Articles Posted in Financial Firms

To settle a private securities lawsuit in the US alleging Libor manipulation, HSBC Holdings Plc. (HSBC) has agreed to pay $100M. The bank is accused of conspiring to rig the London interbank offered rated (Libor) benchmark. The plaintiffs in the lawsuit are a number “over-the-counter” investors, including Yale University and the Maryland city of Baltimore, that dealt directly with banks belonging to the panel tasked with determining the key benchmark interest rate. Now, a court will have to approve the preliminary settlement.

The plaintiffs sued 16 banks for alleged Libor rigging in 2011. According to their case, HSBC and other banks conspired together to submit artificially low borrowing costs so that they could appear more financially robust and increase earnings. These lower borrowing costs led to a lower Libor, which had an adverse effect on institutions and persons that invested in pension funds, money market funds, mutual funds, the bond market, a number of derivative products, and bank loan funds.

Libor is the benchmark used to establish rates on hundreds of trillions of dollars of transactions, including those involving credit cards, student loans, and mortgages. It also allows the banks to figure out what it would cost them to borrow from one another.

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Bank of America Merrill Lynch (BAC) will pay a $42M penalty to New York State to settle allegations that it engaged in fraudulent practices involving electronic trading services. According to a press release issued by New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman, the bank admitted that over five years, it “systematically” hid from clients that it was “secretly routing” their equity securities orders to electronic liquidity providers, including Knight Capital, Citadel Securities, Two Sigma Securities, D.E. Shaw, and Madoff Securities, which then executed the transactions.

Bank of America Merrill Lynch, which is Bank of America’s corporate investment banking division, had “undisclosed” agreements with these providers. Its “masking” strategy was used in more than 16 million client orders that involved over 4 billion shares that were traded.

According to the probe by Schneiderman office, and Bank of America Merrill Lynch’s own admission, starting in 2008, the corporate investment banking division purposely took steps to hide that it was sending a number of equity securities orders made by clients to the electronic liquidity providers. Bank of America Merrill Lynch told investors that the orders were executed “in-house.” Meantime, it committed fraud by modifying its electronic trading systems to “automatically doctor” the trade confirmation that clients received after these other firms executed the transactions. Internally, Bank of America Merrill Lynch called this action “masking,” which consisted of replacing the electronic liquidity provider’s identity with a code to make it appear is if a trade execution had taken place through the bank instead.

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The US Securities and Exchange Commission has awarded two whistleblowers almost $50M and another over $33M in the largest whistleblower awards that the regulator has issued to date. This ups the total of SEC whistleblower awards granted to $262M to 53 individuals in the last six years.

According to the SEC Office of the Whistleblower Chief Jane Norberg, these latest awards show that whistleblowers can offer information that is “incredibly significant,” making it possible for the regulator to go after serious violations that could have gone “unnoticed. “ Until these latest awards, the largest SEC whistleblower award granted was $30M in 2014.

Whistleblowers who provide quality, unique information involving securities law violations that lead to a successful enforcement action rendering over $1M in monetary sanctions may be eligible to receive an award that is 10-30% of the funds collected.

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Martin Shkreli to Go to Prison for Seven Years
A federal judge has sentenced former hedge fund manager Martin Shkreli to seven years behind bars. Shkreli was found guilty of defrauding investors of his MSMB Capital Management hedge fund while manipulating the stock of his drug company Retrophin.

His defense team had fought for a lower sentence—12 to 18 months. They pointed out that ultimately none of the investors that Shkreli bilked lost money and he didn’t profit from his fraud. Prosecutors countered that, in fact, Shkreli had caused anywhere from $9M to $20M in losses.

A few days before his criminal sentence was issued, Judge Kiyo Matsumoto ordered that about $7.36M of the ex-hedge fund manager’s assets be surrendered, including a rare Wu-Tang Clan album that he purchased for $2M. Shkreli’s legal team plans to appeal the sentence.

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In yet another mortgaged securities-related resettlement, Royal Bank of Scotland (RBS) has agreed to pay $500M to settle New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman’s case accusing the bank of misrepresentations and deceptive practices related to it sale residential mortgage-backed securities (RMBS). $400M of the payment is consumer relief, while $100M is a fine that will go to the state.

NY’s probe concentrated on 44 mortgage securitizations that RBS issued leading up to the 2008 financial crisis. The NY AG said that during that time, due diligence vendors cautioned the bank that a lot of the loans it was buying were not in compliance with underwriting guidelines. Still, the bank bundled the loans and touted them as secure to investors, many of whom bought the RMBSs.

Schneiderman’s probe found that some of the mortgages backing the bonds at issue had over 100% loan to value ratios, meaning that “they were ‘underwater’.” Now, RBS is admitting that it sold mortgage bonds backed by loans that failed to abide by underwriting guidelines even as the bank maintained that they were, in fact, in compliance. The bank also acknowledged that it had limited how much diligence it performed on mortgages, resulting in a lot of the loans being securitized even though no due diligence was conducted at all.

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SEC Reportedly Investigating Wells Fargo Over Possible Inappropriate Investment Sales to Wealth Management Clients
According to news reports, the US Securities and Exchange Commission is investigating Wells Fargo’s (WFC) Wealth Management unit to see whether its clients were inappropriately sold certain in-house investment services even though these were not in their best interests. A source told Bloomberg that the regulator’s role in the probe has not been publicly disclosed.

However, in a regulatory filing, Wells Fargo revealed that it is looking into whether inappropriate recommendations were made related to 401(k) plan rollovers, alternative investments, and brokerage customer referrals to the firm’s “investment and fiduciary-services business.” The bank noted that it was assessing these matters in its wealth management business in the wake of inquiries made by federal agencies.

Bloomberg notes that it was in 2015 that JPMorgan Chase & Co. (JPM) consented to pay $267M over allegations that its customers were not told that it had profited by placing their funds in certain hedge funds and mutual funds that charged particular fees.

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In a preliminary settled reach in a private US antitrust lawsuit, Deutsche Bank AG (DB) will pay $240M to settle allegations that it conspired with other banks to rig the London interbank offered rate (Libor) benchmark. The plaintiffs in the Libor manipulation lawsuit are “over-the-counter” investors that engaged directly in transactions with banks belonging to the panel tasked with determining the key benchmark.

Banks use Libor to establish rates on mortgage, credit card, student loan, and other transactions, as well as to figure out how much it would cost to borrow from one another. Libor is expected to be phased out before 2022.

Despite settling, the German lender denied any wrongdoing. The settlement must still be approved by a court before it is final.

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The Commodity Futures Trading Commission will pay $30M to one whistleblower who provided information that brought about the $367M asset management settlement in a case against JPMorgan Chase & Co. (JPM). Federal regulators alleged that the bank didn’t tell wealth management clients about conflicts of interests that may have affected how the financial institution managed their money between 2008 and 2013. The two JPMorgan units involved were its nationally chartered bank and its securities subsidy.

JPMorgan, which is the biggest bank in the US according to assets, neglected to tell customers that it made money when it placed their money in hedge funds and mutual funds that earned the firm fees. Both high net worth customers and retail mutual fund customers were purportedly affected.

The bank was also accused of not telling investors that it’s wealth business preferenced its own proprietary products over others’ products when deciding where to invest clients ‘funds. JPMorgan was accused of violating its fiduciary duty when it failed to notify customers that more costly share classes of proprietary mutual funds were chosen for them. Although JPMorgan acknowledged its failure to properly disclose the information, the bank maintained that such omissions were not done on purpose, and it has since remedied the matter.

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In the UK, the Serious Fraud Office is charging Barclays Bank (BARC) with engaging in illegal financial assistance when it gave Qatar Holdings LLC a $3B loan in 2008 so that the latter could acquire shares in Barclays Plc. British prosecutors had previously charged Barclays Plc. and four bank executives with conspiring to commit fraud and providing unlawful financial assistance.

In Britain, public companies are usually not allowed to lend out funds to be used to buy their own shares. Barclays has come under fire for the way it handled investments made by Qatar’s sovereign wealth fund, as well as by a group of investors. The money lent to Barclays is believed to have helped the British Bank avoid getting a tax bailout during the global financial crisis. Such assistance would have likely lead to greater oversight over Barclays and closer examination of how much the bank’s executives were making at the time.

Barclays denies the charges against Barclays Plc. and Barclays Bank, which is its operating arm. Prosecutors, however, believe that the loan funds were put back into the bank to give it the capital it needed.

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In a civil settlement reached with the US Securities and Exchange Commission, Deutsche Bank Securities will repay commercial mortgage-backed securities customers more than $3.7M over allegedly false and misleading statements related to their purchase of these investments. The firm and its ex-CMBS trading desk head trader Benjamin Solomon agreed to resolve the charges against them but without denying or admitting to regulator’s findings.

According to the SEC’s probe, when selling the CMBSs, Deutsche Bank (DB)’s salespeople and traders made statements that were false and misleading. This caused customers to pay too much for the securities because they were not given accurate information about how much the firm had paid for them. Deutsche Bank also is accused of not having properly designed procedures for surveillance and compliance that could stop and identify the types of wrongful behaviors that would cause commercial mortgage-backed securities buyers financial harm while allowing the firm to profit.

To resolve the CMBS fraud charges, Deutsche Bank will pay customers back all profits on the securities’ trades in which a misrepresentation was made. That figure is over $3.7M, including $1.48M of disgorgement. The bank will also pay a $750K penalty.

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