March 20, 2015

SEC Chair Hints that the Commission Is Considering Rule on Fiduciary Duty for Brokers

Reuters reported that Mary Jo White, Chair of the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission, came out in favor of creating of new rules to harmonize standards of care between investment advisers and brokers. Currently, investment advisers must act in a client’s best interest, while brokers may continue to sell products that primarily benefit their or their firm’s financial interests – so long as such products are “suitable” for the clients.

Wall Street has opposed efforts by the Department of Labor to craft rules governing such broker conduct and requiring them to put client’s interest first. White’s comments this week suggest that the SEC may be preparing to weigh in on the issue.

Rich Intelisano and Katz LLP represents investors in FINRA arbitrations and other proceedings against both investment advisers and brokers.

March 6, 2015

Major Banks Pass Stress Test: Was it Stressful?

The New York Times announced today that the nation’s biggest banks, according to certain “stress” tests, appear to be able to survive a serous downturn in the economy, where housing and securities markets severely decline and unemployment rises to 10%. Whether passing the stress test equates to a clean bill of heath for surviving the next serious recession depends on the metrics used to measure the banks’ health under various scenarios. Does that mean we are relying on the “quants” for the proper metrics, the math wizards who were lured away from math and scientific pursuits to help Wall Street create exotic and complicated investment products in the last 15 years? Yes. Remember that quants and their metrics gave Wall Street the cover it needed to classify risky housing securities products as investment grade, resulting in billions in losses for investors in the housing bust. It turned out the models the quants used were flawed: for one thing they sometimes didn’t go back far enough in financial history in building assumptions for the models. The banks’ passing the stress test is only as meaningful as how the stress test models are built, and we are once again in the hands of the financial quants in making that determination.

March 5, 2015

Morgan Stanley Likely Will Face Lawsuit by New York Attorney General Related to its Mortgage Bonds; Reaches Agreement to Settle Federal Mortgage Claims

Reuters reports that Morgan Stanley’s annual 10-K, filed March 2, 2015, indicates that the New York Attorney General intends to file a lawsuit related to 30 subprime securitizations sponsored by the company. This follows lawsuits and similar allegations by attorneys general in California, Virginia and Illinois. The New York Attorney General indicated that the lawsuit would allege that Morgan Stanley misrepresented or omitted material information related to the due diligence, underwriting and valuation of loans and properties. In the 10-K, Morgan Stanley stated that it does not agree with the allegations.

Morgan Stanley also reached a $2.6 billion agreement in principle last month with the U.S. Department of Justice and the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Northern District of California to resolve claims related to what it called “residential mortgage matters.”

It remains to be seen whether investors will reap any of the benefits of these government actions seeking to mend the damage done by the subprime mortgage crisis and the proliferation of mortgage-backed securities (MBS), residential mortgage backed securities (RMBS), and collateralized debt obligations (CDOs).

Rich Intelisano & Katz LLP represents investors with claims related to the purchase of mortgage bonds, MBS, RMBS, and CDOs.

March 4, 2015

Former Barclays Brokers get Employee Forgivable Loans Knocked Out in FINRA Arbitration

A Miami-based FINRA arbitration panel has ruled that two former financial advisers of Barclays do not have to repay a total of over $3.8 million allegedly owed by them pursuant to promissory notes executed in connection with signing bonuses, despite the fact that they left the firm.

According to a recent report in the Wall Street Journal http://www.wsj.com/articles/two-ex-barclays-advisers-can-keep-big-bonuses-1424700638, the brokers, Ileana Delahoz Platt and Rafael Enrique Urquidi, joined Barclays in 2012 and received signing bonuses in the form of “forgivable loans”, which is a customary practice in the industry. These loans, evidenced by promissory notes, are typically forgiven over time provided the employee remains employed with the firm. However, shortly after Ms. Platt and Mr. Urquidi went to work at Barclays, the bank eliminated its business in the market where their clients were located, and, according to their attorney, the advisers could no longer service many of their clients, obliging them to leave the firm to seek out other employment.

In the FINRA arbitration proceeding, Ms. Platt and Mr. Urquidi sought compensatory and other damages, as well as a declaratory judgment that any amounts due under their loan agreements would be offset and that they would owe nothing under the promissory notes. Barclays, in a counterclaim, requested compensatory damages against the two advisers in the amounts it claimed were due and owing on the promissory notes at the time they left the firm.

The FINRA panel, in its award, denied Barclays’ counterclaim and held that Ms. Platt and Mr. Urquidi did not have to repay the loans. As is typical with FINRA awards, the panel did not provide a reasoned decision for its ruling. The award is noteworthy because it is often difficult for brokers to knock out 100% of a forgivable loan once they’ve left the firm.

Rich, Intelisano & Katz, LLP represents employees in the financial services industry in employment disputes, including compensation and bonus claims, wrongful termination claims and constructive discharge matters.

March 3, 2015

Master Limited Partnerships: Unsuitable for Some Investors?

Are master limited partners unsuitable for some investors? The term master limited partnership sounds like a complicated legal transaction. In fact, master limited partnerships or MLPs are complex investments that have become hugely popular in the last few years in this low interest rate environment. MLPs are tax exempt publicly traded companies that often own infrastructure in the energy field (pipelines, tanks, etc.). Individual and small institutional investors having be loading up on MLPs because they pay a large percentage of their income out to shareholders as distributions. According to Morningstar, investors added almost $12 billion in 2014 into mutual and exchange-traded funds which invest in MLPs. That's a huge amount of hard earned money looking for higher yields. The question is, do investors understand the real risks? We doubt it.

Brokers commonly market MLPs as low risk, higher yield securities. But that's not the case. An MLP is a publicly traded limited partnership with two types of partners: the general partner (or GP) who is responsible for managing the MLP and is compensated for performance; and the limited partner (or LP) who is the investor who provides the capital to the MLP and receives periodic income distributions. Unlike most partnerships, shares of MLPs can be bought or sold on a stock exchange. Just like any partnership, the problem with being a limited partner is that an LP has no role in the management of MLP. That's risk number one.

Risk number two is that most MLPs invest in the natural resources infrastructure. This is normally a risky space, especially with the swings on energy and commodity prices.

Risk number three is that the structure of an MLP mandates that most of the income be distributed to investors. This often forces MLPs to borrow funds to be able to pay dividends. The added risk is thus the leverage created by the MLP borrowing funds, especially in downturns in the economy.

Investors who do not want to take significant risks should learn as much as possible about MLPs. If you invested and lost money based upon misrepresentations regarding MLPs, feel free to contact our firm to learn more about MLPs and your options.

Here is an article from Bloomberg explaining some of the risks.

http://www.bloomberg.com/bw/articles/2014-03-20/master-limited-partnerships-investors-may-not-see-the-risks

February 25, 2015

Brokers May Soon Be Subject to Fiduciary Duty to Their IRA Investors

A leaked White House memo supports imposing fiduciary duties on brokers in their dealings with IRA investors, as reported by the New York Times.

Current rules provide a weaker standard for brokers. The memo estimates that the absence of adequate investor safeguards penalizes IRA holders by as much as $17 billion per year. Hopefully, this development indicates that a rule imposing a fiduciary standard will be promulgated by the U.S. Labor Department soon. The securities industry has been vigorously fighting this requirement for years, some threatening to stop offering IRAs that would be subject to the rule. Of primary concern to investors are built in conflicts of interest that brokers often have in recommending IRA investments that may be lucrative to the broker but not right for the investor. The government should err on the side of investor protection in this dispute because the securities industry has the knowledge and resources to protect future retirees, whereas many investors lack the knowledge to protect themselves in the arena of complicated investment products.

http://www.nytimes.com/2015/02/14/your-money/fiduciary-duty-rule-would-protect-consumers-and-target-investment-brokers.html?_r=0

February 19, 2015

Securities Arbitration Award Against Merrill Lynch Upheld

This week, the New Jersey Supreme Court denied the appeal of an arbitration award against Merrill Lynch by the Associated Humane Societies Inc. of Tinton Falls, N.J. In the original FINRA arbitration, the society alleged that certain of its investments were improper, it improperly sustained penalties and other charges when the investments were liquidated, its accounts were improperly managed and churned, and it was overcharged for management of its accounts. The society sought $10 million in punitive damages, $872,171 in compensatory damages and $544,299 in attorneys’ fees. After an 18-day hearing, the FINRA panel found in favor of the society, but awarded it only $168,103 in compensatory damages and $126,077 in punitives.

The society appealed. A 3-judge appellate division panel upheld the award in October, finding that the FINRA panel did not abuse its discretion. Associated Humane Societies, Inc. v. Merrill Lynch, Pierce, Fenner & Smith, Inc., No. L-4376-13 (Oct. 29, 2014). The New Jersey Supreme Court denied any further appeal on Feb. 17, 2015.

Though the society was ultimately disappointed with the size of the award, the decision shows the reluctance of courts to disturb FINRA arbitration awards.

Rich Intelisano & Katz LLP represents non-profit entities as well as other investors in securities arbitrations.

February 19, 2015

Brokers Must Consider New Market Realities When Determining the Suitability of Asset Allocation for Young Investors

Does the conventional wisdom regarding asset allocation hold up in today’s economy? The New York Times recently featured an article suggesting that a portfolio teeming with risky stocks, derivatives, and other exotic investments may, in fact, not be suitable for even young investors. The Times points out that these young investors experience higher rates of unemployment and are more likely to cash out their 401(k)’s and other investments when they switch jobs. An appropriate suitability analysis under FINRA Rule 2111 would take these factors into account. It is highly likely that many brokers are still using a one-size-fits-all asset allocation formula for their young customers.

Investors may have a variety of claims against such brokers who fail to take into account current market conditions, including unsuitable investment advice, fraudulent misrepresentations and omissions, and failure to supervise.

February 6, 2015

Rich, Intelisano & Katz Opens LA Office

Rich, Intelisano and Katz is proud to announce the opening of our new office in Los Angeles. The California practice will be headed by our new partner Scott Rahn, a former partner at Greenberg Traurig in LA. Scott's bio is here: http://www.riklawfirm.com/scott-e-rahn.html

We look forward to working with Scott in California and to continue representing investors and employees from around the world in disputes with the financial industry.

October 25, 2013

UBS in Web of Puerto Rico Bond Funds Suffering Massive Losses

Puerto Rico bond funds have been suffering massive losses recently and regulators have already taken action. According to the SEC, UBS Financial Services of Puerto Rico Inc. (“UBS”) misled thousands of its retail investors in 23 of its closed-end mutual funds. While UBS has already spent more than $26 million to settle the SEC’s charges, investors are now starting to pursue their own actions against the institution to recover potentially millions in losses.

Starting in 2008, UBS began soliciting investors in its Puerto Rico bond funds by promoting the funds’ market performance and high premiums to net asset value as the result of supply and demand in a competitive and liquid secondary market. However, UBS knew about a significant “supply and demand imbalance” and internally discussed the “weak secondary market.” UBS misled investors, failing to disclose that it controlled the secondary market. In 2009, UBS withdrew its market support and sold its inventory to unsuspecting customers. At the same time, it failed to disclose that it was drastically reducing its inventory, and undercut customer orders so that UBS’s inventory could be liquidated first.

Investors may have a host of claims against UBS including fraudulent misrepresentations and omissions, unsuitable investment advice, and failure to supervise.

December 9, 2011

Bloomberg Update on $383M Client Case v. Citigroup

Below is a piece by Bloomberg on our firm's $383 million claim against Citigroup. There's more on this case on the firm's website at http://www.riklawfirm.com/


Citigroup’s Mathur Said to Depart With Hybrid Traders as Pandit Cuts Jobs
By Donal Griffin - Dec 9, 2011

Citigroup Inc. (C), the third-biggest U.S. bank, is shrinking a team of traders who deal in “hybrid” products as Chief Executive Officer Vikram Pandit cuts Wall Street jobs, two people familiar with the matter said.

Samir Mathur, former head of hybrid trading, is leaving the New York-based firm and is in talks to join a hedge fund, according to one of the people, who asked to remain anonymous because the move hasn’t been announced. Other members of the desk who reported to him, including Yontcho Valtchev, Vivek Kapoor, Eric Kim, Sean Corrigan and Allison Niiya, also are leaving, the person said.

Mathur is among ex-members of the desk who are at the center of a dispute with Ghazi Abbar, a former customer from Jeddah, Saudi Arabia. Abbar claims he lost $383 million of his family’s fortune when Citigroup sold him products that later soured, even though the bank internally questioned his ability to properly manage some of them. Pandit, 54, is shrinking the desk as he cuts 4,500 jobs amid a revenue slump.

“It makes sense for Citigroup to reduce the size of its sales trading activities, particularly in developed markets,” Richard Staite, an analyst at Atlantic Equities LLP, wrote in a Dec. 7 note to clients. “We believe a shift away from trading toward lower-risk consumer and corporate banking may lead to a higher valuation multiple.”

Mathur follows Erwin Parviz, the former London-based head of hybrid structuring who left Citigroup in June, according to U.K. Financial Services Authority records.

Investment Banking

Planned layoffs will include about 900 from the division that contains trading and investment banking, a person familiar with the matter said last month.

Danielle Romero-Apsilos, a Citigroup spokeswoman, declined to comment. Members of the hybrid team didn’t respond to phone messages, said they couldn’t comment or couldn’t be located for comment. Citigroup, with 267,000 employees worldwide as of Sept. 30, is the third-biggest U.S. bank by assets behind JPMorgan Chase & Co. and Bank of America Corp.

Mathur’s team traded hybrid derivatives, financial instruments that derive their values from different underlying assets. Buyers seek to profit from the performance of assets, such as a stake in a hedge fund, without directly owning them. The desk often sold products to large investment firms including Man Group Plc (EMG) and Tudor Investment Corp., people familiar with the matter said last month.
Taxpayer Bailout

Mathur helped to create one of Abbar’s transactions, according to an arbitration claim Abbar has filed with the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority. The bank denies the allegations and has sued Abbar to block the arbitration.

Mathur has worked as a trader for Citigroup since 1998, according to Finra records. He rose to become head of hybrid trading before the bank almost collapsed in 2008 and received a $45 billion taxpayer bailout.

Colleagues of Mathur’s also are Wall Street veterans, Finra records show. Valtchev had worked for Citigroup since 2005 after stints with Deutsche Bank AG and Barclays Plc (BARC), while Kapoor joined in 2007 after working at UBS AG, Credit Suisse Group AG (CSGN) and Standard & Poor’s. Niiya had worked for Citigroup since 2000, according to the records. While most are traders, Kim is an analyst.

December 1, 2011

American Lawyer Piece on Firm's Citigroup Case

Below is an American Lawyer piece which explains our clients' pending $383 million FINRA arbitration against Citigroup. It goes on to talk about how there are more and more large and complex cases at FINRA. It's true. As partner John Rich points out at the end of the article, our firm is involved in other multi-million dollar matters at FINRA. In fact, we handled the Bayou v. Goldman FINRA arbitration case which generated a $20.6 million award, and is mentioned in the article. We think FINRA arbitration will continue to attract sophisticated legal disputes because it is more efficient and timely than court litigation.


Too Big for Their Britches?

Nate Raymond

The American Lawyer

12-01-2011

Just a few years ago, the Abbar family of Saudi Arabia could point to at least $383 million in investments managed by Citigroup Inc. Patriarch Abdullah Abbar and his son Ghazi had built the family fortune through an array of food import, travel, oil transport, and investment businesses. And beginning in 2006, they entrusted the bulk of their wealth to Citi.

Today the relationship has soured, and the money is almost gone. Both sides have lawyered up—the Abbars hired John Rich of Rich, Intelisano & Katz, and Citi retained Scott Edelman of Milbank, Tweed, Hadley & McCloy—and the legal battle is heating up. In August the Abbars filed a securities arbitration claim with the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority ­(FINRA), the U.S. securities industry's self-regulator. But while defendants often prefer the privacy arbitration affords, Citigroup wants to move the case into the courtroom.

The Abbar complaint is one of roughly 200 pending FINRA cases with at least $10 million at stake. The number of cases and the size of potential awards increased significantly after the stock market collapse in 2008. Before then, most FINRA cases involved small investors who were suing their brokers. But after the crash, richer investors flooded ­FINRA with claims that they were duped by large institutions. "The claims coming in now are substantially larger than what we had a few years ago," says Linda Fienberg, president of FINRA's dispute resolution unit.

The financial institutions, faced with hefty awards that are near impossible to overturn, have taken notice. Lawsuits by banks challenging the arbitrations are increasingly common, often contending that sophisticated investors are trying to twist FINRA's original definition of a brokerage customer to include their claims.

Established in 2007, FINRA is the result of a merger of two sets of self-regulatory organizations, the New York Stock Exchange's enforcement arm and the National Association of Securities Dealers. Cases number in the thousands annually, and currently 7,000 claims are pending, Fienberg says.

For most parties in FINRA cases, arbitration offers a quick and private venue to deal with securities claims. But the arbitration landscape changed when financial service firms began teetering. "There were some very large losses during that period," says Jonathan Harris, a commercial litigation partner at New York's Harris, Cutler & Houghteling.

Harris is counsel to Woodside, California, investment management firm Aurum STS Aggressive Trading LLC. During the fall of 2008, Harris and his cocounsel at Steptoe & Johnson contend that Société Générale breached agreements on warrants the bank issued to Aurum in 2003 and 2004, and unilaterally imposed new terms. Aurum filed an arbitration claim in June 2009 against SocGen, and in October a three-arbitrator panel awarded the company $61 million—the second-largest award this year. SocGen has said that it disagrees with the decision, but its lawyers at Latham & Watkins have not sought to vacate it.

Big awards like Aurum's have become more common in the wake of the subprime meltdown. Six of the ten largest securities arbitration awards were handed down during the last two years, according to Securities Arbitration Commentator Inc. In February 2009 FINRA awarded $406.6 million to ­STMicroelectronics N.V. in a fight with Credit Suisse Group AG, followed by a $80.8 million award to Kajeet Inc. against UBS AG in August 2010, and a $54.1 million payout to Colorado patent litigator Gerald Hosier and others in April 2011 over a squabble with Citigroup.

The largest award of 2011 involved options trading firm Rosen Capital Management LLC, which lost $90 million in fall 2008. Rosen's lawyers at Quinn Emanuel Urquhart & Sullivan blamed its prime broker Merrill Lynch & Co., Inc., which had placed ill-fated margin calls amid a crisis that had just weeks earlier thrown it into a government-brokered $50 billion sale to Bank of America Corporation. In July a three-arbitrator panel awarded Rosen $63.7 million. Merrill's lawyers at Wilmer Cutler Pickering Hale and Dorr moved in August to vacate the award.

Courts, though, rarely overturn arbitration awards. The Goldman Sachs Group, Inc. and its lawyers at Schulte Roth & Zabel unsuccessfully fought to vacate a $20.6 million FINRA award that resulted from the bank's alleged failure to detect fraud at the bankrupt hedge fund Bayou Group LLC. In November 2010 Manhattan federal district court judge Jed Rakoff denied Goldman's petition, saying that "having voluntarily chosen to avail itself of this wondrous alternative to the rule of reason, [Goldman] must suffer the consequences."

Banks are fighting over who is permitted to bring claims to ­FINRA. UBS's lawyers at Debevoise & Plimpton, with the backing of the Securities Industry and Financial Markets Association, argued that West Virginia University Hospitals, Inc., as an issuer, could not force the bank, as an underwriter, to arbitrate claims of more than $329 million in auction-rate securities. But in September the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit rejected that narrow reading of who FINRA defines as a "customer."

In the Abbar case, Citigroup has similarly filed a lawsuit in Manhattan federal district court seeking to enjoin the arbitration. Milbank's Edelman, Citi's lawyer, declined to comment. But Citi in a statement says the Abbars were not clients of the U.S.–based broker-dealer Citigroup Global Markets Inc., so "their claims should not be subject to FINRA arbitration."

In the meantime, FINRA is adjusting to the bigger cases. In early 2012 it plans to implement a pilot program designed for cases with more than $5 million at stake, Fienberg says. The program, which will be tested in the Northeast and on the West Coast, will formalize the ways that FINRA ­allows parties to modify arbitration procedures. For example, parties could pick arbitrators who do not normally handle FINRA cases, such as former judges. Parties could agree to take depositions, which FINRA generally does not allow. And both parties would be able to pay arbitrators more than the $200 honorarium FINRA typically pays per hearing, a relief to some lawyers who worry about how the low pay might affect the complex cases.

And the Abbars' lawyer? Rich promises more cases from himself as well. "We have other multimillion-dollar cases in the works," he says. "This is not going to be an anomaly."
E-mail: nraymond@alm.com

Top Five Securities Arbitration Awards
Sanchez et al. v. Enrique Perusquia $429.5M
STMicroelectronics N.V. v. Credit Suisse Securities (USA) LLC 406.6M
Kajeet Inc. v. UBS Financial Services Inc. 80.8M
212 Investment Corp. et al. v. Myron Kaplan 74.8M
Rosen Capital Partners LPv. Merrill Lynch Professional Clearing Corp. 63.7M
Source: Securities Arbitration Commentator Inc.