SEC Fines UBS for Improper Sales of Reverse Convertible Notes

The Securities and Exchange Commission has announced that UBS Financial Services will pay more than $15 million to settle charges related to unsuitable sales of reverse convertible notes (“RCNs”) to individual (“retail”) investors.  The SEC found that UBS failed to adequately educate and train its sales force in connection with the sale of RCNs as a result of which they had no reasonable basis for recommending them, and could not make proper disclosures to investors.

RCNs are complex securities.  In addition to the risk of default by the issuer, RCNs contain embedded put options giving the issuer the right to not return the investor’s principal at maturity, but instead assign the underlying security (usually a stock) at maturity if the stock price drops to a certain level.  In that case, the investor is left holding a stock that may be worth much less than the price paid for the RCN.

RCNs are alternative investments that typically offer above-market yields.  They are often sold to income-oriented investors who are unable to realize a sufficient return in the persistent low interest rate environment in which we live.  However, most individual investors who purchase RCNs have no idea they can lose money on this investment.

According to the SEC, UBS sold approximately $548 million in RCNs to more than 8,700 relatively inexperienced retail customers.

Investors who have lost money in RCNs should consult with an attorney with experience in representing investors in securities arbitration.  The Doss Firm, LLC has such experience and offers a free initial consultation to investors who may have questions about any of their investments.




Attention Former Customers of Leavitt Freeman Sanders: You May Be Able To Recover Your Investment Losses

Our firm has already filed many individual lawsuits alleging, among other things, investment fraud against Leavitt Sanders and the firms that he traded through.  Those firms include Invest Financial, Triad Advisors, Capital Asset Advisory Services, Sanders Yearian Advisory Group and Leavitt Financial Group. We have developed direct evidence that supports the allegations that these firms are legally responsible to pay back investors for their investment losses.

If you were a victim of this alleged fraudulent scheme, we would be interested in discussing representing your interests with the hope and expectation of recovering some or all of your losses.  We will evaluate your case at no charge.

As background, Mr. Sanders’ CRD reveals over 30 customer complaints for the same type of account mismanagement.  On December 26, 2014, Triad Advisors, Inc. terminated and discharged Mr. Sanders for “mismanagement of RIA related accounts” involving options trading.  (“RIA” means “registered investment advisor.”)

Many of Mr. Sanders’ clients were elderly and retired income-oriented investors.  They have suffered substantial losses.  They entrusted their hard earned retirement savings to Mr. Sanders, who, acting with discretionary trading authority, mismanaged their accounts.  Mr. Sanders breached his fiduciary duty by using a “one size fits all” investment strategy with all of his clients without regard to whether it was prudent or suitable.

Leavitt Sanders of West Point, Georgia, is a former licensed stockbroker and investment adviser who operated in Georgia and Alabama.  Mr. Sanders is no longer in the industry for mismanaging the brokerage accounts of numerous clients by excessive trading in high risk investments, including put and call options, and day-trading huge stock positions on margin.  The options and stocks (or stock indices) included, Amazon, the S&P500 Index, NASDAQ-100 Index.

Mr. Sanders was registered with Financial Network Investment Corporation (“Financial Network”) from November 1998 through October 2008; Invest Financial Corporation (“Invest Financial”) from October 2008 through January 2014; and Triad Advisors, Inc. (“Triad Advisors”) from January 2014 to December 2014.  While still with Invest Financial, Mr. Sanders switched clearing firms from Pershing to TD Ameritrade in May 2013.  Mr. Sanders was also the owner-operator of two investment advisory firms – Sanders Yearian Advisory Group, Inc. and Leavitt Financial Group, Inc. – and was associated with Capital Asset Advisory Services, LLC.

Workers Saving for Retirement Need Brokers To Act as Fiduciairies, Government Research Finds

A just-released government memorandum finds that people investing for retirement have lost billions of dollars as a result of abusive sales practices, and that brokers handling retirement accounts should be held to a stricter fiduciary duty standard to better protect workers’ retirement savings, according to an InvestmentNews article entitled “Brokers under White House scrutiny for costing workers billion in retirement savings.” The memo, which was drafted by the Chairman of the President’s Council of Economic Advisers (“CEA”), Jason Furman, reports that investor losses of between $8 billion and $17 billion are attributable to broker/financial adviser misconduct.

The CEA memo advocates that brokers and financial advisers be governed by a fiduciary duty, which requires them to act in the investor’s best interest, and to place investors’ interests ahead of their own. It states in part: “Consumer protections for investment advice in the retail and small-plan markets are inadequate…,” and only the placement of a fiduciary duty upon brokers and financial advisers offers “meaningful protections” to investors.

The brokerage industry has long objected to and lobbied against the imposition of a fiduciary duty standard of care as being too high and burdensome a duty. For four years, industry representatives have argued that having to act as a fiduciary would be too costly and would eliminate lower cost options for investors. “Any signal that the DOL [Department of Labor’s fiduciary duty] proposal is moving forward would cause us concern,” a brokerage industry lobbyist was quoted as saying.

The InvestmentNews article reports that the CEA memo and debate come in the midst of a “massive shift” away from defined benefit plans (e.g., pension plans) to defined contribution plans (i.e., 401(k) plans). The net effect of this is to shift the risks that retirement plans will not produce sufficient returns to fund a retirement away from professional money managers onto the back of workers who have no experience in the management of retirement plans.

As the CEA memo points out, many workers have been the victims of broker/adviser misconduct that arises out of an inherent conflict of interest. “Academic research has clearly established that conflicts of interest affect financial advisers’ behavior and that advisers often act opportunistically to the detriment of their clients,” the memo was quoted as saying.

For example, a broker who receives payment for the sale of a mutual fund or other investment has an interest in recommending it, even if it is not in the client’s best interest because there are other more suitable investments. Under the current “suitability standard” that the brokerage industry wants to keep, it would be okay for a broker to recommend a less suitable investment that the broker had a financial interest in recommending as long as it was not unsuitable based on the client’s investment profile.

The CEA memo was reportedly circulated to senior White House officials, and it is expected that President Obama will support the proposed fiduciary duty standard for brokers.

Sudden Collapse of Oil Prices Surprised Stock Market, But Not Industry Insiders

The collapse in oil prices was a major shock that took a lot of people by surprise. For years the story line had been that the world was running out of oil and America was dependent on foreign oil produced by governments not friendly to U.S. interests. With dwindling supplies, the price of oil had to be higher in the future. Sellers of energy stocks and other oil and gas investments had a compelling story to tell potential investors.

Despite this oil-depletion story line, however, the sudden and sharp decline in oil prices was not really unexpected. According to Gregory Zuckerman, author of The Frackers, the U.S. experienced the largest crude oil production increase in history in 2012, and, in 2013, the U.S. increased daily output from 5 million barrels per day to 7.5 million – on a track to outproduce Saudi Arabia by 2020. As for natural gas, production increases have led to price declines of 75% since 2008. Better technologies like horizontal drilling and hydraulic fracking – a process for accessing oil and gas trapped in dense rock – have allowed these production increases and price declines to occur.

Oil and gas investment offerings have become more common in these days of low interest rates, as investors have been unable to generate enough income from bond interest and stock dividend payments. Also, state securities regulators have long warned that high oil prices have allowed promoters to generate interest in investments in energy-related business ventures.

Sellers of investments are legally required to be accurate and completely truthful in marketing investments, disclosing all important risks, and are prohibited from recommending investments that are unsuitable for the investor. But sellers do not always do that. Investors who lost money in energy-related investments that were either unsuitably risky for them, or whose sellers misrepresented or failed to disclose important risks, have valid legal claims to recover those losses.