Articles Posted in Merrill Lynch

Chicago-based Stoltmann Law Offices has represented investors who’ve suffered losses from dealing with unscrupulous investment brokers selling exchange-traded products. Many of these high-risk products are unsuitable for retail investors.

With the COVID-19 crisis roiling financial markets, many investors have been sold products that rise when market indexes or individual securities fall. Many “exchange-linked products” (ETPs) often use borrowed money, or leverage, to magnify gains when the market drops, but they can also increase losses. They are generally only suitable for sophisticated investors and are linked to complex underlying futures contracts.

When the coronavirus crisis first made major headlines in the U.S. in early March, the stock, bond and commodities markets crashed. Since markets over-react to widespread greed and fear, traders went into mass selling mode over (later justified) expectations that demand for nearly everything from luxury goods to commodities would drop dramatically.

Chicago-based Stoltmann Law Offices has represented investors who’ve suffered losses from risky municipal bonds. One of the most troubling investments for investors has been bond mutual funds and single municipal bonds issued by Caribbean territories like Puerto Rico. The island was devastated by Hurricane Maria and a debt crisis. The island’s government, which issued billions in municipal bonds, filed for bankruptcy, which forced bondholders to take losses. Like Puerto Rico, the neighboring Virgin Islands may be facing a debt meltdown of its own.

The U.S. Virgin Islands, also severely damaged by two hurricanes in recent years, is also dealing with an ongoing debt crisis. With only about 100,000 inhabitants spanning three Caribbean Islands, the U.S. protectorate had been issuing high-yield municipal bonds in recent years to fund essential government services such as a power utility. The government owes more than $6.5 billion to creditors, which averages some $19,000 per resident. In addition, the islands have billions in unfunded pension and healthcare obligations. That’s one of the highest per-capita debt loads in the Western Hemisphere.

The debt explosion in the Virgin Islands has gone from bad to worse. Three years ago, credit ratings agencies slashed the ratings on government bonds to junk status. While that made the bonds’ yields more attractive (they rose), it also indicated a higher risk of default. As a result, prices on those issues dropped.

Stoltmann Law Offices has brought arbitration claims against dozens of brokerage firms like Ameriprise Financial, Merrill Lynch, Morgan Stanley, Wells Fargo, and JP Morgan Securities involving the unsuitable recommendations for investors to invest in oil and gas related securities.  In 2014 and 2015, we represented dozens of investors against various firms involving Master Limited Partnerships, or MLPs, which are almost always related to the oil and gas industry.  Then, during a big drop in the price of oil, a lot of oil and gas companies went into bankruptcy, dragging a lot of investor money with them.  History is repeating itself.

The price of oil has completely tanked in the last month. Even before the COVID-19 pandemic, the price of oil was being pressured by a price war involving Saudi Arabia, Russia, and OPEC.  Combined with the broad-based ongoing market crash, oil and gas investments – which are inextricably linked to the price of oil – have suffered catastrophic losses.  There are some well-know names on this list:

Goldman Sachs MLP and Energy Renaissance Fund – GER: Year to Date has dropped from 4.37 to 0.68 per share

Stoltmann Law Offices is investigating allegations that Linan Abrego (aka Ma Rosa Linan Abrego) misappropriated client funds at Merrill Lynch. According to published reports,  Abrego was barred by FINRA for failing to appear or respond to an inquiry in connection with her termination from Merrill Lynch on June 10, 2019 for misappropriating client funds. The misconduct reported by FINRA alleges that Linan Abrego of McAllen, Texas, failed to appear as required by FINRA Rule 8210 and accepted a lifetime ban from the securities industry, instead of answering FINRA or providing information in furtherance of FINRA’s investigation. According to her publicly available FINRA BrokerCheck Report, Ms. Linan Abrego was registered with Merrill Lynch as a broker and financial advisor from December 6, 2016 to June 10, 2019 when she was terminated for cause by Merrill Lynch for “misappropriating client funds.” Pursuant to FINRA Rule 8210, if FINRA requests a broker sit for on the record testimony (called an OTR) and the broker either refuses or simply does not show up or refuses to provide answers to written questions, or refuses to produce documents requested by FINRA in the course of their investigation, this can be grounds for being permanently barred from the securities industry. It is the equivalent of a career death sentence. Once a broker is barred for life by FINRA, absent extraordinary circumstances, that person will need to seek a career change.

Typically, brokers who refuse to show up for a Rule 8210 request do so knowing they are sacrificing their securities licenses. Some brokers may be near retirement or are not interested in maintaining their licenses, so they rather not submit themselves to an OTR, which can be stressful and require retaining legal counsel. Other brokers fail to show up for an OTR because they fear the testimony they will give may be incriminating if they are truthful. The FINRA AWC agreed to and signed by Ms. Linan Abrego only states he failed to show up for the OTR and provides no further explanation for barring her from the securities industry. Linan Abrego did this willingly, and instead of providing testimony from FINRA about why she was fired by Merrill Lynch, she chose to accept a lifetime ban from the securities industry.

Routinely, financial advisors who steal money from their clients do it in such a manner which should have alerted the firm’s compliance or supervision departments. Many times this sort of theft is facilitated by the broker simply forging withdrawal forms or requests. Another common way brokers steal money is to set up a third party LLC or other entity to which the broker directs client money directly from their accounts through wire transfers.  Sometimes the clients allow these transfers because the broker tells them these transfers are an investment in a company, or it’s where her commissions are paid to. No matter the ruse, sophisticated brokerage firms like Merrill Lynch are required to have procedures in place to catch their brokers if they attempt to steal client money. Whether there were unauthorized withdrawals or transfers from your accounts, every FINRA brokerage firm, like Merrill Lynch must have robust Anti-Money Laundering rules and regulations in order to ensure a level of alertness in these circumstances. Failing to properly execute these procedures which results in a broker stealing client money results in liability for the firm for negligent supervision, putting Merrill Lynch on the hook for the losses.

Has the Harvest Volatility Management Collateral Yield Enhancement Strategy (“Harvest CYES”) been a deceptively bitter harvest for you? You are not alone in your complaint.  Well known brokerage firms like Merrill Lynch, Morgan Stanley, J.P. Morgan, Schwab and Fidelity have sold the product from the 11-year-old little known vendor of options-focused portfolios.  But as time goes by dozens of investors have complained they weren’t told by their brokers that the product is excessively risky.  Many of these investors were seeking low-risk places to put their money.

Harvest CYES is an complex “Iron Condor” investment structure that was peddled by multiple asset management firms in recent years.  Investopedia describes iron condor as a strategy  “constructed by selling one call spread and one put spread (same expiration day) on the same underlying instrument.”  Most often, the underlying asset is one of the broad-based market indexes, such as the S & P 500 Index (SPX); the NASDAQ-100 Index (NDX); or the Russell 2000 Index (RUT), the financial dictionary adds.

Investopedia goes on to show the head-scratching complexity of the Harvest Volatility Management and Collateral Yield Enhancement Strategy and its ilk by saying it involves selling an at-the-money put with a strike price closer to the current cost of the underlying asset.  “Sell one at-the-money call having a strike price just above the current price of the underlying asset. Buy one out-of-the-money call with a strike price further above the current price of the underlying asset. The out-of-the-money call option will protect against a substantial upside move,” Investopedia explains.

This week the sun has set on the near quarter of a century career of Bank of America Merrill Lynch top private wealth manager Patrick Dwyer.  The top earning Dwyer, who wore both the broker and adviser hats for the firm has departed in the wake of company concern about a $25,000 political contribution he made in a suspected attempt to pressure the Financial Investor Regulatory Authority (FINRA) to wipe out customer complaints on his record.

That record includes a claim where customers were trying to seek more than $7.2 million in damages. All but one of the complaints were closed or denied without being resolved as detailed by the Miami Herald. The campaign contribution went to Florida Chief Financial Officer Jimmy Patronis who is one of the Florida officials who oversees the state banking regulator.  That paper said an arbitration panel agreed to remove the complaints, but FINRA itself balked.

Dwyer had seven customer complaints filed against him between 2001 and 2009. Two were denied, one was settled and the rest were closed without any action.  Six of the complaints alleged he had made unsuitable investment recommendations.  In the one dispute that was settled, the client received $111,000 in 2001 after complaining Dwyer didn’t delay the purchase of an investment as the investor instructed. As is customary, the firm disclosed the matter was settled to avoid the expense of litigation and that the complaint arose from a misunderstanding between Dwyer and the investor. Before leaving, Dwyer had run a 12-person unit that had close to $4 billion in assets under management and took in $10 million in revenue for the firm annually.

Merrill Lynch has paid $40,000,000 to settle a case involving Boston financial advisor Charles Kenahan.  According to his FINRA BrokerCheck Report, two other clients have pending claims, one for over $42,000,000.  These cases all allege that, for many years, Charles Kenahan excessively traded and churned their accounts, resulting in extraordinary losses. Pursuant to an article published in InvestmentNews, one of those clients was the former New Hampshire governor, Craig Benson.

Churning or excessive trading is an all too common tactic used by unscrupulous brokers and financial advisors to generate commissions.  Especially in consistently “up” stock markets like the one currently being experienced, clients may not notice the deleterious impact this volume of trading has on their accounts. Churning/Excessive trading is considered a fraudulent act under state securities statutes.

Whether an account has been churned or excessively traded starts with the numbers. The two key components are turnover rate – meaning the rate at which the balance of the account is traded on an annualized basis.  The second important number is the cost/equity ratio, which is the rate of return your account must generate simply to cover fees and commissions. Courts traditionally look to the “2-4-6” rule to determine firstly whether trading is in fact excessive. The higher the number, the more likely a trier of fact will determine the account has been churned. Similarly, the higher the cost/equity ratio, the more likely there could be a finding of churning. If your account has to generate 15% returns just to pay your broker, chances are you’re being churned.

If you are interested in suing Merrill Lynch in a class actions lawsuit, the attorneys at Stoltmann Law Offices may be able to help. Every year, Merrill Lynch gets sued dozens of times in class actions lawsuits, for various violations of the federal securities laws. Merrill Lynch, like most other brokerage firms, has a binding arbitration clause in every new account agreement that means that for most claims, if you would like to sue Merrill Lynch, it must be done through the binding arbitration process, and not in the class action process. There are some exceptions through which the brokerage firm can be sued in a class action lawsuit. For example, securities fraud issues where Merrill Lynch acted as the underwriter. If you would like to file a class action lawsuit claim against Merrill Lynch, please call us.
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