FINRA Orders Wells Fargo & Banc of America’s Merrill Lynch Ordered to Pay $5.1M for Floating-Rate Bank Loan Funds Sales

The Financial Industry Regulatory Authority Inc. says that Merrill Lynch, Pierce, Fenner & Smith Incorporated (MER) and Wells Fargo Advisors LLC must pay $5.1 million for losses sustained by customers who bought floating-rate bank loan funds.

According to the SRO, brokers at Banc of America and Merrill recommended the purchase of floating-rate bank loan funds to customers who didn’t have investment goals, risks tolerance, or financial conditions that were consistent with the features and risks of these kinds of mutual funds. Instead, these were customers whose risk tolerance levels were conservative and wanted to preserve principal. FINRA says that the sale recommendations were made even though there wasn’t reason to believe that floating-rate bank loan funds would be suitable for these investors.

In regards to the allegations against Wells Fargo, FINRA, in its acceptance, waiver and consent letter, said that brokers there warned about the funds but that the firm failed to act on their worries. The SRO says that the brokers had even confused the funds with bank certificates of deposit and other less risky investments.

Now, Wells Fargo Advisors, which is Wells Fargo Investments, LLC successor must pay $1.25 million and pay back 239 customers about $2 million in losses while Merrill Lynch, as Banc of America Investment Services, Inc.’s successor most pay 214 customers about $1.1 million and a $900,000 fine. By settling, the two financial firms are not denying or admitting to the allegations. They are, however, consenting to an entry of FINRA’s findings.

It was in July 2011 that the SRO issued a warning to investors about going after returns in floating-rate loan funds. These funds tend to invest in loans that financial institutions extend to entities that have lower than investment-grade credit quality. The companies that put out these high interest rate loans usually posses a high debt-to-equity ratio. Meantime, the loans’ yields are usually higher than investment-grade bonds. A fund invested in these loans can be appealing in a rising or low interest rate atmosphere because along with higher yields, the funds’ interest rate goes up when rates rise.

That said, the market for floating-rate loans is pretty unregulated and the loans don’t trade on an organized change. This makes them generally illiquid and hard to value. Often, funds that invest in these loans are promoted as products that aren’t as vulnerable to fluctuation in interest rate while providing inflation protection. That said, the loans in the fund are subject to substantial liquidity, credit, and valuation risk.

If you sustained losses in floating-rate bank loan funds and you feel that these funds were recommended to you even though they may not have been suitable for your investment needs or goals, you may have grounds for a FINRA arbitration case or a securities fraud lawsuit. Contact our The Resolution Law Group today at (203) 542-7275 for a confidential, no obligation consultation..

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