by Guardian Care Homes over interest swaps worth £70M that were linked to the benchmark interest rate, Barclays has agreed to restructure a loan for the home care operator.

The bank had tried to claim the case lacked merit and that it was the home care operator that owed money. Barclays argued that the swaps, purchased in 2007 and 2008, cost the bank millions of pounds when interest rates plunged in the wake of the economic crisis. In 2012, Barclays was fined $450 million for Libor rigging.

The London interbank offered rate is relied on for measuring how much banks are willing to lend each other money. Among the allegations against the firm was that it tried to manipulate and make false reports about benchmark interest rates to benefit its derivatives trading positions. Barclays settled with regulators in the US and the UK.

In the other Libor mis-selling case, the bank has arrived at a “formal” compromise in the securities case involving property firm Domingos Da Silva Teixeira over more rigging claims and Portuguese construction. The company had filed a 11.1 million euro securities case against the bank.

Also, this week, three ex-ICAP (IAP) brokers appeared in court in London to face charges accusing them of running a securities scam to manipulate the Libor benchmark interest rates. ICAP is the biggest interbroker dealer in the world.

The men allegedly engaged in conspiracy to defraud. Their scam allegedly involved Tom Hayes, an ex-yen derivatves trader. He is charged with multiple counts of conspiracy to commit fraud while he worked for UBS (UBS) in Japan.

To date, 10 banks and ICAP have been ordered to pay$6 billion in fines. The Libor rigging scandal spans multiple continents and led to numerous criminal charges. Traders are accused of fixing Libor for profit.

Barclays settles with Guardian Care Homes in Libor-linked court case, The Guardian, April 7, 2014

Three former ICAP brokers in UK court on Libor fixing charges, Reuters, April 15, 2014

Barclays settles second Libor case in week, Telegraph, April 11, 2014

More Blog Posts:
Three Ex-Barclays Employees Charged by UK Prosecutors in Libor Rigging Scandal, Institutional Investor Securities Blog, February 18, 2014

Deutsche Bank, Royal Bank of Scotland Settle & Others for More than $2.3B with European Union Over Interbank Offered Rates, Institutional Investor Securities Blog, December 24, 2013

Barclays LIBOR Manipulation Scam Places Citigroup, Credit Suisse, Deutsche Bank, JP Morgan Chase, and UBS Under The Investigation Microscope, Institutional Investor Securities Blog, July 16, 2012

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The Securities and Exchange Commission says that Merrill Lynch Pierce Fenner & Smith Inc. (MER) will pay $131.8M to settle charges involving allegedly faulty derivatives disclosures. The regulator claims that the firm, which is the largest broker-dealer by client assets, misled investors about certain structured debt products before the economic crisis. By settling, Merrill is not denying or agreeing to the allegations. Also, the brokerage firm was quick to note that the matter for dispute occurred before Bank of America (BAC) acquired it.

According to the Commission, in 2006 and 2007 Merrill Lynch did not tell investors that Magnetar Capital impacted the choice of collateral that was behind specific debt products. The hedge fund purportedly hedged stock positions by shorting against Norma CDO I Ltd. and Octans I CDO Ltd., which are two collateral debt obligations that the firm was selling to customers.

The SEC contends that Merrill used misleading collateral to market these CDO investments. According to Division of Enforcement co-director George Canellos, the materials depicted an independent process for choosing collateral that benefited long-term debt investors and customers did not know about the role Magnetar Capital was playing to choose the underlying portfolios.

According to one brokerage executive who spoke with Advisen, JPMorgan Chase & CO.’s (JPM) admission to the Commodities Futures Trading Commission when settling securities allegations over its London Whale debacle that it engaged in “reckless” trading could get the financial firm into more legal trouble with investors.

The CFTC implied that because of certain “manipulative” actions, JPMorgan managed to sell $7B in derivatives in one day, including $4.6 billion in three hours. That the term “manipulate” was used could prove useful to plaintiffs (The regulator also accused the firm of using manipulative device related to credit default swaps trading, which violated a Dodd-Frank provision prohibiting such behavior). JPMorgan will pay $100 million to settle the securities fraud cause with the agency.

With the Securities and Exchange Commission also now seeking to obtain admission of wrongdoing from defendants in certain instances, such acknowledgments to regulators could impact firm’s insurance coverage terms. Right now, standard directors and officers coverage policies exclude personal profiting, fraud, and other illegal conduct. Admissions of fraud, however, could nullify such policies.

JPMorgan Chase (JPM) has agreed to pay a $920 million fine to resolve securities fraud investigations conducted by the Federal Reserve, the Securities and Exchange Commission, the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency, and the Financial Conduct Authority in London. The probes were related to the multibillion-dollar trading losses the bank is blamed for in last year’s London Whale debacle.

The regulators cited JPMorgan for “deficiencies” related to controls assessments, risk oversight, and internal financial reporting. The bank’s senior management is getting the brunt of the blame for purportedly not citing concerns about the losses to the board. However, no charges have been filed in this case against any executive.

Also, the SEC was able to extract an acknowledgement from JPMorgan that it was in violation of federal securities laws over this matter. This comes in the wake of the regulator’s decision to reverse its policy that previously let banks settle without having to deny or admit to having done anything wrong.

District Court Won’t Stay Derivatives Case Alleging FCPA Violations

The U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Louisiana decided not to stay a shareholder derivative lawsuit accusing Tidewater Inc. of violating the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act. Judge Jane Triche Milazzo believes that a stay would burden not just the court but also the defendants. The court threw out the case last year, concluding that shareholder plaintiff Jonathan Strong, who did not make a presuit demand on the Tidewater board, failed to plead with particularity why such a demand was futile.

Per Strong, the offshore energy services provider violated the act when it ignored payments of about $1.76M that a subsidiary made to government officials in Nigeria, allegedly to get around custom regulation to be able to import vessels into that nation’s waters, and Azerbaijan, allegedly as bribes over tax audits. The derivatives lawsuit was filed after the Tidewater and the subsidiary agreed to pay about $15.5 million in a related settlement with the US Department of Justice and the Securities and Exchange Commission.

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the First Circuit has reinstated the shareholder derivative claims filed by two Puerto Rican pension funds against UBS Financial Services Inc. (UBS) Judge Kermit Lepez said that following de novo review—a district court had dismissed the case on the grounds that a failure to properly plead demand futility was subject to such an examination—it seemed to him that the plaintiffs’ allegations sufficiently show reasonable doubt about six fund directors’ ability to assess the former’s demand to bring this action with the independence and disinterest mandated by Puerto Rican law.

The two pension funds are the owners of shares in closed-end funds that made investments, which were not successful, through UBS entities. Their investment adviser and fund administrator is UBS Trust, which is a UBS Financial affiliate.

According to the court, UBS Financial, which has been Puerto Rico’s Employee Retirement System (ERS) financial adviser for more than five years, underwrote $2.9B of ERS-issued bonds. Meantime, the UBS Trust bought approximately $1.5B of the ERS bonds and then sold them to funds. At issue is about $757M in bonds that the two Puerto Rican funds purchased.

In the wake of JPMorgan Chase’s (JPM) announcement that it lost $2 billion in a trading portfolio that is supposed to hedge against the risks that it takes against its own money, the Securities and Exchange Commission, the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the Federal Reserve and other regulators are launching their respective investigations to find out exactly what happened. JPMorgan is the largest bank in the US.

As the financial firm’s stock plummeted nearly 7% in after-hours trading after the announcement, its CEO, Jamie Dimon, attributed the losses to “many errors, sloppiness and bad judgment.” He also said that the portfolio, which consisted of derivatives, ended up being “riskier” and not as effective as an economic hedge as the financial firm had previously thought. Also seeing drops in their stocks following JPMorgan’s announcement of its massive trading loss were other banks, including Bank of America (BAC), Morgan Stanley (MS), Citigroup (C) and Goldman Sachs (GS)

Now, the SEC and other regulators are looking into whether possible civil violations were involved in JPMorgan’s massive loss. The Commission had recently opened a preliminary probe into the financial firm’s public disclosures about its trades and accounting practices. According to The New York Times, questions regarding JP Morgan’s chief investment office, which is in charge of its hedging activities, were raised in April following reports that a trader in London was taking large bets that were “distorting the market.” Dimon, at the time, dismissed worries about the bank’s trading activities.

The FBI is also looking into potential wrongdoing related to the $2 trading loss.

Known for its excellence in trading until now and earning up to $5.4 billion of securities gains last year, JPMorgan’s chief investment office has now seen a reversal of fortune. Per The New York Times, the financial firm’s problems may have begun with its bond portfolio, which was valued at $379 billion in March. Just 30% of the portfolio had been invested in securities that the federal government had guaranteed—a change from 2010 when government guaranteed bonds made up 42% of the portfolio.

Signs of trouble with JPMorgan’s trading strategy started to brew at the end of March when the market went against corporate bonds. Yet during its first-quarter earnings call in mid-April, Dimon did not give any indication that there were problems with the bank’s trading.

Last week, however, Dimon told a different story by announcing the $2 billion trading loss. He said the investment bank’s problems were caused in part by its value-at-risk measure, which underestimated the losses on hedge funds that depended on credit derivatives. Yet were the trades even actual hedges? Banks have been known to perform elaborate trades that at first seemed to be a hedge but eventually become a bad bet.

SEC Opens Review of JP Morgan, The Wall Street Journal, May 11, 2012

F.B.I. Begins Preliminary Inquiry Into JPMorgan, The New York Times, May 15, 2012

JPMorgan Chase Discloses $2 Billion Trading Loss, NPR/AP, May 11, 2012

More Blog Posts:
Investors Want JP Morgan Chase & Co. To Explain Over $95B of Mortgage-Backed Securities, Institutional Investor Securities Blog, December 17, 2011

Washington Mutual Bank Bondholders’ Securities Fraud Lawsuit Against J.P. Morgan Chase & Co. is Revived by Appeals Court, Institutional Investor Securities Blog, June 29, 2011

JP Morgan Chase To Pay $150M to Settle Securities Lawsuit Over Lending Program Losses of Union Pension Funds, Stockbroker Fraud Blog, March 26, 2012

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According to SEC official Susan Ervin, fund directors are going to be find it increasingly harder to oversee derivative use by investment companies because the markets will become more differentiated. Ervin is the senior adviser to the SEC’s Division of Investment Management director. She made her statements before the Mutual Fund Directors Forum in Washington on April 28 but noted that the views she was expressing are her own.

Ervin said that in the coming years, derivative contracts could be traded on swap execution facilities, exchanges, or over the counter and that it will be hard for fund advisers to manage these different venues. Because of this, fund directors will have to engage in effective oversight.

Another panelist, ProFunds Group general counsel Amy Doberman, says that this oversight will have to be determined by the complexity and kind of funds and the types of derivatives (and their uses). Doberman, however, did also say that directors need to understand certain basics, such as:

• How derivatives move their funds’ investment objectives forward.
• The monitoring, disclosure, and approval processes for derivative use.
• The types of reports that fund advisers can provide regarding derivative use.
• The internal limits and thresholds regarding derivatives use established by fund advisers.

Currently, the SEC is looking at whether there should be new rules or amendments to regulate fund use of derivatives or whether the 1940 Investment Company Act should continue to suffice.

Related Web Resources:
Oversight of Fund Use of Derivatives To Be More Complex, SEC Official Warns, BNA, April 29, 2011

Mutual Fund Directors Forum

More Blog Posts:

Ex-Employee Accuses Bank of America of Securities Fraud Involving Complex Derivatives Products, Stockbroker Fraud Blog, October 29, 2010

Whistleblower Lawsuit Claims Taxpayers Were Defrauded When Federal Government Bailed Out Houston-Based American International Group in 2008, Stockbroker Fraud Blog, May 5, 2011

Lancer Management Group LLC Hedge Fund Manager Acquitted of Charges He Ran Market Manipulation Scam, Institutional Investor Securities Blog, May 5, 2011

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