Articles Tagged with UBS Bond Funds

shutterstock_185860337A FINRA arbitration panel in San Juan found UBS Financial Services, Inc., and UBS Financial Services Inc. of Puerto Rico liable to Juan Burgos Rosado. The arbitration panel held that UBS must buy back Rosado’s Puerto Rico bond fund portfolio for $1 million.  Rosado invested approximately $737,000 in the UBS closed-end bond funds within four years of opening his accounts in 2011.  In a lengthy ruling by the arbitration panel included several findings of facts, including:

  • We find that, at the time Claimant first invested (2011), the market for these CEFs, being limited to residents of Puerto Rico, was necessarily thin; that it had been to a large extent saturated and liquidity was limited
  • UBS, though not required to do so, had essentially made a market until it determined to reduce its inventory of CEFs

shutterstock_26269225This is the second regulatory action that our firm has tracked concerning brokerage firms recommending concentrated positions in Puerto Rico bond funds without having appropriate supervisory system and procedures designed to identify and review concentrated securities purchases in Puerto Rico closed-end funds.

As we reported, The Financial Industry Regulatory Authority (FINRA) sanctioned Popular Securities, Inc. (Popular Securities) alleging between July 1, 2011, and June 30, 2013, Popular failed to establish and enforce a supervisory system and procedures designed to identify and review concentrated securities purchases in Puerto Rico municipal bonds and Puerto Rico closed-end funds. Now in a similar action, FINRA alleged that between July 1, 2011, and June 30, 2013, Oriental Financial Services Corp. (Oriental) failed to establish, maintain, and enforce, supervisory systems and procedures to identify and review concentrated securities purchases in Puerto Rico municipal bonds and Puerto Rico closed-end bond funds.

Oriental has been a F]NRA member since 1993 and is a subsidiary of OFG Bancorp. Oriental operates out of headquarters in San Juan, Puerto Rico and engages in a general securities business that focuses on Puerto Rico municipal securities and open and closed-end mutual funds. Oriental has 50 brokers located in 12 branch offices.

shutterstock_92699377As our firm has written about on numerous occasions, our firm is currently representing investors who purchased the UBS Puerto Rico closed-end-bond funds and other Puerto Rico municipal debt. The allegations our firm has brought on behalf of clients focuses on UBS’ sales tactics and recommendations to its customers to invest in 23 proprietary closed-end funds. The UBS Puerto Rico bond funds contained substantial risks that allegedly were downplayed by the firm’s advisors in order to generate sales. The funds’ risks included excessive amount of leverage, conflicts of interests, and omission of material information concerning the risky nature of certain of the funds’ holdings.

Many of our clients tell very similar tales about how they were recommended to invest as much as 100% of their portfolios in the UBS Puerto Rico closed-end funds, some through additional margin or bank loans. Now, thanks to an article published by Reuters, Puerto Rico bond fund investors are starting to learn why.

According to the article, a group of brokers came up with a list of 22 reasons why they wanted to stop selling the funds including the facts that the funds suffered from low liquidity, excessive leverage, oversupply and instability, and contained debt underwritten by UBS, a conflict of interests.

shutterstock_180342155Albert Einstein once defined insanity as “doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.” While UBS does not challenge Einstein’s theories in physics it does challenge his thoughts on insanity. According to several news sources, including Financial Advisor Magazine and Reuters, UBS has told its brokers to continue selling its extremely speculative and risky UBS Puerto Rico bond funds to investors even after some investors have lost their entire investment and many others have suffered very substantial losses. Obviously, UBS believes a different result can be achieved with these recommendations. Let’s examine the facts and determine whether UBS has any grounds for such a belief.

Recently, investors have filed more than 500 complaints against UBS concerning the sales of the UBS Puerto Rico bond fund with more cases being filed daily. UBS’ sales tactics and recommendations to its customers to invest in 23 proprietary closed-end funds has come under fire and investors claim that the firm hid the substantial risks of the funds in order to generate sales and lucrative fees. On the surface the funds’ risks include is the excessive amount of leverage the funds employ. UBS leveraged up to 100% of the funds’ investments to raise additional cash, or the borrowing of a dollar for every dollar of capital invested in the funds. U.S. based funds by contrast are not allowed to take on such large leverage risk.

UBS has claimed that these funds have provided excellent returns and tax benefits to investors for decades. These claims appear to be the support for continuing to sell and recommend the bond funds to investors. However, investigations into UBS practices regarding the bond funds reveals that UBS’ decision to continue to sell the funds may come back to haunt the firm.

shutterstock_115937266According to UBS’ second quarter earnings report, the bank is now looking at over $600 million in claims brought by Puerto Rico investors, who have suffered significant losses related to their investments in closed-end bond funds. The Financial Industry Regulatory Authority (FINRA) has been inundated with a plethora of claims in connection with the closed-end UBS Puerto Rico Bond Funds. Investors are looking to be made whole after they purportedly received misleading information regarding these investments. While the majority of the claims were filed against UBS Financial Services of Puerto, other firms, including Merrill Lynch, Banco Popular, Santander Securities, and Oriental Financial Services have also been named as Respondents in many of the claims.

UBS recognizes the perilous situation that it now faces with respect to these claims, explaining, “declines in the market prices of Puerto Rico municipal bonds and of UBS Puerto Rico sole-managed and co-managed closed-end funds since August 2013 have led to multiple regulatory inquiries, as well as customer complaints and arbitrations with aggregate claimed damages exceeding [$]600 million filed by clients in Puerto Rico who own those securities.”

Some of the claims that UBS face, including clients represented by our firm, include allegations of unsuitability, over-concentration, fraud, and breach of contract among others. FINRA and the Municipal Securities Rulemaking Board require broker dealers to have a reasonable basis to support the suitability of their recommendations to customers. Legal representatives for many claimants have said that the UBS employees prioritized commissions when they sold the closed-end bond funds to Puerto Rican investors, who were not economically equipped to make those investments.

shutterstock_151894877The law offices of Gana Weinstein LLP has recently filed securities arbitration case on behalf of an investor against UBS Financial Services, Inc. and UBS Financial Services, Inc. of Puerto Rico (UBS) involving allegations that UBS’ misleading sales tactics and inappropriate recommendations surrounding Puerto Rico bonds in the Claimant’s portfolio. According to the complaint, UBS encouraged a 26 year-old unemployed single mother to invest her life savings in just three Puerto Rico municipal bonds—Puerto Rico Employees Retirement System Bonds (ERS Bond), Puerto Rico Commonwealth Public Buildings Authority Bonds (Commonwealth Bond), and Puerto Rico Industrial, Tourist, Educational, Medical and Environmental Control Facilities Financing Authority (AFICA) Industrial Revenue Refunding Bonds (AFICA Bond). In addition, the complaint alleged that UBS recommended that the Claimant take out significant loans to leverage up her investment in these three bonds that were all hovering just above junk status.

The Claimant is a 26 year-old single mother, dedicates all of her time towards caring for her eighteen-month-old daughter. Unfortunately, the Claimant’s father passed away in October 2010 causing Claimant to receive life insurance proceeds from his passing. The Claimant used some of those proceeds to pay off the debts that she had accrued over the years and sought to use the remaining portion to invest for the future of her and her daughter.

Claimant alleged that UBS completely disregarded the risks inherent to the Puerto Rico municipal bonds and constructed a portfolio comprised solely of these soon-to-be-defunct securities. Claimant’s brokers Ramon M. Almonte (Almonte) and Juan E. Goytia (Goytia), recommended an approximate 130% concentration, through the use of leverage, in municipal debt. Claimant alleged that the bonds were portrayed as safe, secure, fixed-income securities that would preserve her principal while providing tax-free income. Contrary to UBS’ portrayal, the bonds recommended are volatile investments carrying a multitude of risks. According to the complaint UBS’ unsuitable recommendations and inappropriate asset allocation ultimately cost the Claimant most of her money.

shutterstock_168737270This article continues our prior posts concerning a recent report by Bloomberg that noted the rise in rollovers from 401(k) plans into IRA accounts. The article pointed to concerns by regulatory agencies and investors concerning the suitability of the investment choices being recommended by brokers soliciting rollovers.

In another example, a mechanical engineer for Hewlett-Packard in Puerto Rico, rolled over $150,000 from a 401(k) to an IRA with UBS. His broker Luis Roberto Fernandez Diaz, recommended Puerto Rico municipal bond funds that contained a 3 percent upfront sales fee and 1 percent annual expenses. Fernandez’s brokercheck lists 17 customer disputes from 2009 through 2014. As we have reported on multiple occasions, our firm represents investors in claims against UBS concerning the firm’s practices in overconcentrating many of their client’s assets in these speculative highly leveraged bond funds. Those articles can be found here, here, and here.

In the case of an IRA, it makes little sense for a financial adviser to recommend investing in municipal bonds because the bonds main advantage is tax avoidance which already is a benefit of investing in an IRA. The investor interviewed by Bloomberg, says that the bonds plunged in value because of the deteriorating finances of Puerto Rico and are only worth $90,000.

shutterstock_115937266A recent article by Bloomberg highlighted a disturbing trend whereby brokers of independent brokerage firms have been able to make substantial profits while providing allegedly unsuitable investment advice and potentially tanking the retirement savings of potentially hundreds and maybe thousands of blue collar workers. These brokerage firms have been able to tap into large corporations with thousands of employees with 401(k) plans and convince them to rollover their accounts to their firm into IRAs. Once there, the brokers recommend unsuitable investments in an already tax-deffered account such as municipal bond funds and variable annuities. Some of the investments are extremely speculative and carry huge commissions and fees. In the end the brokers make hundreds of thousands in commissions while the investor is left with a depleted retirement account.

How the practice works is that brokers form connections with large employers in order to pitch their investment services to employees. Because the employer allows the broker to use their offices and facilities to pitch their investment services, employees often mistakenly believe that the company endorses or has otherwise evaluated the broker. In fact, these companies often have little to no relationship with the broker or a defined screening process.

According to Bloomberg, employees shifted $321 billion from 401(k)-style plans to individual retirement accounts in 2012. As a result, IRAs account assets are up to $6.5 trillion, more than the $5.9 trillion contained in 401(k)-style accounts. However, the shifts have been used by some Wall Street firms to profit at their client’s expense. IRAs often charge higher fees than 401(k) plans which provides brokers an incentive to promote rollovers.

On Monday, April 14, 2014, the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority (FINRA) announced that it would lift the hold that it had put on some cases related to the collapse of Puerto Rico Bond Funds.

FINRA has been able to expand its pool of arbitrators that will be available to hear the cases. There are approximately 700 eligible arbitrators on its roster who have agreed to serve in Puerto Rico, where the majority of the 209 cases received to this point, are to be heard.

Last summer, investor fears began to rise when Detroit filed for bankruptcy. Investors, seeing a city go bankrupt, became concerned with Puerto Rico’s $70 billion in municipal debt. As fear set in, investors in the UBS Puerto Rico family of closed-end municipal bond funds began to lose billions. Nineteen of these funds lost $1.66 billion during the first nine months of 2013.

UBS Puerto Rico operates 23 proprietary non-exchange-traded closed-end funds (UBS Funds).   UBS is one of the key players in the Puerto Rico municipal debt market and has packaged and sold approximately $10 billion in municipal debt through the UBS Funds.

It has been alleged that UBS marketed the UBS Funds to customers as income producing municipal bond funds that were designed to preserve investor principal.  Over a number of years, UBS allegedly had its advisors over-concentrate thousands of its Puerto Rican clients in the UBS Funds.  However, at the same time that UBS recommended the UBS Funds to clients, UBS allegedly liquidated its own UBS Fund assets due to the firm’s internal analysis that found that the Funds contained excessive risks.

Over the summer of 2013, the market for Puerto Rico’s $70 billion municipal debt began to evaporate. As the value of the UBS Funds has plummeted by 50-60% in value in a matter of months investor complaints filed with the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority Inc. (FINRA) have increased.