Articles Posted in Exchange-Traded Funds

The US Securities and Exchange Commission has imposed a $1.75M penalty on Ameriprise (AMP) related to its sale of F-Squared Alpha Sector strategies. The financial firm must also disgorge $7.3M.

According to the regulator, F-Squared Investments made mistakes when calculating the historical performance of its Alpha Sector investment strategies. These sector rotation strategies were predicated upon the use of an algorithm that gave off a “signal” noting whether to sell or purchase certain exchange-traded funds that collectively comprised the industries in the S & P 500 Index.

However, claimed the regulator, F-Squared erred when it implemented these signals prior to when they could have happened. The Commission accused the firm of employing back-tested and hypothetical historical performance data that was inflated, rather than using what the AlphaSector’s performance would have been if there hadn’t been any signal-related errors, to come up with the investment’s track record.

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Craig Scott Capital, LLC Loses FINRA Membership After Its Representatives Are Accused of Excessive Trading
The Financial Industry Regulatory Authority has expelled Craig Scott Capital, LLC over finding that three of the firm’s registered representatives allegedly engaged in excessive trading in the accounts of customers. The self-regulatory organization said that the charges imposed on customers, including markdowns, markups, and commissions, were not in line with the latter’s financial states and goals.

Now, FINRA is holding Craig Scott Capital accountable for the excessive trading, which it described as churning. This type of excessive trading involves making trades in a customer’s account in order to earn a commission.

FINRA is also accusing the firm of not putting into place and enforcing a “reasonable supervisory system” to prevent excessive trading and failing to properly supervise the registered representatives involved in the alleged wrongdoing so these behaviors could have been prevented. The regulator accused Craig Scott’s owners of not taking reasonable action even though they detected the red flags indicating that excessive trading might be taking place.

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A federal jury in Boston has found Howard Present, the ex-CEO of F-Squared Investments Inc., liable in the US Securities and Exchange Commission’s civil lawsuit alleging exchange-traded fund fraud. The ruling determined that Present was in violation of the Investment Advisers Act.

According to the regulator, Present sought to defraud investors and acted recklessly in the way he marketed the history of the AlphaSector, which was F-Squared’s flagship product.

The SEC filed its securities fraud lawsuit against Present in 2014. That was when the regulator announced a $35M settlement reached with F-Squared, in which the firm admitted wrongdoing over claims that it misled investors in the way that it falsely marketed AlphaSector as having a lengthy and successful track record that utilized a strategy that a multibillion-dollar wealth manager had developed.

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Asset Manager Accused of Operating ETF Without Necessary Exemption

The US Securities and Exchange Commission said that BlackRock Fund Advisors (BLK) will pay $1.5M to resolve charges accusing the asset manager of advising an exchange-traded fund to violate the Investment Company Act. BlackRock ran the Russia Fund ETF with out the necessary exemptive order from 12/2010 to 1/2015. The exemptive order is necessary because there are some ETF traits that would cause the fund and dealers to violate the Act were it not for having an order.

According to the Commission, BlackRock was notified in 2011 that the exemptive relief that had been issued to other investment companies that it advised could not be applied to funds that were organized separately. Despite knowing this, BlackRock is said to have kept running the ETF without the necessary exemption. It wasn’t until 2015 when, after more talks with the SEC, that the asset manager merged the Russia Fund ETF with another investment company that it advised. It could then apply another acquired exemptive relief to the Russia Fund ETF.

Ex-Investment Adviser Loses Arbitration Claim Over Gold Exchange-Traded Fund
Ex-financial adviser Dawn Bennett is on the losing end of a $1M securities arbitration claim brought by a former client who claims that she recommended he invest in a gold exchange-traded fund. Steven Santagati brought his ETF securities case to the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority. He alleged failure to supervise, breach of fiduciary duty, and negligence.

InvestmentNews reports that in an interview this week, Santagati accused Bennett of taking advantage of his lack of understanding about “financial details.” Santagati said that Bennett leveraged his account and invested in risky investments, including the SPDR Gold Shares exchange traded fund.

Finra awarded Santagati $746K. Western International Securities, which was Bennett’s ex-brokerage firm, and her Bennett Group Financial Services are additional respondents in this case. They were found “jointly and severally” liable for the violations. In addition to Santagati’s award, they must pay $27K in expert witness fees and $252K in legal fees.

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The US Securities and Exchange Commission is expected to charge Navellier & Associates with fraud. The registered investment advisor, in a Form ADV brochure filing, disclosed that the regulator’s enforcement staff had preliminarily determined to recommend that the SEC file a case.

The Commission has been investigating advisory firms that marketed F-Squared Investments-related exchange-traded fund investment strategies. F-Squared Investments admitted that some of its marketing strategy performance records were inflated.

Last year, at least 13 brokerage firms and RIAs settled with the SEC for including the Boston-based firm’s claims in their own marketing collateral, including that the AlphaSector ETF strategy had been out-performing the S & P 500 for a number of years. F-Squared promoted the strategy as utilizing an algorithm that could indicate when it was time to sell.

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Pacific Investment Management Company (PIMCO) has agreed to settle the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission’s charges accusing the firm of misleading investors about the performance of one of its exchange-traded funds and not placing an accurate value on certain fund securities. As part of the settlement, PIMCO will pay almost $20M and hire an independent compliance consultant.

The regulator contends that investors were drawn to the Pimco Total Return Active ETF after, within months of its launch in 2012, it did well enough to outperform the investment management firm’s flagship mutual fund. The fund was previously managed by Bill Gross, PIMCO’s co-founder, and it was intended to mirror PIMCO’s flagship Total Return Fund.

Although Pimco Total Return Active ETF’s initial success is linked to the smaller-sized bonds that were purchased to help boost early performance, in its yearly and monthly reports PIMCO purportedly gave investors other reasons for these early results that were “misleading.” Meantime, the SEC said, PIMCO did not disclose that the initial performance success was a result of an “odd lot strategy”—referring to the purchase of the smaller bonds, which were non-agency mortgage-backed securities—and that this approach that would not be sustainable as the fund continued to grow.

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The U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission has imposed penalties against more than a dozen investment advisory firms because they purportedly spread false claims made by F-Squared Investments about its Alpha Sector strategy. The SEC said that the firms violated securities laws.

According to the regulator, which conducted an enforcement sweep, 13 firms accepted y F-Squared’s false claim that its exchange-traded funds’ investing strategy had outperformed the S & P index for a number of years. The firms touted these claims when recommending the investment to their clients. The SEC said that they did this without first obtaining adequate documentation to confirm that what F-Squared had told them was true.

It was in 2014 that F-Squared admitted to wrongdoing and consented to pay $35M to settle allegations accusing it of using false performance information about its key product to bilk investors. The SEC said that F-Squared falsely advertised its supposed successful multi-year performance record. Unfortunately, that supposed time period for this performance record would have taken place before key algorithm that had been touted for this success even existed.

In reality, backtesting had been used to come up with a “hypothetical performance” from the noted period of supposed success. Yet, F-Squared and ex-CEO Howard Present marketed AlphaSector as “not backtested.” Also, the hypothetical information included a performance calculation mistake that increased results by about 350%.

Penalties for the 13 firms vary in amount from $100K to $500K. These were determined according to the fees they respectively made from strategies related to AlphaSector.

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BNY Mellon to Pay Massachusetts $3M Over Computer Problem That Impacted Mutual Funds
Bank of New York Mellon (BK) will pay $3 million to the state of Massachusetts to resolve a probe that found that a computer glitch did not calculate net asset values for over 1,000 mutual funds. Although the bank hired SunGard InvestOne to calculate these values, there was one weekend last year when a malfunction occurred.

The Massachusetts Securities Division conducted an investigation and discovered that BNY Mellon lacked a back-up plan to deal with such a malfunction. Because of this, non-uniform and untimely information was sent to clients and funds. As Secretary of the Commonwealth William F. Galvin noted, it is the job of financial institutions like BNY Mellon to oversee third-party vendors and put into place a back-up plan in the event a vendor’s system fails. The bank says that in the wake of the outage, it took action to protect client interests and ensure that the daily net asset values were issued.

BNY Mellon said that it has since made investors and the funds that sustained losses because of the computer error whole. The bank has made changes to supervisory procedures.

WedBush to Pay $675K Fine to Nasdaq and FINRA over Trading and Clearing Errors Involving Exchange-Traded Funds
Wedbush Securities Inc. will pay a $675K fine to the Nasdaq Stock Market and the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority Inc. over clearing and trading mistakes involving redemption and trading activities related to leveraged ETFs. Wedbush served as Scout Trading, LLC’s clearing firm.

According to FINRA, from 1/10 to 2/12, Scout Trading was not long enough in the shares that made up the redemption orders. Scott Trading turned in more than 250 naked redemption orders via Wedbush. These involved nearly a dozen ETFS that totaled over 295 million shares. This activity and ETF shortselling on the second market by Scout Trading led to Wedbush’s failure to deliver on a number of occasions. (This could have led to a naked short sale in which the seller does not arrange to borrow the securities in a manner timely enough for the buyer to receive the delivery within the standard three days.)

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The Securities and Exchange Commission says that Virtus Investment Advisers will pay $16.5M to resolve charges accusing the investment management firm of misleading mutual fund investors and others using ads with false historical performance information about exchange-traded fund portfolio strategy AlphaSector. According to the regulator, the firm publicized a performance track record that it got from F-Squared that was substantially overstated. Virtus had hired F-Squared as a mutual fund subadvisor as well as a subadvisor for those that followed AlphaSector.

The SEC, following its probe, said that Virtus falsely stated in SEC filings, client presentations, marketing collateral, and other communications that the AlphaSector’s strategy had a performance history going as far back as 2001 and had for a number years outperformed the S & P 500 Index. The investment management firm is accused of accepting F-Squared’s misrepresentations as fact while disregarding the red flags that raised doubts about these statements.

Six years ago Virtus recommended that shareholders of specific mutual funds and the boards of trustees approve a modification in strategy and management to AlphaSector and F-Squared. This recommendation was made because of the false historical data on AlphaSector.

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