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.

The Resolution Law Group: Merrill Lynch Settles with SEC Over CDO Disclosures for Almost $132M

The Securities and Exchange Commission says that Merrill Lynch Pierce Fenner & Smith Inc. (MER) will pay $131.8M to settle charges involving allegedly faulty derivatives disclosures. The regulator claims that the firm, which is the largest broker-dealer by client assets, misled investors about certain structured debt products before the economic crisis. By settling, Merrill is not denying or agreeing to the allegations. Also, the brokerage firm was quick to note that the matter for dispute occurred before Bank of America (BAC) acquired it.

According to the Commission, in 2006 and 2007 Merrill Lynch did not tell investors that Magnetar Capital impacted the choice of collateral that was behind specific debt products. The hedge fund purportedly hedged stock positions by shorting against Norma CDO I Ltd. and Octans I CDO Ltd., which are two collateral debt obligations that the firm was selling to customers.

The SEC contends that Merrill used misleading collateral to market these CDO investments. According to Division of Enforcement co-director George Canellos, the materials depicted an independent process for choosing collateral that benefited long-term debt investors and customers did not know about the role Magnetar Capital was playing to choose the underlying portfolios.

Also sanctioned by the SEC were Joseph Parish and Scott Shannon, two managing partners of IR Capital Management LLC. This was the investment adviser that took care of choosing collateral for the CDO Norma. They are accused of compromising their supposed lack of bias by letting a third party with its own interests affect the portfolio-selection process. The SEC says Shannon accepted assets that Magnetar chose while Parish let the hedge fund impact how other assets were selected. The two men will pay over $472,000 to settle the allegations against them and they were suspended from the industry.

Meantime, the US government continues to pursue Wall Street firms over their alleged misconduct involving the mortgage-backed securities creation that is attributed to helping cause investor losses during the financial crisis and the housing slump. The SEC has also pursued claims against Citigroup Inc. (C), Goldman Sachs Group Inc. (GS), and JPMorgan Chase & Co. (JPM) over their involvement in structuring and promoting investments linked to home loans that were faulty.

If you suspect that you have been the victim of securities fraud, contact The Resolution Law Group’s CDO fraud lawyers today.  The Resolution Law Group represents investors with securities claims against financial firms, investment advisers, brokerage firms, brokers, and others. Contact our securities fraud law firm.

SEC Members Discuss Agency’s Core Mission, New Penalty Policy, and Private Offerings in the Wake of General Solicitation

SEC Member Presses Regulator to Stick to Its Core Mission When Figuring Out Priorities
Securities and Exchange Commission member Daniel Gallagher wants the regulator to focus more on its mission when determining its regulatory agenda. He said that the SEC’s three mandates must always be considered: maintaining markets that are efficient and fair, making capital reform happen, and protecting investors.

Speaking at a AICPA/SIFMA Financial Management Society Conference, Gallagher said the agency should remove credit rating references from its rules, start reassessing the US market structure, put into place proxy advice reform, set up a new Regulation A Plus exemption, take a closer look at fixed-income regulatory issues, and reassess its disclosure regime. He believes that excessive credit rating dependence was a central cause for the failure of securitized products that led to the 2008 economic crisis. Gallagher says that the SEC should have taken out the credit ratings references years before the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act.

SEC Commissioner Aguilar Praises Agency’s’ Enforcement Approach, Wants New Penalty Policy
Securities and Exchange Commissioner Luis Aguilar wants the regulator to rework its penalty guidelines so it more properly focuses on the seriousness of conduct and deterrence. At the Securities Litigation and Regulatory Enforcement Seminar, Aguilar said that while the 2006 Statement Concerning Financial Penalties pays attention to whether a company benefitted or investors sustained harm from an alleged violation, he now thinks that the agency should adopt a new statement that factors in the types of misconduct and violation that occurred, the history and background of the defendant, any attempts at remediation and self-reporting, and the impact on parties that are not the corporation. The SEC official said these statements are his own.

Aguilar also said that as the regulator gets more comfortable with mandating that there be admissions of guilt, he expected that the SEC would in future ask for stronger admissions. Aguilar acknowledged that the agency’s modification of its policy so that now not all defendants can just settle without denying or admitting wrongdoing is a “positive.” However, he said, the Commission should also make sure that certain defendants admit to what laws they specifically violated, as well as acknowledge their fault in any wrongful conduct.

With Ban on General Solicitation Lifted, Private Offerings Are in Demand
The SEC says that with the bar on general solicitation no longer in place it has been notified about issuers wanting to sell nearly $1 billion of private offerings via the new exemption. Pursuant to the Jumpstart Our Business Startups Act’s Title II, the SEC adopted a rule that would let private placement issuers under the 1933 Securities Act Regulation D Rule 506 and Rule 144A advertise their offerings widely as long as only sophisticated investors are the ones solicited. According to SEC Division of Corporation Finance Director Keith Higgins, there already have been at around 170 offerings in which issuers have indicated that they will engage in general solicitation.

With the ban gone, the opening of an investment round can be publicly advertised via mass communication methods, including online media and social media. However, only accredited investors are allowed to take part in the funding round (although under Regulation D Rule 506 (b) offering, which involves private fundraising, there can be up to 35 non-accredited investors as long as a pre-existing relationship exists).

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

The Resolution Law Group: SEC May Propose New Swaps Margins & Title VII Rules

At a Securities Industry and Financial Markets Association conference last month, the Securities and Exchange Commission’s Division of Trading and Markets acting director John Ramsay said that the regulator will likely consider reworking a 2012 proposal that would establish margin requirements on specific swap trades now that international financial supervisors have established new margin requirements. It was The International Organization of Securities Commissions and the Basel Committee on Banking Supervision that issued the document setting up a final framework for margin requirements related to non-centrally cleared derivatives.

Ramsey said that in the wake of this document, the proposed rules that the SEC might withdraw are the ones that affect margin requirements as they pertain to certain swaps. The structure set up by the Basel-IOSCO document partially puts into place specific margin requirements on financial firms and the systematically integral non-financial entities that take part in non-centrally cleared derivatives transactions.

The regulator’s earlier proposal would have established margin requirements for security-based swap dealers and major swap participants while upping the minimum net capital requirements for brokerage firms allowed to implement the alternative internal model-based method to compute net capital. Now, however, said Ramsey, the agency could propose a new rule to make sure there is comment on a “full range of initiatives,” including the ones addressed in the Basel-IOSCO document.

Ramsay also spoke about a likely rulemaking sequence the SEC could use to put into place sections of the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act’s Title VII, which was in part responsible for introducing swaps market regulation. He stated that the agency could assess Title VII rules that were finalized or proposed by the Commodity Futures Trading Commission to identify possible differences between CFTC rules and SEC rules. However, said Ramsey, even though the SEC is concerned that registrants might feel burdened from having to deal with two compliance regimes, this did not mean the agency would only issue rules that are in complete alignment with CFTC rules.

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

 

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: SEC Sanctions Three Investment Advisory Firms for Custody Rule Violations

The SEC has sanctioned registered investment advisory firms Further Lane Asset Management, Knelman Asset Management Group, and GW & Wade with violating the rules that obligate them to fulfill certain standards while keeping custody of the securities or funds of clients. The regulator says that all three firms either did not keep up client assets with the help of a qualified custodian or failed to work with an independent public accountant to perform surprise exams. They also allegedly committed additional federal securities law violations. All three firms have consented to settle the charges against them.

Per the SEC order, although Further Lane Management, which is based in New York, and its CEO Jose Miguel Araiz did keep up custody of hedge fund assets that it managed along with Osprey Group Inc., they did not set up a yearly surprise exam to verify these assets. They also allegedly committed fraud involving fund-of-funds they controlled and other violations.

Araiz, Further Lane Management, and Osprey Group Inc. have consented to pay disgorgement and prejudgment interest of $347,122. Araiz also has to pay a $150,000 penalty and he is suspended from the industry for a year.

As for Massachusetts-based GW & Waid, the firm is accused of not having the right safeguards required of a client funds’ custodian and failing to identify itself as a custodian in public disclosures or to independent auditors. The SEC says that as a result clients were exposed to possible harm, including one customer who was exposed to third party fraud when someone got into an email account pretending to be that client. The scheme wasn’t discovered until three wires totaling $290,000 were transferred to a foreign bank at the imposter’s request. The client has since been reimbursed. GW & Wade has agreed to a cease-and-desist order and a censure. The firm will pay $250,000.

As for Knelman Asset Management Group in Minnesota, the SEC says that the firm and its chief compliance officer/CEO Irving P. Knelman did not subject the assets of a Rancho Partners I, a fund of private equities it had custody of, to yearly surprise exams. Fund members also did not get quarterly account statements from a qualified custodian.

The SEC is contending a number of securities law violations, including improper cash distributions to Rancho members, failure to perform yearly compliance reviews, and not putting put into place (and executing ) controls to protect client assets. Knelman Asset Management Group will pay a $60,000 penalty and Knelman will pay a $75,000 one. He also has agreed to a bar from serving as a chief compliance officer for at least three years.

Failure by a firm to follow custody rules can jeopardize customers’ assets, placing these funds at risk of fraud and/or financial loss. Contact our securities lawyers if you believe firm error or negligence caused your investment losses.

The Resolution Law Group: SEC Wants Comments About FINRA’s Proposed Rules About Broker-Dealer Supervision

The Securities and Exchange Commission wants comments on a proposed amendment to the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority’s broker-deal supervision rules. The latter wants to change the rules by consolidating some of them, including NASD Rule 3010 and NASD Rule 3012 into its proposed Rules 3110 and 3120 that have to do with supervisory controls and the supervision of supervisory jurisdictions’ office and branch offices. The proposed rule change would eliminate NYSE Rule 342, which is related to supervision, approval, and controls, Rule 401 about business conduct, and Rule 354 regarding control persons, Rule 351e about reporting requirements. The consolidation is taking place because the SEC says some of the rules are duplicative.

FINRA also wants to eliminate proposed Rule 3110.03, which is a provision about the supervision and control of registered principals at one-person OSJs by a designated senior principal on the site. The SRO also is proposing to amend rule 3110.05 so that an Investment Banking and Securities Business member doesn’t have to perform detailed reviews of transaction if the member is using risk-based review system that is designed in a way so it can focus on areas that have the greatest risks of violation.

Meantime, proposed Rule 3110(b)(6)(D) will be changed so that it is clear that the rule doesn’t establish a strict liability to identify and get rid of all conflicts as they relate to an associated person that is supervised by supervisory personnel. There will have to be procedures to make sure that conflicts of interest don’t compromise the supervisory system.

As for proposed rule 3110(c)(3)(A), this will be modified so it is clear that it doesn’t establish a strict liability duty mandating the ID’ing and getting rid of all conflicts of interest as they relate to the inspections taking place at a location. Members will have to implement procedures designed so that they don’t let the effectiveness of inspections become compromised by such conflicts.

The Resolution law Group represents investors that have sustained financial losses because of broker fraud. Contact our securities law firm today.