The law offices of Gana Weinstein LLP are currently representing investors who were surprised to find out that the “bonds” that were recommended by their advisors have almost completely stopped paying interest while plummeting in value. What many investors in this situation did not realize was that they were not sold bonds at all but instead complex structured products that go by a variety of names including steepener notes, adjustable rate market notes, spread linked notes, or structured notes. Regulators have already stated that it is improper to sell these investments as a fixed income substitute or to compare them to bonds in terms of producing a revenue stream. However, in our firm’s experience it appears that many brokers have been selling structured products as bond alternatives.
Structured products range in risk from benign to extreme. However, most structured products produce inferior risk/return profiles than ordinary debt or equity instruments because the brokerage firms that issue these products seek to profit from the spread between the payment to investors and the amount of money the brokerage firm can make from the issuance. When dealing with complex structured products most investors will lack the ability to understand the merits of investments nor are they appropriate for investors seeking a fixed or reliable income and have a desire for preservation of capital.
Some of the more complex structured products that our firm is seeing reference two different bond yield curves and sometimes one stock market index in order to compute if interest will be paid and how much. A math degree is needed to even begin to comprehend the probabilities of payment on these kinds of instruments. The biggest driving factor on payment – assuming the S&P 500 Index performs well – is the spread between interest rates on various treasuries. The structured products often reference the spread between either the 2 year and the 5, 10, and 30 year treasury bonds for the most part. The wider the spread the greater the profit and payment from the structured product.