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FINRA Focuses Investigation of High-Frequency Trading Firms

In January, FINRA released their annual regulatory and examinations priorities for the upcoming year, in which they vowed to "focus significant resources" on, among other things, algorithmic trading and high-frequency trading (HFT) abuses. They have already levied a record fine against a brokerage firm for failing to supervise manipulative high-frequency trading, and their emphasis on HFT issues mirrors efforts by the SEC and CFTC to bring the HFT industry under better regulatory...

Persistence Scorecard: Even Harder to Stay on Top

S&P Dow Jones Indices has recently updated their semiannual Persistence Scorecard, which studies the consistency of returns for actively managed US equity mutual funds. Like the previous Persistence Scorecard from December 2012, the updated study finds little evidence that actively-managed mutual funds can outperform stated benchmarks on a consistent basis.

In fact, the results are rather worse than in the previous study. The report highlights three factors:

  • Percentage of funds in top quartile...

SEC Halts Texas-Based Forex Trading Scheme

The SEC recently halted a foreign exchange ('forex') trading scheme run by Kevin G. White, an unregistered Plano, TX-based money manager.1 White raised $7.1 million of investor capital through KGW Capital Management and Revelation Forex Fund representing that Revelation had achieved returns of approaching 400% since January 2009.2

Investors should realize that such persistent outsized returns are extremely unlikely. Indeed, bank and brokerage records reveal that the Revelation Forex Fund did...

State Pension Funds Would Benefit from Passive Indexing

The Maryland Public Policy Institute and the Maryland Tax Education Foundation released a report that uses data on state pension funds to question the value of active money management. The report finds that paying Wall Street managers to actively select and trade securities in state pension funds does not generate better investment returns, although it does provide higher fees and commissions for Wall Street managers. The results are in line with that of the S&P Indices Versus Active Funds...

SEC Investigating Early Release of Data to High Frequency Traders

Every month at 10:00 AM Eastern time, Thomson Reuters publishes the Institute for Supply Management (ISM) manufacturing data on its website. The ISM data is a widely cited benchmark, and its announcement can move stock markets. On June 3, that data was disappointing, and the stock market fell in response to the news. But it fell 15 milliseconds before the data was released.

Likewise, every month at 10:00 AM Eastern the University of Michigan publishes its Consumer Sentiment Index data through...

FINRA Fines StateTrust for Charging Unfair Prices in Fraudulent Bond Transactions

We've been discussing markups a lot on the blog recently -- including an entire week devoted to markups in municipal bonds. Yesterday FINRA announced that it fined StateTrust Investments and their head trader, Jose Luis Turnes, for charging excessive markups and markdowns on hundreds of corporate bond transactions.1 The letter of acceptance, waiver and consent (AWC) is available to view online.

According to FINRA, StateTrust charged prices customers much more, or paid them much less, than the...

SEC Warns Investors About Binary Options

The SEC has issued an Investor Alert on binary options, which are derivatives that pay out a fixed amount if an event happens and zero if it does not. We've covered binary options before, so do check out that post for a detailed background and an Excel spreadsheet that explains how binary options work in some detail.

The Alert highlights several risks of binary options, mostly relating to how they are traded. It notes:

Much of the binary options market operates through Internet-based trading...

SEC Commissioners Vote Unanimously on Money-Market Reform Measures

The SEC voted on Wednesday on changes to rules governing money market funds (MMFs). As we discussed on Tuesday, MMFs are considered low risk, low return investments similar to bank accounts, but experienced 'runs' during the financial collapse of 2008 that helped freeze financial markets. The SEC's new rules hope to prevent such runs by changing how MMFs report their assets.

As widely suspected, the changes target MMFs favored by large institutional investors (dubbed 'prime funds'). While...

FINRA Fines Wells Fargo and Banc of America Over Unsuitable Sales of Floating-Rate Bank Loan Funds

Yesterday, the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority (FINRA) announced fines totalling more than $2.1 million levied against Wells Fargo and Banc of America. In addition, FINRA has ordered the two institutions to pay restitution in excess $3 million to customers who suffered "losses incurred from unsuitable sales of floating-rate bank loan funds."

A floating-rate bank loan fund is a mutual fund that mainly invests in floating-rate high-yield senior secured loans. The floating-rate on the...

SEC to Vote on New Money Market Fund Rules

Tomorrow, the Securities and Exchange Commission will vote on new rules pertaining to the $2.6 trillion money market fund (MMF) industry. The SEC hopes that the new rules will safegaurd against future runs on MMFs, such as those that occurred during the financial crisis after the collapse of Lehman Brothers. A "run on" MMFs occurs when many investors (or a few very large investors) attempt to redeem their shares in near unison, resulting in significant liquidations of MMF holdings.

A money...

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