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The Dark Side Of Margin Calls

The downturn in the economy is shedding new light on two dreaded and unwanted words no investor wants to hear: margin calls. Recent margin calls – in which shares of stock are bought using borrowed money – have created a margin blowout lately, sounding the alarm for CEOs and fund managers at companies from Chesapeake Energy to Williams-Sonoma and forcing them to sell billions of dollars worth of stock in order to make good on their loans with lenders.

Meanwhile, investors in companies whose executives must meet margin calls often learn after the fact about the selling sprees and ultimately bear repercussions of their own. Why? Because a margin call can subsequently mean investors are forced into liquidating their portfolios at a time when a company’s stock is at its worst possible low.

Moreover, when CEOs or other senior-level management borrow heavily against their portfolios to buy large amounts of stock, it can send a false message to other investors, who may believe the buying is reflective of a company’s financial position or future performance potential. Should a margin call arise, the investors are at risk when the stock price plummets.

An Oct. 23 article in Forbes reports on how margin calls sealed the fate recently for some of the world’s richest people – and the not-so-rich people who invested in their companies. On Oct. 8, Aubrey McClendon, CEO of Chesapeake Energy, owned more than 32 million shares in the nation’s largest natural gas producer. Forty-eight hours later, most of it was gone.

McClendon had bought a majority of his Chesapeake Energy shares on margin. When the stock began to tank in value, he was forced to meet margin calls. According to the Forbes article, “McClendon sold 1.8 million shares of Chesapeake for $12.65 per share in one of his Oct. 10 transactions. Just four months earlier, those shares traded as high as $74 each.”

Our affiliation of securities lawyers is actively involved in advising individual and institutional investors in evaluating their legal options when confronted with subprime and other mortgage-related investment losses.

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