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Posts Tagged ‘FINRA’s ownership of Auction Rate Securities’

Calling All Auction-Rate Securities Holders

Posted by Larry Doyle on November 15th, 2010 7:15 AM |

Information is everything!!

A nation of laws will prosper if and only if the adjudication of disputes is handled in a truly robust fashion. This adjudication process should theoretically lead to the drafting and implementation of new legislation if and when necessary. While industry insiders will often lobby to influence this process both in the courts and in our legislative bodies, America needs real statesmen and true heroes who will champion worthy causes and pursue total truth, real transparency, and unbridled integrity.

The media can play a large role in highlighting and exposing injustices if it cares to perform its duties. Regrettably during our economic crisis of the last few years, the media has often largely shown itself to be as much part of the problem as part of the solution. Why do I write on this topic today? For the very simple reason that tens of thousands of our fellow Americans have largely been disowned and disenfranchised by our nation. Really? Unaccustomed hyperbole, LD? I think not. Let’s navigate further.

I have been an ardent supporter of all those in our nation today who continue to be stuck holding auction-rate securities. These people number in the many tens of thousands and their holdings run upwards of $140 BILLION. Ponder that for a second. How is it that with numbers of this magnitude, the hue and cry of the accompanying injustice is not ringing loudly across our nation. It should. (more…)

Wall Street Journal Goes in the Tank for FINRA

Posted by Larry Doyle on September 25th, 2009 9:18 AM |

When did real journalism move from asking the hard questions and demanding answers to the mere parroting of a party line? Recent polls indicate a lessened confidence in the media in our country. Why? Journalism has largely abdicated its responsibility to be the public conscience. I see evidence of this ‘parroting’ in today’s Wall Street Journal, which reports After 27% Fall, FINRA Plays It Safe.

FINRA, the Wall Street self-regulatory organization, has been under increasing pressure lately with the spotlight focused primarily on its investment portfolio activities. FINRA has provided virtually little to no transparency and, as such, currently faces 3 lawsuits by member firms. There is no doubt in my mind that today’s WSJ article is an attempt by FINRA to display a degree of transparency in order to keep the wolves at bay. Is FINRA fully transparent? Not in my opinion.

Did the WSJ pursue this story or was it conveniently placed to deflect the heavy criticism and charges FINRA faces in the lawsuits? Make no mistake, the WSJ has been largely absent in aggressively covering developments in and around FINRA. The returns generated by FINRA’s investment portfolio and its shift to a conservative strategy have been widely disseminated over the last few months and were highlighted here at Sense on Cents on June 29th when I wrote “FINRA 2008 Annual Report: A Special Type of Hubris”:

I personally believe it is very important for a financial self-regulatory organization, such as FINRA, to be totally transparent in every regard. Why? Very simply, transparency promotes confidence and FINRA’s position as a financial regulator should begin and end with that goal.

Against that backdrop, FINRA should not directly manage any of their own funds. To do so is an open invitation for conflicts of interest. FINRA’s own investment portfolio, managed by an Investment Committee, generated a negative 26% return in 2008. In April 2009, the FINRA portfolio shifted to a lower volatility approach but in 2008 it continued to have exposure to hedge funds, fund of funds, and private equity. As much as I believe this is a very big deal, it pales in comparison to the major issue I, and others, have with FINRA: their involvement with Auction-Rate Securities.

Why do I feel so strongly that the WSJ is serving as a mouthpiece for FINRA rather than truly digging for total transparency? Let’s zero in on how the WSJ addresses this auction-rate securities angle. As we do this, please recall the following:

1. $165 billion ARS remain frozen in investor accounts

2. A federal judge has designated the sales and marketing of ARS to be a fraud

3. FINRA did not post on its own website the failing nature and ultimate total failure of the ARS market until 2008, well after it liquidated its own position.

The WSJ, a proud financial periodical, provides less than cursory coverage to this piece of the FINRA story, in writing:

Finra used an outside consultant, Jeffrey Slocum & Associates of Minneapolis, to help choose money managers. In 2006, Finra hired as chief investment officer Boris A. Wessely, then treasurer at the Rockefeller Brothers Fund. Ms. Schapiro succeeded Mr. Glauber as the agency’s CEO in mid-2006.

One early step by Mr. Wessely’s team was the mid-2007 sale of about $650 million of auction-rate securities. The sale wasn’t influenced by any sign of weakness in the auction-rate market, which froze in 2008, but instead was a move to diversify Finra’s short-term investments away from such a niche product, people with knowledge of the move say. (LD’s highlight)

People with knowledge of the move say?? That is the best the WSJ can do to pursue what truly happened with FINRA’s sale of ARS? That statement is the equivalent of FINRA or whomever the ‘people with knowledge’ stating, ‘you’ll have to trust us on this.’

I would put forth that the days of blind trust are over and that for the thousands of investors sitting with those $165 billion in frozen ARS the days of verification are upon us.

I reiterate my longstanding call that FINRA must reveal all the details surrounding its ARS liquidation. Those details include the date of liquidation, the proceeds, the dealer or dealers through whom FINRA liquidated the ARS, and most importantly whether FINRA possessed material, non-public information and acted upon it.

I fully appreciate that my writing and questions here are aggressive, but at this point in our country’s history the American public deserves nothing less than full and total transparency from its financial regulators. Regrettably, both FINRA and the WSJ fall woefully short in providing it.

Comments, questions, constructive criticisms always appreciated.

LD

How Courageous Is Mary Schapiro?

Posted by Larry Doyle on June 4th, 2009 11:57 AM |

mary-schapiroDoes SEC chair Mary Schapiro have the personal courage to lead a new and emboldened financial regulatory regime?

Ms. Schapiro has always been viewed as being far too cozy with the financial industry. Sense on Cents first crossed paths with current SEC chair Mary Schapiro this past January at the time of her exceptionally easy confirmation hearing.  At that point and since, the Wall Street Journal, Bloomberg and others have weighed in that Ms. Schapiro is “no regulatory heavyweight.”

Let’s check back and see if Ms. Schapiro is breaking off the Wall Street shackles. The Washington Post does us the favor of reporting this morning, SEC Chief Strives to Rebuild Regulator:

Schapiro is working to step up enforcement efforts, pushing cases linked to the financial crisis and freeing investigators to more vigorously pursue financial wrongdoing. She is also pursuing regulations to govern hedge funds, derivatives, short-selling, money managers, corporate disclosures and governance.

I am heartened by Ms. Schapiro’s aggressive posture. That said, I am not about to accept purely on face value that Ms. Schapiro is “changing her game.”

On the heels of the financial fiasco on Wall Street, there is doubtless lots to clean up. However, Ms. Schapiro has to appreciate that many question her courage in taking on this task. Why? Very simply, her track record as head of Finra saw an unprecedented drop in sanctions and fines. As the WSJ highlighted this past January:

Fines collected and sanctions assessed by Finra under Ms. Schapiro’s leadership dropped by 73% (in 2005, prior to Ms. Schapiro assuming leadership, Finra collected $150 million in fines. In 2006, Schapiro assumed the leadership reins and that number moved to $75mm. It dropped further to $50mm in 2007, and $35-40mm in 2008).

Against that backdrop, Ms. Schapiro has a lot of work to do to change her own image along with that of the SEC. The WaPo reports that Schapiro is aware of this fact. Schapiro states as much:

“I wanted to be very clear almost from my first day — not just with words, which are pretty easy to string together, but with actions — that this is a new SEC that is moving in a decidedly different direction and at a decidedly different pace,”

Additionally, Schapiro comments,

“Our markets are vulnerable if we’re not able to restore confidence,” Schapiro said. What investors “need to see is that the rules that are in place and will be in the future are enforced and aggressively enforced. If they don’t see that, their reluctance to engage the capital markets will be pretty significant.”

The media continues to rail on Schapiro, the SEC, and Finra for having missed the Madoff scam. Those protests are totally justified. It has been almost 7 months since Bernie turned himself in to authorities and little progress is provided to the public on the investigation.

In my opinion, though, Ms. Schapiro has other dirty laundry that needs a full and public airing.

The U.S. attorney in Brooklyn along with the SEC are currently investigating former executives from Lehman for potentially front running the Auction Rate Securities market in 2007. I call upon Ms. Schapiro to release information regarding Finra’s liquidation of its own Auction Rate Securities holdings in the same time period. Full details on this story are included in U.S. Attorney and SEC Investigate Lehman’s Auction Rate Securities Sales; They Should Also Investigate FINRA’s.

Ms. Schapiro may have to recuse herself in the process of a full and thorough investigation of Finra and its ARS sale. As with any real leader, if she has absolutely nothing to hide, then she should have no problem recusing herself. As she herself said, “our markets are vulnerable if we’re not able to restore confidence.”

Does Ms. Schapiro have the courage to investigate Finra and her own tenure in an attempt to restore that confidence?

LD

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

Does the Palace Guard Have No Clothes?

Posted by Larry Doyle on April 14th, 2009 5:30 AM |

I eagerly await the soon to be released 2008 Annual Report of the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority (FINRA). Prior to its release and in light of all the turmoil on Wall Street over the last 24 months, I thought it may be timely to review the mission and some recent history of the “palace guard,” known as FINRA.  From the FINRA website, we learn:

The Financial Industry Regulatory Authority (FINRA), is the largest non-governmental regulator for all securities firms doing business in the United States. All told, FINRA oversees nearly 5,000 brokerage firms, about 173,000 branch offices and approximately 656,000 registered securities representatives.

Created in July 2007 through the consolidation of NASD and the member regulation, enforcement and arbitration functions of the New York Stock Exchange, FINRA is dedicated to investor protection and market integrity through effective and efficient regulation and complementary compliance and technology-based services.

While FINRA promotes investor protection and market integrity, the simple fact is there are still thousands of investors with an estimated hundred  BILLION dollars locked up in Auction Rate Securities. The ARS market has been designated as a fraud. FINRA not only did not protect the ARS investors, but participated in the ARS market as an investor themselves.  At year end 2006, FINRA had a $647 million position in ARS. Did they sell them? When? To whom? What price? If they did sell their ARS position, did they possess material non-public information and act upon it?  Will the 2008 FINRA Annual Report provide answers? I can only hope.  Aside from a few state attorneys general, who is truly looking to help these investors?

FINRA touches virtually every aspect of the securities business—from registering and educating industry participants to examining securities firms; writing rules; enforcing those rules and the federal securities laws; informing and educating the investing public; providing trade reporting and other industry utilities; and administering the largest dispute resolution forum for investors and registered firms. It also performs market regulation under contract for The NASDAQ Stock Market, the American Stock Exchange, the International Securities Exchange and the Chicago Climate Exchange. (more…)






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