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Category Archives: Charles Schwab

Yield Plus Losses Result In Charles Schwab Lawsuit

Yield Plus and the words, Charles Schwab lawsuit, are becoming one and the same these days. Hundreds of investors have filed arbitration claims with the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority (FINRA) over charges the San Francisco brokerage made false and misleading statements about the Yield Plus Funds and the extent to which investments were made in high-risk, speculative mortgage-backed securities.

Last week, Charles Schwab announced it had received a Wells notice from the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC), in which the regulator outlined plans to recommend civil enforcement charges against the company over two Schwab bond funds.

Adding to the Schwab’s legal troubles: In August, a federal court in San Francisco certified a class action lawsuit on behalf of about 250,000 Yield Plus shareholders.

The Schwab Yield Plus Funds – the Schwab Yield Plus Funds Investor Shares (SWYSX) and the Schwab Yield Plus Funds Select Shares (SWYPX) – were initially offered as an safe, conservative investment alternative to money market accounts. Contrary to those representations, however, Schwab managers invested more than 45% of the funds’ assets in the mortgage industry. When the housing market crashed, so, too, did the value of the funds.

In May 2007, Yield Plus had more than $13 billion in assets. By March 2008, it was down to $2.5 billion. Today it has about $210 million.

Our lawyers are actively advising individual and institutional investors concerning the Schwab Yield Plus Funds. We have created an alliance with other experienced securities arbitration lawyers. Learn more about your  Schwab Yield Plus Funds. Tell us about your Schwab Yield Plus investments by leaving a message in the comment box, or the Contact Us page. We will counsel you on your options.

Schwab YieldPlus Funds Hit With SEC Warning

A warning from the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) in the form of a Wells Notice could have a direct impact on how Charles Schwab addresses current and future lawsuits and arbitration claims by investors who suffered losses in the  Schwab YieldPlus Funds.

The San Francisco-based brokerage acknowledged earlier this week that it had received the SEC’s Well Notice, which outlined possible civil enforcement actions against Schwab Investments, Charles Schwab Investment Management, Charles Schwab & Co., Inc. and the president of the YieldPlus funds for alleged violations of securities laws in connection to the two fixed-income mutual funds.

Companies that receive Well Notices are given a chance to respond to the SEC’s allegations before the commission decides whether to approve an enforcement action. The notice is not a formal allegation or finding of wrongdoing.

On Aug. 21, a California federal court certified an investor lawsuit involving the YieldPlus Fund Select Shares and YieldPlus Investor Shares as a class action. As reported Oct. 15 in an article by Investment News, the Oct. 14 Wells Notice plus other various supporting documents could very well serve as a road map for the class action lawsuit, which some analysts and attorneys contend dwarfs individual arbitrations by hundreds of millions, if not billions, of dollars.

Regardless of the outcome of the SEC’s investigation, Schwab YieldPlus investors are under a tight deadline to decide whether to stay in the class-action lawsuit or “opt out” if they wish to file an individual arbitration claim with the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority (FINRA). (Individuals are generally in a class action unless they formally ask to be excluded.)

The deadline to submit opt-out requests is Monday Dec. 28, 2009. In addition, investors must:

•Provide a written statement requesting exclusion from the Schwab YieldPlus class-action lawsuit;
•Sign and date the request and include your mailing address; and
•Ensure the written request is received by the Notice Administrator no later than Dec. 28, 2009. The address to mail the opt-out request is: Schwab Corp. Secs. Litigation Exclusion, c/o Gilardi & Co. LLC, P.O. Box 808061, Petaluma, CA 94975-8061.

Between Sept. 1 and Oct. 1, the date on which the most current available decision with FINRA is posted, Schwab has lost seven out of 10 YieldPlus FINRA arbitration cases, according to the Investment News article.

We are very interested in your situation with Schwab YieldPlus. Leave us a message in the comment box or the Contact Us form. We want to counsel you on your legal options.

FINRA Rules Against Charles Schwab In YieldPlus Claim

A Financial Industry Regulatory Authority (FINRA) arbitration panel in Reno, Nevada, has ruled in favor of investors and their claim against Charles Schwab (SCHW) for financial losses suffered in the Charles Schwab YieldPlus Funds. In ruling against San Francisco-based Schwab, FINRA awarded Raymond and Elsie Kelly $74,430 plus interest, as well as $25,650 for attorney fees. In addition, FINRA assessed the entire costs of the arbitration proceeding – $5,250 – against Charles Schwab.

“Although Charles Schwab recommended the purchase of the Schwab YieldPlus Fund Select Shares (SWYSX) and the Schwab YieldPlus Investor Shares (SWYPX) as safe, conservative cash alternatives to investors, the evidence presented in this case clearly establishes that the funds were over concentrated in high risk, speculative mortgage-backed securities,” said the Kellys’ attorney Thomas Hargett of Maddox Hargett & Caruso, P.C.

Specifically, the Kellys’ arbitration claim (FINRA Case No. 08-02307) alleged that Charles Schwab marketed and sold the Schwab YieldPlus Funds as a conservative investment alternative to money market funds. In addition, the YieldPlus Funds supposedly offered a higher return potential with only marginally higher risks. In reality, the Schwab YieldPlus Funds held large concentrations of toxic subprime-related assets and other speculative products.

From June 2007 through June 2008, investors in the YieldPlus Funds lost 31.7%, while other ultra short bond funds experienced little or no losses.

ETF Lawsuits Begin, As More Brokerages Distance Themselves From Leveraged, Inverse ETFs

In the face of regulatory inquiries and pronouncements by the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority (FINRA) on the inherent risks they pose to retail investors, more brokerages are curtailing their activity in leveraged and inverse exchange traded funds (ETFs).

FINRA initially raised questions about inverse and leveraged ETFs when it issued a notice to brokers/dealers on June 11, cautioning them that the instruments may not be suitable investments for retail investors who plan to hold onto the instruments for more than one trading session.

Shortly after FINRA’s edict, Saint-Louis based Edward D. Jones announced its intent to halt sales of leveraged ETFs. UBS and Ameriprise soon followed. Other brokerages, including Charles Schwab, Raymond James Financial and LPL Financial are reviewing their policies concerning ETFs, with some firms posting information on their respective Web sites that inverse and leveraged ETFs “are not right for everyone.”

Leveraged ETFs allow investors to amplify bets on a wide range of markets, while inverse ETFs make profits when prices fall.

Many investors, however, are unaware about the complexities and underlying risks of inverse and leveraged ETFs. Leveraged ETFs, for example, are designed to deliver their stated leverage on a daily basis. If an investor holds the ETF longer than one trading session, it potentially could lead to financial disaster. Leveraged ETFs also employ, as their name implies, leverage. This, in turn, increases the level of financial risk for investors.

On August 5, a lawsuit involving ETFs was filed in New York, accusing ProShare Advisors LLC and others of violating a securities act by failing to disclose the risks of its ProShares UltraShort Real Estate fund (SRS). Among the risks that the complaint contends the inverse leveraged exchange traded fund failed to cite: “Spectacular tracking error.”

Specifically, the lawsuit alleges that the fund’s index fell 39.2% from January 2008 to December 2008, but the fund fell 48.2%, which was not in accordance with ProShares’ stated objective that UltraShort ETFs go up when markets go down.

The complaint is seeking class-action status, according to an Aug. 6 article in the Wall Street Journal.

The dramatic losses of the SRS fund reiterate the inherent risks posed by inverse and leveraged ETFs, especially in times of a volatile market. In the 12 months through July 23, the Dow Jones U.S. Real Estate Index shed 38%, but the ProShares UltraShort Real Estate fund lost 82%, according to the Wall Street Journal article. This year through July 23, the index is down 3.5%, but the fund has slipped 67%.

NY Attorney General Targets Schwab With Civil Fraud Lawsuit

Charles Schwab, the “Talk to Chuck” online brokerage firm, has the ear of New York Attorney General Andrew Cuomo. A July 20 article in the Wall Street Journal is reporting that Cuomo warned Schwab on July 17 of his plans to sue the company for civil fraud over its marketing and sales of auction-rate securities to individual and institutional investors.

In the letter sent Friday, the New York Attorney General said he will move forth with the lawsuit unless Schwab agrees to buy back the auction-rate securities from investors. 

Last summer, many of Wall Street’s major investment firms, including Citigroup, Merrill Lynch, and UBS, agreed to repurchase more than $50 billion in auction-rate securities to avoid state and federal charges that they misrepresented the instruments as conservative, liquid investments. In February 2008, the $330 billion market for auction-rate securities came to an abrupt standstill, after the banks and investment firms that once managed the auctions suddenly backed out of the market.

As a result, thousands of retail and institutional investors were unable to sell their securities.

According to the Wall Street Journal article, e-mails and testimony cited in Cuomo’s July 17 letter to Charles Schwab show brokers had little idea of what they were actually selling to investors and then later failed to tell clients that the auction-rate market was on the verge of collapse.

A More Investor-Friendly FINRA Arbitration Process

Tumultuous upheaval in the financial markets has led to a rash of arbitration claims from retail and institutional investors on charges their financial advisors and brokerages misrepresented the risk levels of certain investment products. Some of the central players in these claims: Morgan Keegan & Company and Charles Schwab.

In the case of Memphis-based brokerage Morgan Keegan, investor complaints involve a group high-yield bond funds that the company allegedly marketed and sold as conservative investment options – products designed to provide high yields without excessive credit risks. Instead, the RMK funds made large investments in illiquid and toxic securities, including asset- and mortgage-backed securities and collateral debt obligations (CDOs).

Other funds responsible for the influx of arbitration claims include Charles Schwab & Co.’s YieldPlus funds. 

For more than a year now, investors nationwide have complained to the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority (FINRA), as well as the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC), that Charles Schwab represented the YieldPlus funds as investments similar to money-market funds, while failing to disclose the fact they held large concentrations of toxic products like mortgage-backed securities. Ultimately, these holdings caused the YieldPlus funds to lose up to 80% of their value.

As reported July 6 by the Wall Street Journal, aggrieved individuals who do file claims with FINRA for their investment losses are likely to experience a more “investor-friendly” process than in the past because of recent changes to how an arbitration hearing is conducted and the composition of the arbitration panel.

Specifically, FINRA launched a pilot program in October 2008 that allows 276 cases against 11 participating brokerage firms to be heard annually by an all-public, three-person panel versus having one of the panel members associated with the securities industry. The program is a win for investor advocates, who contend having an industry-affiliated arbitrator reside on an arbitration panel not only can create bias but also sway other panel members against the investor.

Investor Wins FINRA Award In Schwab YieldPlus Claim

On June 26, 2009, a Washington, D.C., arbitration panel of the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority (FINRA) ruled in favor of investor David Cutler and his claim (FINRA No. 09-00300) against Charles Schwab & Company and its Schwab YieldPlus Fund.

The panel awarded Cutler $11,400.

Cutler’s complaint against San Francisco-based Charles Schwab is similar to hundreds of other arbitration claims filed with FINRA by investors who allege that Charles Schwab misrepresented the risks of the Schwab YieldPlus fund by failing to disclose important information about the risky securities it held.

Specifically, the Schwab YieldPlus fund was marketed and sold as a safe and conservative alternative investment to money market funds. Later, investors learned the YieldPlus fund was heavily concentrated in high risk and toxic subprime mortgage-backed securities and in even more risky collateral debt obligations (CDOs). Ultimately, Schwab’s failure to diversify the fund’s portfolio caused investors to collectively lose approximately $1.3 billion in 2008.

In 2008, approximately 74% of customer claimant cases filed with FINRA resulted in monetary settlements or awards for the investor.

Schwab YieldPlus Fund Arbitration Award Issued

Charles Schwab & Company has been hit with yet another arbitration award connected to its Schwab YieldPlus Fund. On May 29, 2009, a FINRA arbitration panel in Minneapolis, Minnesota, awarded more than $14,500 plus interest to Gary Wilhelm on claims of negligence and misrepresentation on the part of the San Francisco-based investor firm and the sale of the Schwab YieldPlus Fund. 

According to the award (FINRA # 08-02118), Wilhelm invested a portion of his retirement IRA in the Schwab YieldPlus Fund based on recommendations by Charles Schwab that it was a “safer alternative to money market funds but with higher yields.” Despite assurances from Charles Schwab that the YieldPlus fund was low risk, it actually contained a high concentration of mortgage-backed securities. Following the onset of the mortgage loan crisis in 2007, the Schwab YieldPlus Fund plummeted in value and produced millions of dollars in losses for investors.

Schwab YieldPlus Funds: An Invitation To Investment Disaster

Facing hundreds of arbitration claims and class-action lawsuits over huge losses in two ultra-short bond funds known as the Schwab YieldPlus Fund (SWYPX) and the Schwab YieldPlus Select Fund (SWYSX), Charles Schwab & Co. may want to rethink its “Talk to Chuck” advertising slogan. The funds have become a financial disaster for investors, who say the San Francisco-based investment firm marketed and sold the YieldPlus funds as relatively conservative investments whose risk levels were on par to that of money-market funds.

Instead, the funds (collectively referred to as the Schwab YieldPlus Fund) were over-concentrated in high-risk, illiquid mortgage-backed securities. Following the collapse of the subprime mortgage market, this overconcentration in speculative investments resulted in massive losses of more than $1.3 billion. In total, the Schwab YieldPlus Fund lost a staggering 33.7% of its value last year. By comparison, the average ultra-short bond fund fell 1.9%.

To no one’s surprise, the Schwab YieldPlus Fund ranked dead last out of 50 ultra-short bond funds tracked by Morningstar, Inc. in 2008.

YieldPlus investors across the country have since filed hundreds of arbitration complaints with the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority against Charles Schwab, charging the company of intentionally withholding important details about the portfolio diversification of the Schwab YieldPlus Fund and the fact that a large portion of the fund’s assets had been placed in high-risk subprime mortgage holdings.

Investors also claim Charles Schwab created misleading marketing materials to falsely tout the supposed investing safety of the YieldPlus Fund – information that was reiterated in public statements made fund managers.  Financial prospectuses give further credence to investors’ claims, with information stating the fund’s investing objective as one of seeking high current income with minimal changes in share price. 

FINRA arbitration panels continue to review claims against Charles Schwab for investors’ losses in the Schwab YieldPlus Fund. In one decision, FINRA awarded more than $500,000, or about 81%, of the investor’s claimed damages. Other FINRA claims have yielded awards totaling 100% of the damages claimed by investors.

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