Broker Investigation: Financial Advisor Mark Hughes

shutterstock_29356093The attorneys at Gana Weinstein LLP are interested in speaking with investors of broker Mark Hughes (Hughes) According to the BrokerCheck records kept by Financial Industry Regulatory Authority (FINRA) Hughes has been the subject of at least 7 customer complaints, and 1 regulatory action over the course of his career. The customer complaints against Hughes allege securities law violations that claim excessive trading, unsuitable investments, and unauthorized trading among other claims. The most recent complaint was filed in November 2011, and alleged $500,000 in losses due to unsuitable variable annuities.

The most recent regulatory action was taken by the state of Virginia in 2010, when the state alleged that Hughes violated the states laws by offering and selling leveraged exchanged traded funds (Non-Traditional ETFs) to two Virginia residents when the investment was not suitable for them given their investment objectives, financial situation, risk tolerance, experience, and investment needs. The allegations were settled with the state and resulted in sanctions of $620,000 and the imposition of heightened supervision.

Hughes entered the securities industry in 1993. From June 2004, until November 2007, Hughes was associated with Suntrust Investment Services Inc. From October 2007, until November 2014, Hughes was associated with UBS Financial Services Inc. Presently, Hughes is associated with Oppenheimer & Co. Inc. out of the firm’s Washington, DC branch office location.

As a background, Non-Traditional ETFs behave drastically different and have different risk qualities from traditional ETFs. While traditional ETFs seek to mirror an index or benchmark, Non-Traditional ETFs use a combination of derivatives instruments and debt to multiply returns on underlining assets, often attempting to generate 2 to 3 times the return of the underlining asset class. Non-Traditional ETFs are also used to earn the inverse result of the return of the benchmark.

However, the risks of holding Non-Traditional ETFs go beyond merely multiplying the return on the index. Instead, Non-Traditional ETFs are generally designed to be used only for short term trading as opposed to traditional ETFs. The use of leverage employed by these funds causes their long-term values to be dramatically different than the underlying benchmark over long periods of time. For example, between December 1, 2008, and April 30, 2009, the Dow Jones U.S. Oil & Gas Index gained two percent while the ProShares Ultra Oil and Gas, a fund seeking to deliver twice the index’s daily return fell six percent. In another example, the ProShares UltraShort Oil and Gas, seeks to deliver twice the inverse of the index’s daily return fell by 26 percent over the same period.

Because of these risks, The Securities Exchange Commission (SEC) has warned that most Non-Traditional ETFs reset daily and FINRA has stated that Non-Traditional ETFs are typically not suitable for most retail investors. Consequently these funds typically have very limited uses and in many cases are completely inappropriate for retail investors who have long term objectives. Increasingly, brokerage firms are prohibiting the solicitation of these investments to its customers due to suitability concerns.

Gana Weinstein LLP represents investors who have suffered investment losses due to broker wrongdoing, such as churning and unsuitable investments. The majority of these claims may be brought in securities arbitration before FINRA. Our consultations are free of charge and the firm is only compensated if you recover.

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