Articles Tagged with UBS Puerto Rico

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_175000886The Financial Industry Regulatory Authority (FINRA) recently 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.

Popular has been a FINRA member since 1980, is headquartered in San Juan, Puerto Rico and engages in a general securities business, including customer purchases and sales of Puerto Rico municipal securities and open and closed-end mutual funds. The Firm has approximately 120 registered representatives located in its 9 branch offices.

Puerto Rico Bond Funds were sold as providing Puerto Rico residents with various tax benefits including exemption from US. estate and gift taxes. In addition, the Puerto Rico Bond Funds offered a triple tax benefit to investors. However, in December 2012, Puerto Rico general obligation and related bonds ratings were downgraded. Then, six months later in June 2013, the Puerto Rico Power Authority (PREPA) revenue bonds ratings were also downgraded.

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_180968000On October 9, 2014, Puerto Rico’s Office of the Commissioner of Financial Institutions (OCFI) has settled its claims with UBS Financial Services Incorporated of Puerto Rico (UBS Puerto Rico) over UBS’s sale of closed-end mutual funds in Puerto Rico. The OCFI conducted a routine examination from October 15, 2013 through June 27, 2014. The examination of UBS Puerto Rico was conducted to determine if the firm complied with the Puerto Rico Uniform Securities ACT Regulation No. 6078.

The OCFI interviewed a sample of clients and examined whether certain former and current UBS Puerto Rico brokers either (i) recommended that, or (ii) permitted certain clients to, use non-purpose loans through UBS Bank USA to purchase securities in UBS brokerage accounts during the 2011-2013 period in violation of the customers’ loan agreements and UBS Puerto Rico policies.

The OCFI determined that for some clients, such a practice was unsuitable based on the customers’ financial objectives, risk tolerance and needs, and that UBS Puerto Rico brokers may have induced clients through the misrepresentations or omissions of material facts.

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.

According to Bloomberg News Puerto Rico’s general obligation bonds were cut one step to speculative grade, otherwise known as “junk” status, by Standard & Poor’s citing reduced access to liquidity.  The territory has $16.2 billion of debt as of June 30, according to the Government Development Bank for Puerto Rico.  Investors nationwide are expected to be effected as about 70 percent of U.S. municipal mutual funds own Puerto Rico securities according to Morningstar Inc.  However, investors in Puerto Rico bond funds that were heavily invested in Puerto Rico debt are expected to be hit the hardest.

As we previously reported, a credit rating agency downgrade followed by a default or restructuring of Puerto Rico’s debt seems inevitable.  How did Puerto Rico end up here?  Unfortunately, its the same familiar Wall Street drama that is now perfectly mirroring the mortgage securities crisis experienced only six years ago.  Wall Street firms sell Puerto Rico bonds as safe, tax-free, high-yielding investments and politicians and policy makers take no interest in stopping the underwriting, issuance, and debt selling machine.  Moreover, firms know that by packaging unloved and unwanted municipal bonds and other assets into mutual funds the firms can sell speculative assets to retirees and other investors seeking income as conservative and diversified bond funds.

Firms such UBS, sold proprietary bond funds to customer such as the Puerto Rico Fixed Income Fund and the Puerto Rico Investors Tax-Free Fund series that invested up to 140% of their assets in Puerto Rico debt through the employment of leverage.  While UBS recommends that Puerto Rico residents should, in some cases, invest up to 100%+ of their assets in the Funds, UBS secretly recommends that UBS Puerto Rico, the firm’s island subsidiary, liquidate its own UBS bond fund holdings due to UBS  the overconcentration risk.  Thus, according to complaints filed against the firm, UBS’ recommendation to clients to invest in the funds was a conflict of interests with the firm’s own internal analysis that found the funds to be too risky.

This question is on the minds of many investors.  Many clients and potential clients have contacted our firm concerned about the effect of a default on their UBS Puerto Rico municipal bond funds that are heavily invested in the island’s debt

The UBS Puerto Rico bond funds, including the Puerto Rico Fixed Income Fund and the Puerto Rico Investors Tax-Free Fund series, invested up to 140% in Puerto Rico debt through the employment of leverage.  The extreme use of leverage has exacerbated recent declines.  As losses continue to increase clients tell us very similar stories about how their brokers recommended that they invest as much as 100% of their portfolios in the UBS Puerto Rico closed-end funds.

Now our clients worry about a potential Puerto Rico default on its municipal debt.  Puerto Rico’s public debt of $53 billion is nearly $15,000 per person.  When you add on the severely under-funded pension and healthcare obligations, the amount of debt approaches $160 billion, or $46,000 per person.

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.

The Financial Industry Regulatory Authority (FINRA) Arbitration Panel has awarded damages to investors in the amount of $1.2 million in compensatory damages and cost of fees associated with the arbitration. The alleged claim was asserted against BBVA Securities of Puerto Rico, Inc. (BBVA Securities) and employees of the brokerage firm.

BBVA Securities is a brokerage firm in San Juan, Puerto Rico.

The Claimants asserted breach of fiduciary duty, unsuitable investments, churning and excessive trading, failure to supervise and gross negligence. These causes of actions related to allegedly unsuitable naked option trading strategy combined with the use of margin which caused losses in the investor’s accounts.

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