Articles Posted in Merrill Lynch

As noted in a recent blog post, we have seen an influx of cases involving non-traded Real Estate Investment Trusts (“REITs”). We have also been trying to spread the word about the hazards of these little understood investment vehicles through our blog postings. [See Investors Beware: Non-Listed REITs] With all the negative attention given to non-traded REITS, it came as a surprise to learn that Bank of America’s Merrill Lynch subsidiary had recently begun offering the Jones Lang LaSalle Income Property Trust, Inc. to it’s “mass-affluent” customers (i.e., investors with a net worth between $100,000 to $1 million, excluding their home).

Suitability: Moderate Risk Investors Need Not Apply

For a detailed discussion of suitability criteria and risk factors, be sure to read the prospectus. Below is a summary of the minimum suitability criteria established by this REIT:

Here is a bit of good news for investors with securities arbitration claims against 14 of the largest brokerage firms, including Merrill Lynch, Morgan Stanley Smith Barney and Wells Fargo. The Financial Industry Regulatory Authority (FINRA) has agreed to extend its year-old pilot program established to give investors the option to request an arbitration panel composed entirely of arbitrators that are not affiliated with the securities industry. Currently, a 3-person arbitration panel must include one industry arbitrator and two public arbitrators. The pilot program was created in response to criticism over whether an industry arbitrator, such as a stockbroker or branch manager, can act impartially when a customer is complaining about securities fraud or account mismanagement by their broker. I’ve participated in arbitrations with both good and bad industry arbitrators. The trouble is, allowing an industry arbitrator to sit on a panel gives the appearance of bias and takes away from the legitimacy of the proceedings. That should be reason enough to dump the industry arbitrator. My California securities law firm is in favor of the pilot program and we have been actively encouraging clients to participate whenever possible.

The brokerage firms who have agreed to participate in the pilot program are:

Ameriprise Financial Services Charles Schwab Chase Investment Services Citigroup Global Markets Edward Jones Fidelity Brokerage Services LPL Financial Merrill Lynch Morgan Stanley Smith Barney Oppenheimer Raymond James TD Ameritrade UBS Financial Services Wells Fargo Advisors / Wachovia Securities

Before discussing the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority’s (FINRA’s) latest action against Merrill Lynch and UBS, I want to share a related story about a client at my San Mateo, California, securities law practice who had invested a substantial part of her portfolio in a Closed-End Fund (CEF) that, unknown to her, was purchased as part of an Initial Public Offering (IPO). The client, who had recently been widowed, had made a large deposit in her brokerage account following the sale of her deceased husband’s business. Needless to say, the widow wanted to proceed cautiously and preserve her capital. Unfortunately for the widow, the broker did not share with her the “dirty little secret” about investing in CEFs:

Customers who invest in Closed-End Funds at the IPO almost always suffer an immediate loss.

This came as a shock to the widow, but it is a well known fact within the industry and is supported by a large body of research going back over 20 years. The reason is simple. CEFs almost always trade at a discount to their Net Asset Value (NAV) in the secondary market. However, when an IPO is structured, the fund’s offering price is typically set at or above the NAV. Thus, the fund’s price usually plunges after the IPO when the shares begin trading in the secondary market. See e.g., Lipper Research Report, “Buying a Closed-End Fund Initial Public Offering: Caveat Emptor!” (November 8, 2004)