Posted by Larry Doyle on April 20th, 2010 1:10 PM |
I am heartened when great Americans across our country are willing to stand up and lash out at those involved in the Wall Street-Washington incest. I crossed paths with just such an American this morning in Ed Morrow, the chairman and CEO of the International Association of Registered Financial Consultants, a non-profit educational society for the financial planning industry.
Ed wrote to his representaitve John Boehner (R-OH) on financial regulatory topics which he feels are vitally important to his members. I thank Ed for his courage to speak his mind and his willingness to let me run his letter here at Sense on Cents. Thank you to our great American Ed Morrow for writing the following: (more…)
Posted by Larry Doyle on February 4th, 2010 11:40 AM |
Are the wagons circling around Mary Schapiro and her former FINRA colleagues?
Regular readers of Sense on Cents are familiar with the issues and concerns I have raised repeatedly with Wall Street’s self-regulator, FINRA. I continue to believe the issues embedded within this self-regulatory organization lie near the heart of what I deem the Wall Street-Washington nexus.
Perhaps America will learn more about these issues soon. Why? Next week, FINRA’s Board of Directors will address alleged wrongdoings by Ms. Schapiro et al. What are the issues? (more…)
Posted by Larry Doyle on October 3rd, 2009 11:57 AM |
The core of that question resides within the regulatory oversight of our financial industry. The American public is beginning to learn a lot about this financial regulatory oversight. How so? A month ago, SEC Inspector General David Kotz released a report, Investigation of Failure of the SEC to Uncover Bernard Madoff’s Ponzi Scheme (embedded here). Yesterday, the Wall Street self-regulatory organization, FINRA, released Report of the 2009 Special Review Committee on FINRA’s Examination Program In Light of the Stanford and Madoff Schemes.
What did we learn from yesterday’s report? Plenty. For that, I commend all those involved in this effort. With all due respect to FINRA employees who have legitimately tried to fulfill their obligations to the best of their abilities, yesterday’s report is nothing short of a massive indictment of FINRA’s management, FINRA’s board, and the SEC which is charged to oversee FINRA. Why? Having read this report twice and studied critical components of it, FINRA is exposed as nothing more than a collection of crossing guards . . . said with all due respect to crossing guards. Have the supervisors of the crossing guards been so heavily influenced by Wall Street so as to render large parts of the FINRA mission ineffective? Many believe this to be true, including me.
Why so harsh? Let’s navigate and be a little more aggressive than the mainstream financial media in analyzing this report. In the process, I think you will appreciate my assessment and also realize there are many more questions which need to be answered.
The FINRA report is largely divided into the organization’s dealings with the financial frauds encompassing Allen Stanford and Bernard Madoff. Referencing the massive regulatory failings on FINRA’s behalf in these two cases, the authors provide recommendations which FINRA’s management will present for approval or ratification at the December 2009 Board meeting.
For purposes here, I will not regurgitate the numerous individual failings of FINRA examiners and management in each of these cases. Rather, I will highlight those failings which I find most egregious. In turn, I want to focus on highlighting the recommendations so the American public can truly understand how woefully inept, incompetent, and ill-prepared this financial self-regulatory organization has been and currently is to uphold its mission to protect investors. Against that backdrop, I will then lay out questions which I deem to be critically important for FINRA to answer if the American public can ever regain a degree of confidence in the oversight of Wall Street.
>> Stanford Case
1. In 2003, the Stanford broker-dealer generated 68% of its revenues from the sale of Stanford International Bank CD’s. Are you kidding me? Red Flag!! That finding did not prompt the examiner to dig deeper?!
2. A 2003 Anonymous Tip Letter laid out the Stanford scheme in detail.
3. In 2005, a FINRA examiner learned that the Stanford broker-dealer is paid an annual fee of 3% of the deposit sum for every CD. Another red flag! Standard practice would have bankers or securities salespeople earning a one-time fee of maximum .25%.
At this point, Stanford International Bank had raised approximately $1.5 billion in what would grow to a $7.2 billion scam.
With all due respect to FINRA employees who may have continued to look into Stanford over the 2005-2008 time period, truth be told FINRA did not further aggressively pursue this case until the Madoff situation broke in December 2008.
>> Madoff Case
1. FINRA largely limits its review of the Madoff scam to the 2003-present time period. Why not go back further? FINRA had longstanding oversight of the Madoff enterprise.
2. FINRA largely reduces the extensive relationships between Bernie Madoff and family members with FINRA to nothing more than a footnote. That footnote on page 46 provides a cursory approval of FINRA’s relationship with the Madoff firm and family. Why aren’t these relationships more deeply explored?
3. The report acknowledges what we always knew about FINRA having oversight of Madoff’s operation. FINRA representatives, including Mary Schapiro, have willingly and intentionally misrepresented the fact that FINRA had oversight of Madoff’s enterprise. Did Mary Schapiro perjure herself on this topic during her confirmation hearings to be Head of the SEC? Well, she may not have perjured herself, but she and others have willingly misrepresented FINRA’s required oversight of Madoff over the long time period when Madoff was strictly a registered broker-dealer and ran this massive Ponzi scheme within that framework.
4. FINRA failed to detect the full breadth of the relationship between Cohmad Securities and Madoff. Bernie Madoff and his brother Peter owned 24% of Cohmad, and the Cohmad broker-dealer operated within the same office space as Bernard Madoff Investment Securities. Cohmad was largely a front for feeding customers into Madoff’s scam. The report provides:
Cohmad was registered as a broker-dealer and reported having approximately 750 to 850 customer accounts, which were held by and cleared through Bear Stearns Securities Corporation. These accounts usually generated roughly 300 transactions per month, mostly in equities and, to a lesser extent, municipal bonds.
I would very much like to know more details about these municipal bonds. Were they municipal auction rate securities?
5. How did FINRA miss the Madoff scam? This report acknowledges the fact that FINRA examiners merely took Madoff and his representatives at their word that Madoff was running nothing more than a broker-dealer. Are you kidding me? It was common knowledge that Madoff had a money management business. FINRA maintains that the FINRA ‘crossing guards’ checked the little boxes on their Madoff review sheets and went on their way. (more…)
Posted by Larry Doyle on September 15th, 2009 3:23 PM |
On the heels of President Obama’s speech on Wall Street in which he called for meaningful financial regulatory reform, I welcome submitting to him and the American public the following video clips. These clips are from Fox Business News “America’s Nightly Scoreboard” with David Asman on September 3rd.
While President Obama and Congress may believe financial regulatory reform needs to focus on the SEC, the Federal Reserve and assorted other governmental agencies, I would remind the President and his Congressional colleagues that Wall Street is regulated not only by the SEC but to a great extent by the self-regulatory organization known as FINRA (Financial Industry Regulatory Authority).
This discussion on “America’s Nightly Scoreboard” is separated into two parts.
Highlights from the videos include:
1. Richard Greenfield, an attorney representing Amerivet Securities, makes the claim that FINRA under the leadership of Mary Schapiro failed to protect investors.
2. Former SEC chair Harvey Pitt defends Shapiro and FINRA
3. Greenfield indicates that a FINRA insider claims FINRA invested in Madoff!!
4. In Part II of the video clips, your host here at Sense on Cents joins the panel and provides details as to why FINRA, via its parent the NASD, did have responsibility to oversee Madoff. I also comment on the nature of the relationship between Wall Street and Washington, FINRA’s investment and timely liquidation of its Auction-Rate Securities position, and the need for total transparency at FINRA.
4. Head of the Madoff Victims Coalition for Investor Protection, Ronnie Sue Ambrosino, weighs in that the entire regulatory structure from the SEC to FINRA to SIPC (Securities Investor Protection Corporation) have failed to protect investors.
In my humble opinion, the conclusion of this show highlights the screaming need for FINRA to open its books and records for a full and thorough independent analysis and review. In so doing, hopefully investors specifically and the American public at large can regain a degree of confidence in the badly shattered Wall Street regulatory process.
If you care about the markets and our country, I beseech you to watch this 18 minute video in its entirety.
Thoughts, comments, questions always welcome and appreciated.
Posted by Larry Doyle on June 15th, 2009 1:35 PM |
I feel so strongly about my interview last evening with Bill Singer, the preeminent veteran Wall Street regulatory lawyer and market reform advocate, that I am providing a transcript of highlights. My transcription is not totally word for word, so at the end of this post I will provide a BlogTalkRadio audio player so that you can playback the complete interview.
As time allows, I sincerely hope you read the entirety of this transcript and will listen to the complete interview. In my opinion, the issues addressed are that important. You will not be disappointed.
Given Bill’s extensive experience and relationships, he is uniquely positioned to comment on these timely and cutting edge issues. And now, on to the transcript . . .
Sense on Cents: Bill, we have just gone through a tsunami of epic proportions. Our financial industry brought our nation to its knees. We now get the sense that the regulatory oversight of our financial industry may not truly change. What are your feelings about that?
Bill Singer: I think you are right on point. My greatest fear is at the end of the day, we all go back to square one. It’s like asking for a mulligan in golf. People’s lives have been shattered and businesses destroyed. If you listen to the ‘garbage’ coming out of Washington, it’s as if the solutions are the same old things. We’ll set up panels, write papers, but what will really change? I don’t know what planet these people are living on, but last I looked, we haven’t gotten out of this crisis. We owe the next generation a much better regulatory system and a much fairer market. You just get this overwhelming sense that the ‘fix is in.’
Wall Street is wiping their brow and sweat and saying “whew, that was a close one.” It’s as if Wall street is telling Washington, “You’re still with us, aren’t you? We’re still paying for your campaigns.” I’m just afraid that nothing will really change other than some cosmetic changes.
Sense on Cents: I hope some real statesmen step up to address these issues. Since I’ve been writing, I believe we always get into the sufficiency of regulations. Which regulations need to be improved and which should be wiped away. I strongly believe, first and foremost, any industry has to have transparency and integrity in its process. As you just mentioned, it seems as if the ‘fix is in.’
Bill Singer: Larry, I’ve been reading your columns for quite some time now. This is not the time for anybody to be blowing smoke up anybody’s “you know what.” We have a career cast of politicians and regulators who by and large have never really worked for a living and who don’t really have a sense of what the ‘everyday Joe’ goes through. What we need right now is new ideas, new blood. You can’t break into the system. If you have been one of the individuals who has been warning about the major issues for years, you’d think that you would be invited in to ask to contribute ideas to fix them. That never happens. Those folks who regulate us are a very closed society. We have a system in our country that feeds cronyism and there is no way out of it.
I have reached out repeatedly over the years to regulatory bodies and as a 30 year veteran, and a former regulator, if I can’t even get an interview (and I’m not saying I would even want the job; they probably couldn’t afford me), that tells me how corrupt the system is.
When the public reads about Harry Markopolos and Gary Aguirre who have tried to expose issues and they aren’t embraced, that speaks volumes. Regulation has been “in bed” with Wall Street for very long. We need a vibrant and intelligent regulatory system to protect the public against fraud and the industry against its own folly. (more…)
Posted by Larry Doyle on June 4th, 2009 11:57 AM |
Does 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?
U.S. Attorney and SEC Investigating Lehman’s Auction Rate Securities Sales; They Should Also Investigate FINRA’s
Posted by Larry Doyle on May 21st, 2009 11:34 AM |
The Wall Street Journal reports this morning Lehman Role Probed in Selling Securities:
The Justice Department has questioned several former executives at Lehman Brothers Holdings Inc. as part of its criminal investigation into whether they sold supposedly safe, liquid securities to clients while knowing that the market for the securities was drying up.
Prosecutors from the U.S. attorney’s office in Brooklyn and lawyers from the Securities and Exchange Commission in recent weeks interviewed several former executives who ran Lehman’s auction-rate-securities business, these people said. Auction-rate securities are short-term debt instruments in which the interest rates reset at periodic auctions.
The inquiry centers on whether Lehman employees defrauded customers as the market for these securities broke down in 2007. Authorities want to know if Lehman executives got these auction-rate securities off the firm’s books and into client accounts at a time in which the securities were becoming hard to sell, according to the people with knowledge of the matter.
Authorities also want to know if executives knew the market was in trouble and sold their own personal holdings of auction-rate securities, which could constitute insider trading, according to the people. (LD’s highlight)
I wrote on January 16th, “Let’s Really Question Ms. Schapiro.” In that post, I was raising the same questions about FINRA that the U.S. Attorney is now raising about the Lehman executives. I wrote:
Additionally, as of the end of 2006, FINRA acknowledged that the assumed portfolio held a cool $647 million dollars in Auction Rate Securities!!!
For those not familiar with Auction Rate Securities, this sector of the market totally imploded last Spring leaving institutional and individual investors holding the bag. While many institutional investors were made somewhat whole via settlements from the larger broker-dealers, many individual investors remain holding the bag as smaller broker-dealers, who did not necessarily underwrite these securities but did distribute them, have not been forced to make clients whole. WOW!!!
Are you kidding me!!?? The main regulator of the financial industry happens to be an investor in securities which virtually every Attorney General in the country is going after every Wall Street institution for improper marketing and distribution!! Are we looking at gross negligence, ignorance, incompetence or all of the above?? The question that MUST be answered is what has FINRA done with these Auction Rate Securities. Do they still own them? Did they liquidate them? If so, when and at what price? How was the sale negotiated? So many questions.
Over and above that, given that Ms. Schapiro is the chief executive of FINRA, don’t you think it would have been appropriate for her to address which hedge funds, fund of funds, and private equity shops were in FINRA’s portfolio? FINRA’s Annual Report categorically states its’ investment committee addresses any potential conflicts of interest. The public deserved to have this topic openly addressed during Ms. Schapiro’s hearing. WHY? For the simple reason that FINRA is feeding from the very same trough it is supposed to be regulating.
I followed this post up with numerous other posts raising the same questions. On March 31st, I wrote “Before Any Fraud Ensued,” in which I aggressively put forth:
Given that there is public acknowledgement by a federal judge that a fraud had ensued in the marketing and distribution of ARPS, let us return to the case Sense on Cents has been highlighting. FINRA’s Annual Report for 2007 publicy records that FINRA owned $647 million ARPS at year end 2006.
The questions that need to be answered:
1. Was FINRA defrauded in the purchase and sale of their bonds?
Note from LD: I have subsequently unearthed, in reading NASD Annual Reports from 2003-2005, that FINRA assumed the ownership of their ARS holdings from NASD. I highlighted as much in my post, “NASD Knew Auction Rate Securities Weren’t Cash”
2. If FINRA has sold their bonds subsequent to the publishing of that report in April 2008, to whom did they sell them? at what price? on what date?
Note from LD: The Bloomberg article from April 30th, FINRA Oversees Auction-Rate Arbitrations After Exit offered the following color addressing FINRA’s sale of their ARS holdings:
Finra, responsible for educating and protecting investors, owned as much as $862.2 million of the debt before exiting the market in the spring of 2007, less than six months before auctions began to fail, according to spokesman Herb Perone.
3. Did FINRA have material non-public information at the time of sale, if in fact they sold them? Did they act on that information?
Note from LD: Today’s WSJ article is further acknowledgment that the Auction Rate Securities market was failing in 2007. FINRA first apprised investors of concerns in the ARS sector in Spring 2008. If in fact the ARS market was failing in 2007, the pressure on FINRA needs to increase. FINRA must release the trade information on their sale of ARS. Without that information, how can the investing public have any confidence in the integrity of FINRA and its procedures. Returning to my March 31st post:
Let’s put this into layman’s terms. FINRA was supposed to be overseeing and regulating the casino on Wall Street. In the process of regulating the casino, it appears that they put some of their own chips into one of the games. That game, ARPS, turned out to be a fraud, as publicly acknowledged by U.S. District Judge Lawrence McKenna in this case with UBS.
DID THE SECURITY GUARD, FINRA, PROTECT THE OTHER PATRONS AS REQUIRED OR DID THE SECURITY GUARD PROTECT HIS OWN INTERESTS TO THE DETRIMENT OF THE OTHER PATRONS?
Now here we are on May 21st, 2009. The questions that the U.S. Attorney is looking to get answered by Lehman executives are the EXACT questions that FINRA executives also should be compelled to answer.
Do you think representatives from the U.S. Attorney’s Office, the SEC, and defense counsel may also want to know the answers to these questions as well?
Posted by Larry Doyle on May 4th, 2009 8:08 AM |
As Obama looks to send a message to the American public that he will clean up Wall Street, hedge funds are “under the microscope.” Who in Washington will be delegated to lead the charge? None other than SEC head, Mary Schapiro. Bloomberg reports, SEC Chief Schapiro Wants Authority to Make Hedge-Fund Rules.
Hedge funds have become dirty words. When Washington wants to convey excessive Wall Street greed, politicians and regulators now regularly slip “hedge funds” into their statement.
As with any industry, hedge funds run the gamut in terms of business practices and ethics. It is well documented, though, that Washington solicits and receives excessive campaign contributions from the hedge fund community.
I agree that the hedge fund industry deserves greater scrutiny. A trillion dollar industry unregulated is a breeding ground for problems.
“It’s probably not enough just to register hedge funds” with the SEC, Schapiro said in an interview on Bloomberg Television’s “Political Capital with Al Hunt,” airing this weekend. “It may well be necessary to put in place particular kinds of rules.”
Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner’s plan to overhaul financial oversight in response to the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression would force hedge funds to register with the SEC, subjecting firms to new disclosure requirements and inspections by agency staff. Schapiro said the SEC’s authority should be broader, so it can impose further restrictions on funds as “situations evolve.”
President Barack Obama yesterday blamed hedge funds that had lent Chrysler LLC money for triggering the automaker’s bankruptcy. Obama said the funds were “speculators” that refused the administration’s buyout offers because they were holding out for an “unjustified taxpayer bailout.”
Schapiro said “it’s certainly possible” that the SEC would consider forcing hedge funds to publicly disclose short- sale positions, imposing restrictions on leverage and restricting what the firms can invest in.
Does anybody have an issue with increased disclosure and oversight? Transparency is critically important in making sure the playing field for all investors is kept fair and level.
Ms. Schapiro does have experience with hedge funds prior to this engagement, though. As I have highlighted, Ms. Schapiro, as head of FINRA, oversaw investments within FINRA’s internal portfolio which included hedge funds, fund of funds, and private equity.
From the 2007 FINRA Annual Report:
FINRA also has investments in hedge funds and funds of hedge funds that it accounts for under the equity method and includes in other investments in the consolidated balance sheets. As of December 31, 2007, the Company had hedge fund investments of $431.2 million.
Ms. Schapiro should be compelled to share with the investing public in which hedge funds FINRA invested.
Will those funds withstand the rigor of newly proposed SEC regulation? At the very least we may learn whether Ms. Schapiro was a good steward of FINRA funds. Beyond that, we may learn a lot more.
If the Obama administration is serious about developing new regulations for Wall Street, let’s make sure the transparency includes Ms. Schapiro’s tenure at FINRA and details of FINRA’s investment portfolio!!