The Investor Safety Net Is Fraying

Safe havens for investors are downright scary these days.

Since Detroit’s record bankruptcy in July, investors have been more skittish than ever about municipal bonds, once a strong strand in the safety net of boring investments for Americans investors.

Debt issued by Puerto Rico is particularly of concern; large investment houses are busy warning their brokerage sales forces to steer clients away from Puerto Rican debt in an effort to avoid potentially disastrous losses.

Meanwhile, the financial services industry is doing its damndest to block new rules that would make investments in money markets funds safer. Indeed, the new rules requiring money market funds to carry more capital are essential to protecting investors and the industry simply doesn’t want them.

Let’s start with the climate of fear around Puerto Rican muni bonds.

According to the Wall Street Journal last month, the nation’s largest brokerage firms, including household brand names like UBS AG and Wells Fargo, have warned more than 40,000 stock brokers to steer clear of about $70 billion of Puerto Rican debt on the market. Some of Puerto Rico’s bonds are slipping into “junk” territory, as Puerto Rico’s economy has remained weak.

The finances of Puerto Rico right now have an “uncertain nature,” according to one brokerage bond salesman. And the outlook is extremely difficult for the island. “The commonwealth’s three pension funds were, combined, more than 91% unfunded,” according to the Journal report by Kelly Nolan, Corrie Driebusch and Mike Cherney.

Puerto Rico isn’t the only cause for concern, Bloomberg’s James Nash reported last month that California’s largest toll-road agency, is nearing the biggest default in the $3.7 trillion muni bond market since Detroit.

The next fraying strand is money market funds.

Remember, these funds were considered stable and secure before the financial crisis when the first such fund, the Reserve Primary Fund broke the buck and created a firestorm for investors. Chasing yield, the Reserve Primary Fund invested clients’ money in securities backed by Lehman Brothers, which blew up. Once a safe haven, the multi trillion dollar money market fund industry survived a potential run on the bank because Uncle Sam immediately guaranteed other such funds.

Happy to take the support of the federal government at a time of crisis, money market funds have dug in their heels when it comes to honest reform.

“Bank regulators around the world are forcing banks to hold more capital than they did before the financial crisis revealed just how inadequate their capital truly was,” according to Floyd Norris in the New York Times. “But one set of banks appears to be on the verge of keeping the right to have no capital at all.”

“That group is the money market funds, which function as banks but historically have had the best of all regulatory worlds: no capital requirements, no reserves, no fees for deposit insurance and a belief by their customers that they were at least as safe as banks.”

Remember, no investments are ever without risk. Securities are not insured by the government. But before the financial crisis, stable and safe havens existed where mom and pop investors could park money with relatively little risk and get a decent return. Now, it looks like the risk is outpacing the gain in once stable corners of the market such as municipal bonds and money market funds.

Zamansky LLC are securities and investment fraud attorneys representing investors in federal and state litigation against financial institutions.

About Jacob H. Zamansky 57 Articles

Jacob (”Jake”) H. Zamansky is one of the country’s foremost authorities on securities arbitration law, the legal recourse for investors claiming broker wrongdoing, or for brokers claiming wrongful termination or other misconduct by their employer. Zamansky & Associates, the New York-based law firm he founded, represents both individuals and institutions in complex securities, hedge fund, and employment arbitrations.

Mr. Zamansky was at the forefront of recent efforts to “clean up” Wall Street. In 2001, he successfully sued former Merrill Lynch analyst Henry Blodget on behalf of a New York pediatrician misled by Blodget’s stock research. The case’s successful resolution was the catalyst for New York Attorney General Elliot Spitzer to investigate the conflicts of interest on Wall Street and resulted in the well-reported $1.4 billion Global Settlement, which included many of the biggest names on Wall Street.

More recently, Mr. Zamansky is one of the leading litigators and opinion leaders of the subprime mortgage crisis and the related hedge fund collapses, representing both investors and mortgage borrowers who were defrauded by Wall Street firms and mortgage lenders. Among Mr. Zamansky’s early actions is filing the first arbitration case on behalf of institutional and high net worth investors against Bear Stearns Asset Management with regard to the two hedge funds which collapsed as a result of exposure to subprime mortgage backed securities. He also has filed claims on behalf of individual investors victimized by brokers that steered their portfolios into unsuitable subprime stocks and mortgage borrowers who were fraudulently coerced into inappropriate mortgage and investment transactions.

Earlier in his career, Mr. Zamansky worked for more than 30 years as a litigator, including positions at Skadden Arps, Slate, Meagher and Flom LLP. His tenure also included serving as a federal prosecutor with the Federal Trade Commission.

A native of Philadelphia, Mr. Zamansky has been a frequent expert commentator on CNBC, CNN, and FOX News and has published opinion pieces in The Wall Street Journal, Financial Times and USA Today. He is regularly quoted and his cases have been chronicled in major financial and news publications including The New York Times, USA Today, The Washington Post, BusinessWeek, Fortune and Forbes. He is a frequent lecturer for industry and legal groups around the country. He also writes a blog that can be viewed here.

Visit: Zamansky & Associates

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