The Resolution Law Group: SEC in Action: Finds Nomura Holdings Not Ineligible Issuer Even with Judgment, Will Consider Redrafted Shareholder Proposal Regarding Exelon, & Puts Out Regulation M, Rule 105 Violation Sanctions

The Securities and Exchange Commission’s Division of Corporation Finance has given relief to Nomura Holdings, Inc. over an entry in the final judgment issued against its subsidiary Instinet, LLC last month. The staff said that Nomura made a good cause showing under 1933 Securities Act Rule 405(2), and now the SEC says it won’t consider the company an ineligible issuer even with the entry of that final judgment.

The SEC opened up an administrative proceeding action against Instinet, accusing it of purposely abetting and aiding and violating sections of the Investment Advisers Act. The claims involved purported soft dollar payments.

J.S. Oliver Capital Management, L.P., an Instinet customer, had asked for the payments for expenses it did not tell clients about. The Commission says that Instinet made the payments per JS Oliver’s request, even though there were red flags indicating that the requests for payment approval were improper. The Nomura subsidiary turned in a settlement offer that led to a cease-and-desist order against the brokerage firm, & the regulator accepted the settlement offer.

Responding to a no-action request from Exelon Corp. to leave out from the latter’s proxy materials a shareholder proposal for a pay ratio cap for certain named executives, this SEC division said the proposal would be excluded unless it is redrafted (or a request is made to the board of directors). SEC staff did not agree with Exelon that the proposal, which concentrates on senior executive compensation-related policies, was misleading, false, or pertained to mere ordinary business.

Canadian-registered portfolio management firm Qube Investment Management Inc. turned in the proposal, asking that the compensation committee or the board restrict how much each named Exelon executive officer could make to no more than 100 times the median annual total paid to all company employees. Qube said that at least one Exelon executive is making 200 times the pay of the average American worker.

Exelon argued that the proposal would properly limit the power of tis board to decide compensation, and under Pennsylvania law this subject was not appropriate for action by shareholders.

SEC staff agreed that there was some ground’s for Exelon’s argument about the proposal not being appropriate subject for shareholder action or that it could cause the company to violate state law. That said, staff noted that the defect could be fixed if it was reframed as a request or a recommendation.

In other SEC news, the Commission has just issued final rules to make clear the roles of its ethics counsel and general counsel. The regulator’s general counsel is to advise staff lawyers about professional duties arising from their official duties, as well as probe allegations of professional misbehavior. As for its ethic’s counsel, the SEC said its job did not include looking into allegations about professional misconduct or making referrals to the authorities. The rules and accompanying modification/clarifications will go into effect once they appear in the Federal Register.

Also, the SEC has sanctioned Axius Holdings, LLC. for violating Regulation M’s Rule 105. The Commission claims that Axius took part in 13 offerings that the rule covers between June 2008 and March 2010 and then went on to short the stock of the companies during the restricted periods.

As a result of these alleged trading activities, Axius and its owner Henry Robertelli purportedly made profits of about $31,000. Now, the two of them must pay disgorgement in that approximate amount, plus prejudgment interest and a monetary payment.

The Resolution Law Group is a securities fraud law firm that represents institutional investors and high net worth individuals in recovering their money.

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The Resolution Law Group: The Volcker Rule May Already Be Affecting Financial Markets & The Economy

According to The Wall Street Journal, it’s just been a week since regulators approved the Volcker Rule and already investors and financial institutions are looking for new ways to finance municipal bond investments. The Volcker rule limits how much risk federally insured depository institutions can take, prohibiting proprietary trading, setting up obstacles for banks that take part in market timing, and tightening up on compensation agreements that used to serve as incentive for high-risk trading.

Now, says Forbes, Wall Street and its firms are undoubtedly trying to figure out how to get around the rule via loopholes, exemptions, new ways of interpreting the rule, etc. (One reason for this may be that how much executives are paid is dependent upon the amount they make from speculative trading.) The publication says that banks are worried that the Volcker Rule could cost them billions of dollars.

For example, with tender-option bond transactions, hedge funds, banks, and others employ short-terming borrowings to pay for long-term muni bonds. The intention is to make money off of the difference in interest they pay lenders and what they make on the bonds. While tender-option bonds make up just a small section of the $3.7 trillion muni debt market, it includes debt that has been popular with Eaton Vance (EV), Oppenheimer Funds, and others.

Under the Volcker Rule, big banks will no longer be able to deal in tender-option bonds the way they are structured, which is expected to curb new bond issuance and lower tradings (and why banks are likely scrambling to figure out how else they can finance municipal bonds). Already, the Securities Industry and Financial Markets Association is setting up a group to determine how its members can employ leverage to get into municipal debt.

Meantime, midsize and smaller banks are getting ready to sell collateralized debt obligations because of a provision under the rule that restricts certain risky investments. The Volcker Rule limits banks in their investing in collateralized debt obligations backed by securities that are trust-preferred. (A lot of smaller institutions issued these securities before the financial crisis.)

Now, banks such as Zions Bancorp (ZION) will have to sell some CDOs. Zion is expected to take a $387M charge to write down the securities’ value. The bank is concerned that under the Volcker Rule, the securities would be “disallowed investments.”

Per the rule, the deadline for banks to get rid of its risky assets is July 21, 2015—although an extension can be obtained via the Federal Reserve. That said, banks do need to make an adjustment right away to the accounting treatment they’ve been using for the securities.

If you suspect that you suffered financial losses because of municipal bond fraud, contact The Resolution Law Group to find out whether you should file a securities fraud claim. Your case assessment with us is a no obligation, free consultation.

The Resolution Law Group: Three Ex-GE Bankers Convicted of Municipal Bond Bid Rigging Are Set Free

In a 2-1 ruling, the U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in New York panel has decided that three ex-General Electric Co. bankers charged with conspiring to bilk cities in a muni bond bid rigging scam can go free because the US government waited too long to prosecute them. Reversing last year’s convictions of Dominick Carollo, Steven Goldberg, and Peter Grimm, the court dismissed the criminal case against them and ordered that they be released from prison.

According to prosecutors, the three men worked with guaranteed investment contracts that allowed municipalities to make interest on money made from bond sales until they wanted to spend on local projects. The government believes that between August 1999 and May 2004 Carollo, Goldberg, and Grimm gave three brokers, including UBS PaineWebber, kickbacks to win actions for the contracts even if it meant the bank would make interest payments that were artificially low.

A federal jury convicted the former GE bankers of defrauding the country and conspiracy to commit wire fraud. They appealed, appealed, contending that the indictment on July 27, 2010 exceeded the statute of limitations, which is six years for conspiracy to bilk the US via tax law violations and five years for conspiracy. The government disagreed, arguing that the limitations’ statute went on as long as GE was paying rates that were not competitive.

Meantime, GE on Friday consented to settle for $18.25M a class action securities case over municipal bond fixing. The plaintiffs accused the company of rigging municipal bond bids. GE is among the financial firms and lenders accused of working together to rig prices for municipal derivatives. Investors say that the price fixing of the bonds violated antitrust laws and caused them to get lower interest rates.

GE had previously settled similar securities claims made by state attorneys general for $30 million, Three years ago it settled for $70 million municipal bond rigging allegations made by the US Justice Department.

If you are a municipal bond investor who suffered financial losses you think may be due to securities fraud, contact our municipal bond fraud law firm today. http://www.theresolutionlawgroup.com

 

The Resolution Law Group: Volcker Rule is Approved by SEC, FDIC, Federal Reserve, CFTC, and OCC

Five regulatory agencies in the US have voted to approve the Volcker Rule today. The measure establishes new hurdles for banks that engage in market timing and will limit compensation arrangements that previously provided incentive for high risk trading.

While the Federal Reserve Board and the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation voted unanimously to approve the Volcker Rule, the Securities and Exchange Commission approved it in a 3-2 vote, the Commodity Futures Trading Commission approved it in a 3-1 vote, and the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency’s sole voting member also said yes. President Barack Obama praised the rule’s finalization. He believes it will improve accountability and create a safer financial system.

Named after ex-Federal Chairman Paul Volcker, the rule sets up guidelines that impose risk-taking limits for banks with federally insured deposits. It mandates that they show the way their hedging strategies are designed to function, as well as set up approval procedures for any diversions from these plans. Per the rule’s preamble, banks have to make sure hedges are geared to mitigate risks upon “inception” and this needs to be “based on analysis” regarding the appropriateness of strategies, hedging instruments, limits, techniques, as well as the correlation between the hedge and underlying risks.

Banks with federal insured deposits won’t able to take part in proprietary trading, which involves engaging in risky investment endeavors for their own benefits. They also won’t be allowed to take ownership stakes in private equity funds and hedge funds.

Unlike an earlier version of the rule, which gave an exemption to the proprietary trading ban involving US Treasury securities, this final rule lets firms trade foreign debt. That said, foreign banks in the US will have to contend with stringent trading restrictions and overseas banks with US offices won’t be allowed to sell, buy or hedge investments for profit.

According to CNN.com, advocates of reform believe that with the Volcker Rule’s restrictions taxpayers wont have to bail out these institutions In the future. Meanwhile, representatives of the industry are calling measure burdensome and too complicated.

Banks wanted the rule to protect market timing (with the firms hold the securities to engage in customer transactions). They also wanted to keep their ability to trade for hedging purposes.

Now, with the Volcker Rule, to show that they are taking part in market making (rather than speculation), banks will need to demonstrate that trades are being determined by customers’ “reasonably expected near-term demands,” and that historic demand and existing market conditions have been factored into the equation. Also, although banks will now have to contend with more limits on foreign bond trading, they can still take part in the proprietary trading of federal, state, municipal, and government-backed entities’ bonds.

As for hedging, firms will have to identify specific risks that such activities would offset. Bankers involved in hedging won’t be compensated in a manner that rewards proprietary trading.

The Resolution Law Group represents institutional investors and high net worth individual investors throughout the US. We help our clients recover their securities fraud losses

The Resolution Law Group: RBS Securities Inc. Settles SEC’s Subprime RMBS Lawsuit for $150M

RBS Securities Inc., which is a Royal Bank of Scotland PLC. Subsidiary (RBS), has agreed to pay $150 million to settle Securities and Exchange Commission allegations that it misled investors in a $2.2 billion subprime residential mortgage-backed security offering in 2007. The money will be used to pay back investors who were harmed.

The SEC claims the RBS said that the loans backing the offering “generally” satisfied underwriting guidelines even though close to 30% of them actually were so far off from meeting them that they should not have been part of the offering. As lead underwriters, RBS (then known as Greenwich Capital Markets,) had only (and briefly) looked at a small percentage of the loans while receiving $4.4 million as the transaction’s lead underwriter.

SEC Division Enforcement co-director George Cannellos said that inadequate due diligence by RBS was involved. The Commissions also says that because RBS was in a hurry to meet a deadline established by the seller, the firm misled investors about not just the quality of the loans but also regarding their chances for repayment.

Of the $150 million that RBS will pay, $80.3 million is disgorgement, $25.2 million is prejudgment interest, and $48.2 million is a civil penalty.

The Resolution Law Group’s RMBS fraud lawyers are here to help investors get back their losses. Unfortunately, many investors lost money in different types of mortgage-backed securities during the economic crisis. Often the investments were recommended by stockbrokers and financial advisers even if they were unsuitable for the client or when not enough proper due diligence was conducted to make sure the investment was a wise one. Contact The Resolution Law Group today.

Lawmakers & Industry Folk Address the DOL Amending the Definition of Fiduciary, Reg A Plus Offerings, Oversight, Rogue Brokers, and Expungement Rules

US House Passes A Bill Prohibiting the US Labor Department DOL From Amending Its Definition of “Fiduciary” Until SEC’s Uniform Conduct Standard is Established
A bill that would not allow the Department of Labor to amend its rules regarding the definition of the term “fiduciary” until after Securities and Exchange Commission adopts its own rule that places broker-dealers and investment advisers under a uniform standard of conduct has passed in the US House of Representatives. The DOL has been trying to revise its definition of “fiduciary” in the Employee Retirement Income Security Act (ERISA). Those who voted to prohibit revising the definition have been worried about possibly ending up with two rulemakings that were inconsistent with one another.

Reg A Plus Offerings and Their Oversight Get Capitol Hill Debate
At a Senate Banking Committee’s Securities, Insurance, and Investment Subcommittee hearing about developments involving the Jumpstart Our Business Startups Act, discussion ensued about Reg A Plus offerings. The SEC has yet to put out a proposal about “Reg A Plus,” which is the term used by its staff to refer to the new Reg A threshold.

Per the JOBS ACT’S Title IV, the SEC has to put in place a rule that will give exemption to certain offerings of up to $50 million (the current Reg A exemption is $5 million). While Reg A plus offerings would be exempt from SEC registration, they will have to adhere to state level registration unless found on a national securities exchange or sold to a “qualified purchaser.” Already, some in the industry are calling for a “workable definition” of what constitutes a “qualified purchaser” so that certain offerings would be exempt from state registration requirements.

There are those who believe that Reg A Plus offerings would benefit “Main Street businesses” that are not the likeliest candidates for other JOBS Act provisions. That said, the existing blue sky registration process puts in place additional limitations and burdens that might discourage those who would use a new Reg A Plus exemption.

Meantime, the North American Securities Administrators Association has put out a proposal (and is seeking comment) on streamlining the review of Reg A Plus offerings by the states. NASAA says long standing state policies will have to be modified and a “peel back” of certain requirements is necessary to make the offerings more viable.

Sen. Markey Worries About Rogue Brokers, Expungement of Violations from Public Records
In letters to the SEC and the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority, US Sen. Edward Markey (D-Mass) expressed his concerns about the high rate of broker-dealers that are able to get certain complaints removed from their records. Markey co-authored the bill that eventually led to the creation of FINRA’s BrokerCheck, which is the online database that provides information about the records of broker-dealers and brokers that the public can access. However, he worries that with such a high expungement rate for these advisers, investors are not getting an accurate picture of these people’s records.

The senator from Massachusetts believes that expunging settlement deals from a broker’s records should be prohibited. Meantime, FINRA said it has started to make changes to preserve the integrity of its BrokerCheck system and enhance investor protections.

Markey also voiced worry about a report in the Wall Street Journal noting that millions of dollars in arbitration awards aren’t paid because some firms file for bankruptcy instead. Markey wants the SRO to make brokerage firms carry insurance to cover arbitration awards. He is dismayed that there are thousands of brokers who keep selling securities even after being kicked out by FINRA. He told the SRO that it needs to do a better job of finding “rogue brokers” who stay in business even though they’ve been expelled.

The Resolution Law Group represents individual and institutional investors that have sustained losses from broker fraud. Contact our stockbroker fraud law firm today.

The Resolution Law Group: JPMorgan Said to Reach Record $13 Billion U.S. Settlement

JPMorgan Chase & Co.’s record $13 billion deal to end U.S. probes of its mortgage-bond sales would free the nation’s largest bank from mounting civil disputes with the government while leaving a criminal inquiry unresolved.

The tentative pact with the Department of Justice increased from an $11 billion proposal last month and would mark the largest amount paid by a financial firm in a settlement with the U.S. The deal wouldn’t release the bank from potential criminal liability, at the insistence of U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder, according to terms described by a person familiar with the talks, who asked not to be named because they were private.

“To not get the waiver from criminal prosecution is not good,” said Nancy Bush, a bank analyst who founded NAB Research LLC in New Jersey. “What we’re looking for in a settlement of this size is certainty from things like the criminal prosecution of a company. The Street wants certainty.”

JPMorgan Chief Executive Officer Jamie Dimon, 57, personally discussed the deal with Holder after markets closed Oct. 18 as the banker sought to end probes that have beset his firm and resulted in its first quarterly loss under his watch. The agreement, which isn’t yet final, includes $4 billion in relief for unspecified consumers and $9 billion in payments and fines, according to another person briefed on the terms.

The payouts would cover a $4 billion accord with the Federal Housing Finance Agency over the bank’s sale of mortgage-backed securities, that person said. The deal, which may be announced in the coming week, also resolves pending inquiries by New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman, the people said.

Dwarfing Pay

The settlement would amount to more than half of JPMorgan’s record $21.3 billion profit last year, or 1.5 times what the firm’s corporate and investment bank set aside to pay employees during this year’s first nine months. Only seven companies in the Dow Jones Industrial Average earned more than $13 billion in 2012, according to data compiled by Bloomberg. Some portions of the deal, such as relief to homeowners, would probably be tax deductible for JPMorgan.

The outline of the tentative accord was reached during a telephone call between Holder, Dimon, JPMorgan General Counsel Stephen Cutler and Associate U.S. Attorney General Tony West, said the person. The settlement’s statement of facts is still being negotiated.

Bondholder Concerns

Holder told Dimon that a release from the criminal inquiry wouldn’t be forthcoming as part of any deal, said the person familiar with their talks. The accord will probably require JPMorgan to cooperate in criminal investigations of individuals tied to wrongdoing associated with the bank’s mortgage practices, said the person.

Brian Fallon, a spokesman for the Justice Department, and Matt Mittenthal, a spokesman for Schneiderman, declined to comment.

The possible inclusion of homeowner relief has revived concerns among mortgage-bond investors that efforts to ease the financial burdens of millions of Americans may lower the value of instruments held by Wall Street money managers.

The Association of Mortgage Investors, representing mutual funds and pensions, urged Holder in an Oct. 7 letter not to let banks saddle them with costs associated with relief for mortgage borrowers. Banks settling claims of underwriting lapses often service debts in bonds held by others, who can wind up bearing the burden of breaks granted to homeowners.

Talks Intensify

JPMorgan’s push to settle the mortgage probes and other cases required a $7.2 billion charge in the third quarter, causing the bank to report a $380 million loss on Oct. 11. The firm has tapped $8 billion of $28 billion in reserves set aside since 2010 to cover its legal expenses.

Those costs follow three years of record profits that have driven the stock higher. JPMorgan’s shares have climbed 72 percent since the end of 2008, compared with a 48 percent gain in the KBW Bank Index of 24 U.S. firms. On the day the firm reported its quarterly loss, the stock closed little changed. It has since climbed 3.4 percent.

“It looks like they are gradually becoming able to put the past and the crisis behind them,” said Craig Pirrong, professor of finance at the University of Houston’s Bauer College of Business whose research includes risk management. “It’s an expensive history lesson, and they are not out of the woods yet.”

JPMorgan’s push to end the mortgage probes intensified last month after the U.S. Attorney’s office in Sacramento, California, told the bank it was preparing to bring a case. Authorities there already had concluded there were civil violations and opened a criminal probe, JPMorgan said in an August regulatory filing.

Government’s Stance

Dimon spent two hours at the Justice Department in Washington on Sept. 26 to discuss a possible settlement of state and federal probes with Holder, a person familiar with the matter said at the time. During the bank’s talks with senior Justice Department officials, proposals swung by billions of dollars, people with knowledge of the situation said. At one point, officials rejected the company’s offer to pay $3 billion to $4 billion, one person said at the time.

“It almost sounds like a negotiation where the government just kept saying, ‘No. No. No,’ until JPMorgan met their number,” said Peter Henning, a former federal prosecutor and Securities and Exchange Commission attorney who teaches law at Wayne State University in Detroit.

Others involved in the talks of a global deal included the Department of Housing and Urban Development and Schneiderman, who is co-chairman of a federal and state working group on residential mortgage-backed securities, which negotiated the civil-mortgage settlement with JPMorgan.

False Statements

The FHFA sued JPMorgan and 17 other banks over faulty mortgage bonds two years ago to recoup some of the losses taxpayers were forced to cover when the government took control of failing mortgage finance companies in 2008.

The FHFA accused JPMorgan and its affiliates of making false statements and omitting material facts in selling $33 billion in mortgage bonds to Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac from Sept. 7, 2005, through Sept. 19, 2007. Those two firms, regulated by FHFA, have taken $187.5 billion in federal aid since then.

The regulator said executives at JPMorgan, Washington Mutual and Bear Stearns Cos., which were acquired by JPMorgan in 2008, knowingly misrepresented the quality of the loans underlying the bonds, according to the lawsuit filed in federal court in Manhattan.

Dimon said in a speech last year that he did the U.S. a favor by buying Bear Stearns and that he might not go through with it again because of how much the deal ultimately cost.

Settlement ‘Chagrin’

“The settlement probably comes with a sense of chagrin at JPMorgan,” said Joseph Grundfest, a former SEC commissioner who’s now a professor of business and law at Stanford University Law School. “Many of the problematic transactions were done by banks that JPMorgan acquired during the financial crisis at the behest of the U.S. government — not by JPMorgan itself.”

UBS AG, Switzerland’s largest bank, agreed to pay $885 million last month to settle claims it misrepresented the quality of the loans backing $4.5 billion in residential mortgage bonds it sponsored and $1.8 billion of third-party mortgage bonds sold to Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. UBS was the third bank to reach an agreement with FHFA.

Citigroup Inc. and General Electric Co. both paid undisclosed amounts to settle the regulator’s claims.

Probes Pending

JPMorgan has paid more than $1 billion to five different regulators in the past month to settle probes into botched derivatives trades that lost more than $6.2 billion in 2012. It also settled unrelated claims it unfairly charged customers for credit-monitoring products.

The bank faces an investigation into its hiring practices in Asia. It’s also the subject of a probe by Manhattan U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara into claims it abetted Bernard Madoff’s Ponzi scheme, a person familiar with that matter said.

The six biggest U.S. banks, led by JPMorgan and Charlotte, North Carolina-based Bank of America Corp., have piled up more than $100 billion in legal costs since the financial crisis, a figure that exceeds all of the dividends paid to shareholders in the past five years, Bloomberg data show.

The Obama administration set up the residential mortgage-backed securities working group in 2012 to coordinate a crackdown on deceptive underwriting practices that contributed to the financial crisis.

Schneiderman’s Claims

Schneiderman’s office sued JPMorgan last October over mortgage-bonds packaged by Bear Stearns.

Schneiderman alleged Bear Stearns misled mortgage-bond investors about defective loans backing the securities. The firm failed to fully evaluate the debt, ignored defects uncovered by a limited review and hid that it failed to adequately scrutinize the loans or disclose their risks, according to the complaint.

At the time it was filed, the cumulative realized losses on more than 100 subprime and Alt-A securities that the bank and its affiliates sponsored and underwrote in 2006 and 2007 totaled about $22.5 billion, or about 26 percent of the original balance of about $87 billion, according to the complaint. Alt-A is a term for mortgages that typically didn’t require documentation such as proof of income.

Schneiderman’s office asserted claims under New York’s Martin Act, an almost century-old law that gives the state’s attorney general broad powers to target financial fraud. The bank denied the claims in the case, which is pending in state Supreme Court in Manhattan.

‘Self-Inflicted’

The FHFA alleged in its 2011 lawsuit that the bank misled Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac about the soundness of loans in billions of dollars of residential mortgage-backed securities. The bank didn’t disclose that a significant portion of the loans failed to adhere to underwriting standards and had poor credit quality, according to the complaint.

The number of loans for owner-occupied properties was lower than investors were told, and the bank’s disclosures misrepresented the properties’ value, according to the complaint.

JPMorgan’s rising legal and regulatory penalties don’t mean the company’s bankers are “immoral,” Dimon told an audience Oct. 12 at a meeting hosted by Institute of International Finance, where he acknowledged the bank was working through a series of problems.

“Some are self-inflicted, which we’ve completely confessed to the whole world. Some are obviously industrywide,” he said. “And yes, we’ve had some mistakes. But honestly, you can never expect to have no mistakes. So, we’ve had more than our share.”

The case is Federal Housing Finance Agency v. JPMorgan Chase & Co., 11-06188, U.S. District Court Southern District of New York (Manhattan).

 

If you feel you are the victim of Mortgage Fraud, please do not hesitate to email or call the The Resolution Law Group (203) 542-7275 for a confidential, no obligation consultation.