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Rich, Intelisano & Katz, LLP (RIK) continues its investigation into UBS’ sale of its Yield Enhancement Strategy or the “YES” options program. Many investors around the country have filed arbitrations against UBS alleging that UBS misrepresented the risks of the options program, failed to implement appropriate risk controls, and failed to supervise the YES options program.

The Yield Enhancement Strategy is run by two UBS registered representatives, Matthew Buchsbaum and Scott Rosenberg. UBS recruited both gentlemen from Credit Suisse in 2015 when Credit Suisse closed its private wealth management business. Messrs. Buchsbaum and Rosenberg ran the YES options program at Credit Suisse for many years.

UBS allowed its financial advisors other than Messrs. Buchsbaum and Rosenberg to market and sell the YES options program to their own clients. Cases filed by aggrieved investors allege that UBS represented that its YES options program was a low-risk strategy to generate modest income. However, the program is actually a complex investment strategy that carried significant risk and caused substantial investor losses.

The so-called  “Yield Enhancement Strategy,”  or “YES,” has seen a major rise in popularity at large investment firms, especially UBS,  as a vehicle for investors  to “enhance” returns relatively safely.  “YES” has been pitched as a relatively safe way to generate enhanced returns on a consistent basis, especially when markets are flat.   Fairly stable markets have been norm for many years, until recently, making  this approach attractive  to many  investors.  However, because of this historic stability,  the inherent risks of the investment have not been widely known to investors.

As a result, because “YES” relies on stability in the market place,  when significant volatility does hit, as it has at various times in the last 18 months, particularly last December, it can cause major losses to unsuspecting investors who were not prepared for them.

The “YES” Strategy is not only risky, but exceedingly complicated, involving an exotic options play, which is difficult for all but the most sophisticated investors to understand.  YES is only appropriate for the most experienced and sophisticated investors, those with a high risk tolerance and who understand options strategies, and only when accompanied with proper and specific disclosure of all the underlying risks.  Unfortunately, it appears that this product may have been sold to many investors without proper risk disclosure who did not meet the above criteria.

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.

FINRA fined UBS Financial Services, Inc. $2.5 million, and required it to pay $8.25 million in restitution for omissions and misleading statements made regarding the “principal protection” feature of Lehman Brothers100% Principal-Protection Notes (PPNs).

Our firm is presently representing investors of the Lehman PPNs against UBS in arbitrations at FINRA. It’s good to see FINRA stepping up and fining UBS in this matter. It’ll be a battle in the many pending arbitrations against UBS for investors to enter the fine into evidence as an indication of wrongdoing by UBS.

According the FINRA press release, UBS had described the structured notes as principal-protected investments and failed to emphasize they were unsecured obligations of Lehman Brothers, which eventually filed for bankruptcy in September 2008.

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