Articles Posted in Merrill Lynch

Has the Harvest Volatility Management 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 Harvest Volatility Management 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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