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Posts Tagged ‘FINRA sold ARS’

Who Protects Investors from Regulators?

Posted by Larry Doyle on June 19th, 2009 2:44 PM |

Is there anything worse than being violated by an individual in a position of trust? Crimes perpetrated by regular citizens are one thing, but crimes perpetrated by individuals in a position of public trust, in my opinion, are the most heinous. I am speaking of members of the clergy, teachers, law enforcement, and public servants.

When engaged in private business, individuals typically remain on guard from fraudulent and criminal behavior. That innate defense mechanism is usually relaxed when engaged with a public or quasi-public official. Given that vulnerability, the violation is far more painful due to the emotional damage even if the actual financial costs are minimal.

As I go down this path, let me emphasize the obvious – that is, the presumption of innocence and due process.

1. Today we learn that as part of the case against Allen Stanford, an indictment has also been handed down against Antiguan financial regulator Leroy King. Bloomberg reports that King not only took bribes from Stanford but also showed Stanford information relating to the government’s developing case.

If in fact these allegations are true, King aided and abetted the fraud which is speculated to be of a magnitude of $1-7 billion dollars.

2. In regard to the Bernie Madoff Ponzi scheme, we have no evidence to indicate criminal intent or activity on behalf of anybody at the SEC. That said, the SEC – by its own admission – failed to perform its duties. For those impacted by the Madoff fraud, the lack of accountability by the SEC is no less damaging than if there were criminal activity. Why is that? The length of time over which Madoff perpetrated the scheme along with the amount of evidence provided by Harry Markopolos was so overwhelming and should have minimized the damage, both financial and emotional.

3. We do have evidence of potential culpability on behalf of FINRA in the Auction-Rate Securities fraud. FINRA was headed by Mary Schapiro, current head of the SEC. This fraud is MANY MULTIPLES the size of the fraud perpetrated by Allen Stanford. Professionals, both inside and outside of the financial industry, have estimated that there are anywhere from $80 billion to $175 billion ARS (of a $330 billion market) still outstanding.

Let’s take the midpoint of those estimates, $125 billion, as a best guess of outstanding ARS positions. These securities do not actively trade, like government bonds, but in speaking with Kevin O’Connor of Second Market, he shared that bonds trade around 75 cents on the dollar. Thus, we are looking at approximately $30 billion in losses on a mark-to-market basis.

FINRA’s potential culpability stems from the fact that they liquidated their own ARS holdings in 2007. I have asked repeatedly and will put forth once again, for the benefit of those thousands of investors and billions of dollars:

-what was the exact trade date of FINRA’s ARS liquidation?
-through whom did they liquidate their ARS position?
-what price were they paid for their ARS position?
-did they possess material non-public information about the ARS market failing and act upon it?

The U.S. attorney and SEC are investigating executives from Lehman (Gia Rys, Alex Kirk) for potentially front running the ARS market in 2007. Will we ever find out if FINRA did the same? FINRA is charged with protecting investors. They certainly failed to protect investors in Auction-Rate Securities.

4. Given the fraud involved in the marketing and distribution of ARS, I am blown away by the fact that the SEC, now headed by Ms. Schapiro, blessed the marketing and distribution of the new version of municipal ARS, known as x-Tender, or henceforth called Porky Pig here at Sense on ¢ents. Please see my post earlier today, An Auction-Rate Pig by Any Other Name Is Still a Pig.

Sad but true, as we enter the Brave New World of the Uncle Sam economy, investors need to remain diligent and should not assume that regulators are necessarily protecting them.

LD

FROM THE ARCHIVES . . .
Future Financial Regulation: Not a Question of Sufficiency, but of Transparency and Integrity

Posted by Larry Doyle on June 15th, 2009 5:30 AM |

I hope people far and wide will listen to the interview I had with Bill Singer on last evening’s NQR’s Sense on Cents with Larry Doyle. Bill is the preeminent veteran Wall Street regulatory lawyer and market reform advocate. He pulled no punches in our conversation. My chat with Bill compels me to republish my posting from mid-May on the future of financial regulation.

Editor’s Note – this piece was originally posted on May 18, 2009:

Will our future regulatory structure of the financial industry allow capitalism to thrive? Will the political wizards in Washington prioritize personal agendas and expediency over unquestioned transparency and integrity? I believe we are at a critical regulatory crossroads not seen since financial regulations implemented in the Securities Act of 1933.

Do the powers that be both in Washington and Wall Street understand the magnitude of responsibilities and obligations involved in this process? Initial returns are decidedly mixed. The debate by those intimately involved in the regulatory oversight is typically framed as a question of sufficiency. That is, does the industry have enough regulation or not?

The media often frame the debate in political terms between laissez-faire proponents and those favoring increased government intervention. Both camps are missing the bigger picture, because both camps are feeding from the same trough. Allow me to expound.

The critical regulatory question facing our markets is not of sufficiency but is one of transparency. Regrettably, both ends of the regulatory spectrum do not want to address this glaring shortcoming because it exposes the very nature of the incestuous relationship between Wall Street and Washington.

The mainstream media, to a large extent, is dependent on both Wall Street and Washington for their financial well being so they do not press or pursue the need for total regulatory transparency. Fortunately, Sense on Cents and other leading financial websites are not under this restriction.

Let’s dig deeper and review where regulatory developments stand currently. As the Financial Times reports, U.S. Poised For Finance Regulation Shake-Up:

Congress will next month start the biggest regulatory overhaul of the US financial system in decades, bringing into the open a frantic lobbying effort between banks, regulators and policymakers on what it contains and who pays for it.

The House financial services committee, chaired by Democrat Barney Frank, will hold hearings early in June into reforms outlined by Timothy Geithner, Treasury secretary, say people familiar with the timetable.

Regrettably, before the debate even begins the premise of sufficiency versus transparency is accepted without question. Well, Sense on Cents is questioning the lack of transparency and resulting integrity of the process, which by its very nature strongly influences the outcome. Allow me to be more specific. Much as the Parliament in the U.K. is being rocked by a current scandal over expenses submitted by legislators, I strongly exhort those who truly care about capitalism, free market principles, and our democracy to address the very nature of the relationship betwen the banks, regulators, and policymakers. (more…)

ARS Investor Makes Public Plea

Posted by Larry Doyle on May 3rd, 2009 2:02 PM |

On the heels of Bloomberg breaking the news of FINRA’s investment in Auction Rate Securities, I have received a number of e-mails from ARS investors thanking me for my pursuit in publicizing that information. One e-mail in particular touched me. This investor purchased ARS from Oppenheimer. His e-mail to attorneys general around the country and major media outlets is powerful. I share his questions; they deserve answers. With the writer’s permission: (more…)

“FINRA Is Supposed To Police The Market”

Posted by Larry Doyle on April 29th, 2009 6:52 AM |

I have written extensively about FINRA’s ownership of Auction Rate Securities over the last few months. This morning Bloomberg reports, FINRA Oversees Auction-Rate Arbitrations After Exiting Market.

The Bloomberg article (I am humbled by Bloomberg quoting me in the story) answers a number of questions I have raised, while also opening the door to other issues needing to be addressed:

1. Was FINRA blinded – if not totally conflicted – in addressing the trading, selling, and marketing of Auction Rate Securities? Try 862 million times.

2. Was FINRA lucky, prescient, or well informed in the timing of the sale of their own Auction Rate Securities? We may never know but given that their first “guidance for investors” was not published until after the market had totally frozen, they certainly did not provide much investor protection as is their mandate.

3. I have also written, and Bloomberg highlights, that FINRA had money invested in hedge funds. In light of market developments, I think the public has a right to know which hedge funds. Will FINRA release that information?

4. I unearthed all the information of FINRA’s investment activities from its 2007 Annual Report published in April 2008. I am still waiting for FINRA to release its 2008 Annual Report and wonder why it seems to be delayed.

5. As we move forward with likely regulatory changes for Wall Street, I believe the very nature of a self-regulatory organization funded by the banks it is charged to oversee presents massive conflicts of interest. This specific situation of FINRA’s investment in ARS is indicative of those conflicts. Will Congress have the courage to address these conflicts and serve the public interest in the process?

“To me it smacks of incompetence and negligence,” said Larry Doyle, who worked 23 years on Wall Street and runs a Web site called Sense on Cents. “Finra is supposed to police the market.”

I view FINRA as akin to the palace guard. The question remains, Does The Palace Guard Have No Clothes?

LD






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