How Did UBS Recommend Puerto Rico Junk for Mom and Pop Clients?

How on earth could trusted, so-called UBS “financial advisors” recommend that conservative and retired investors in Puerto Rico fill their accounts with Muni Bonds which have near junk ratings?

That’s the call the firm made for conservative investors, and it’s shocking to hear what has happened to thousands of trusting and unwitting investors.

A casual look at the ratings of Puerto Rico municipal bonds from Standard & Poor’s, Moody’s and Fitch should have led any UBS financial advisor worth his salt to limit the recommendation of these junk bonds to only the most sophisticated investors. Hedge funds and other such investors have the appetite for high risk securities, mom and pop investors do not.

The storm of Puerto Rico debt, which this blog has intensely focused on over the past several weeks, has been churning for years. UBS was at its center, packaging $10 billion of highly leveraged, closed-end bond funds over the past decade and selling them to retail clients.

The storm’s warning signs were abundant and clear, according to an increasing number of news reports. With investors worried about a downgrade or a default, Puerto Rican bonds lost 15% this year through the end of October. But the economic news from Puerto Rico has been bad for almost a decade, and it’s a wonder how UBS missed it.

Economic output has dropped 16% on the island commonwealth since 2004, tourism revenue is down 15% since 2007 and unemployment is almost 14%, almost double that of the United States, according to a report last week in Bloomberg by Bill Fairies, Martin Braun and Michelle Kaske.

How could UBS have missed more than a decade of Puerto Rico’s severe budget deficits, unfunded pension liabilities, slow economic growth and tight cash flows?

According to the Bloomberg report, the danger to investors could get a lot worse.

“A downgrade could force many mutual funds to sell part of their Puerto Rican holdings, flooding the market,” the report stated. “’Puerto Rico could represent a systemic issue for the municipal-bond market,’ says Carlos Colón de Armas, an economist and former official of the Government Development Bank, which conducts the island’s capital-markets transactions.

“’We are now in a situation where the bonds are trading like junk. I think the ratings agencies have been careful not to lower the (general obligation bonds) further, to avoid creating havoc in the muni-bond market.’”

In a separate story, Kaske from Bloomberg noted that Standard & Poor’s has threatened to lower Puerto Rico by one level, making it junk bond status, “if the economy deteriorates to the point we believe it significantly hampers the ability to lower budget deficits.”

The only buyers for Puerto Rico Muni Bonds now seem to be vulture hedge funds willing to pay pennies on the dollar and profit off the misery of cash starved retirees, according to other reports.

Something is very rotten in this paradise island, and it has been rotting for years. How did UBS miss it?

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

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.

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