Advisor Mercer Hicks (Hicks), currently employed by Southeast Investments, N.C., Inc. (Southeast Investments) has been subject to at least five liens, three employment terminations for cause, and one regulatory complaint during the course of his career. According to a BrokerCheck report the customer complaints concern alternative investments such as direct participation products (DPPs) like non-traded real estate investment trusts (REITs), oil & gas programs, annuities, and equipment leasing programs. The attorneys at Gana Weinstein LLP have represented dozens of investors who suffered losses caused by these types of high risk, low reward products.
In December 2019 Hicks was named a respondent in a FINRA complaint alleging that he recommended unsuitable investments to five senior customers to purchase speculative REITs and non-traded business development companies (BDCs). FINRA alleges that the prospectuses and subscription agreements for these non-traded REITs and non-traded BDCs stated that investing in these securities involved a high degree of risk, was speculative, was not suitable for persons who require immediate liquidity, guaranteed income, or seek short-term investments, and was only appropriate for those investors who could afford a complete loss of their investments.
FINRA claims that the five senior customers at issue were not seeking to make speculative, high-risk investments. The customers’ account documents indicated that they were seeking to preserve their capital or capital appreciation. In addition, FINRA claims that some of these customers have encountered difficulties liquidating the investments to obtain funds that they needed to pay for medical care. FINRA alleged that Hicks recommended purchases of unsuitable non-traded REITs and non-traded BDCs to the five senior customers totaling approximately $665,000 while Hicks received a seven percent commission from each sale totaling $46,550.
DDPs include products such as non-traded REITs, oil and gas offerings, equipment leasing products, and other alternative investments. These alternative investments virtually never profit investors and are almost always unsuitable for investors because of their high fee and cost structure. Brokers selling these products are paid additional commission in order to hype these inferior quality investments providing a perverse incentives to create an artificial market for the investments.
Several studies have confirmed that Non-traded REITs underperform publicly traded REITs with some showing that Non-Traded REITs cannot even beat safe benchmarks, like U.S. treasury bonds. Brokers selling these products must disclose to the investor that non-traded REITs provide lower investment returns than treasuries while being high risk and illiquid – but almost never do. Because investors are not compensated with additional return in exchange for higher risk and illiquidity, these kinds of alternative investment products are rarely, if ever, appropriate for investors.
Brokers have a responsibility treat investors fairly which includes obligations such as making only suitable investments for the client after conducting due diligence. Due diligence includes an investigation into the investment’s properties including its benefits, risks, tax consequences, issuer, history, and other relevant factors. Appropriate due diligence would identify that an alternative investment’s high costs, illiquidity, and conflicts of interests that would make the investment not suitable for investors. Investors often fail to understand that they have lost money until many years after agreeing to the investment. In sum, for all of their costs and risks, investors in these programs are in no way additionally compensated for the loss of liquidity, risks, or cost.
Unfortunately, these types of alternative investment products continue to popular among brokers due to their high commissions. In order to counter the perverse incentives to sell these flawed product many states now limit investors from investing more than 10% of their liquid assets in Non-Traded REITs and BDCs. Many states impose these limitations because no rational person can come up with an argument to support the continued sale of these products. Unfortunately for investors there is no regulatory authority in the United States with the ability to analyze investments in order to ban flawed investment products.
Hicks entered the securities industry in 1972. From April 2009 until April 2014 Hicks was registered with Capital Investment Group, Inc. Since April 2014 Hicks has been registered with Southeast Investments out of the firm’s Charlotte, North Carolina office location.
Investors who have suffered losses are encouraged to contact us at (800) 810-4262 for consultation. At Gana Weinstein LLP, our attorneys are experienced representing investors who have suffered securities losses due to the mishandling of their accounts. Claims may be brought in securities arbitration before FINRA. Our consultations are free of charge and the firm is only compensated if you recover.