UBS's Yield Enhancement Strategy ("YES") Returns - and then the Losses - Were Caused by Equity Market Exposure

2019-10-02 By Craig McCann, Regina Meng, Edward O'Neal

UBS marketed YES as market-neutral based on a combination of four options is sometimes referred to as an "Iron Condor". UBS accounts subjected to YES treatment suffered losses of 12% to 14% in December 2018 when the S&P 500 dropped 9.2% because the overlay was more than 100% In this paper the authors we explain the option basics necessary to understand the YES strategy and illustrate how UBS actually implemented the strategy with predictably disastrous results. They also present how UBS described the strategy in its marketing materials.


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Puerto Rico Securities Arbitration Settlements and Awards Likely to Exceed $1.25 Billion (Updated May 15, 2019)

2019-06-10 By Craig McCann, Edward O'Neal, Chuan Qin and Mike Yan

SLCG releases its updated Puerto Rico Securities Arbitration Report showing over $600 million paid out so far in settlements and awards with a similar amount likely to be paid out in coming years as a result of brokerage firm customers losses in Puerto Rico.


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Reporte de Arbitrajes de Valores en Puerto Rico: entre Acuerdos Transaccionales y Laudos Arbitrales seguramente se excederá de $1.25 billon (15 de may de 2019)

2019-06-10 By Craig McCann, Edward O'Neal, Chuan Qin and Mike Yan

SLCG publica su Informe de Arbitraje de Valores de Puerto Rico actualizado que muestra más de $600 millones pagados hasta el momento en acuerdos y adjudicaciones con una cantidad similar que probablemente se pagará en los próximos años como resultado de las pérdidas de clientes de la firma de corretaje en Puerto Rico.


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Rating Brokerage Firms by Their Complaint Histories Rather Than by Their Brokers' Histories

2017-08-09 By Craig McCann, Chuan Qin and Mike Yan

In our previous research, we ranked brokerage firms based on the proportion of their brokers on December 31, 2015 who had been associated with at least one resolved customer complaint. That approach assigns a higher ranking to a firm if a larger proportion of its current brokers have one or more resolved customer complaint in their career, regardless whether the complaints occurred at their current employer or at a prior employer.

Our new research ranks brokerage firms based on the frequency of customer complaints over conduct at each firm, including both resolved and pending. That is, we rank firms based on their history rather than on their current brokers' histories.


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Puerto Rico Securities Arbitration Settlements and Awards Sure to Exceed $1 Billion (Updated November 15, 2018)

2017-02-22 By Craig McCann, Edward O'Neal, Chuan Qin and Mike Yan

In 2013, a shrinking economy and the government's loss of continued access to capital markets necessary to make interest payments, refinance principal coming due and to fund an unsustainable government deficit caused Puerto Rico tax exempt bond prices to fall substantially.

Puerto Rico brokerage firms' customers held poorly diversified securities accounts, concentrated in Puerto Rico municipal bonds or closed end funds that held leveraged portfolios of Puerto Rico municipal bonds. Often these accounts were further leveraged using margin debt, lines of credit or proceeds from non-purpose loans recycled through third-party banks.


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Reporte de Arbitrajes de Valores en Puerto Rico: 2,983 Reclamaciones, $470 millones en Acuerdos Transaccionales y Laudos Arbitrales Hasta la fecha (07 de septiembre de 2018)

2017-02-22 By Craig McCann, Chuan Qin y Mike Yan


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Structured Products and the Mischief of Self-Indexing

2016-10-19 By Geng Deng, Craig McCann and Mike Yan

In recent years, investment banks have issued structured products linked to indexes they create rather than just linking to standardized indexes from Standard & Poor's. In doing so, the issuers create additional difficulties for retail investors to understand these, sometimes complex, investments. We illustrate the potential conflicts of interest created with structured products linked to proprietary volatility indexes although the conflicts are present in other proprietary index based investments as well.

In the 1990s, investment banks switched from underwriting reverse convertibles and tracking securities issued by operating companies like Citicorp and Reynolds Metals linked to their own stock to issuing and underwriting structured products linked to unrelated publicly traded companies like Cisco Systems. This change in investment banks' role led to a dramatic proliferation of new issuances and ever more complicated payoff structures since the underwriters were no long limited to underwriting securities other companies wanted to issue. Investment banks could now issue notes in relatively small denominations linked to publicly traded companies that the brokerage firms could then sell through their retail sales force. The complexity of these notes made regulatory oversight more difficult and allowed issuers to sell structured products with very low issue date values.


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How Widespread and Predictable is Stock Broker Misconduct?

2016-04-21 By Craig McCann, Chuan Qin, and Mike Yan

In this paper we reconcile widely diverging recent estimates of broker misconduct. Qureshi and Sokobin report that 1.3% of current and past brokers are associated with awards or settlements in excess of a threshold amount. Egan, Matvos, and Seru find that 7.8% of current and former brokers have financial misconduct disclosures including customer complaints, awards, and settlements.

We replicate and extend the analysis of broker misconduct in these studies. Qureshi and Sokobin arrive at their low estimate by excluding 85% of all brokers, including those brokers most likely to have engaged in misconduct. Applying Qureshi and Sokobin's restrictive definition of potential misconduct to all brokers, we find that misconduct is much more widespread.

We also evaluate Qureshi and Sokobin's claim that its BrokerCheck website provides helpful information to investors seeking to avoid bad brokers and answer the question posed by Egan, Matvos, and Seru: If BrokerCheck data can identify broker misconduct, why don't investors use that data to protect themselves? We find that BrokerCheck is worthless in its current hobbled form, but that it could easily be modified so that market forces might substantially reduce broker misconduct.


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Craig McCann's NASAA 2015 Presentation, Investments Through Time

2015-09-28 By Craig McCann

Investments Through Time: The Evolution of Investment Products and How They are Sold.


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Securities-Based Lending

2015-06-24 By Paul F. Meyer

A perfect storm of soaring equity values and historically low interest rates has sparked a borrowing binge among securities investors. Securities-based loans ("SBLs") are a very attractive product for the broker-dealers who market them. However, SBLs impose substantial risks on borrowers. These risks are easy to overlook in a buoyant market but will eventually wreak havoc on the financial wellbeing of investors who are not prepared to withstand the next bear market. In this paper, Paul Meyer reviews the types of lending in which broker-dealers engage, describes how SBLs are regulated and marketed, and points out the considerable risks borne by a customer who borrows against his savings.


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Fiduciary Duties and Non-traded REITs

2015-06-10 By Craig McCann

A summary of SLCG's analysis of investor returns in 81 non-traded REITs. Investors are at least $45.5 billion worse off as a result of investing in the 81 non-traded REITs compared to investing in a diversified portfolio of traded REITs. Investors in non-traded REITs over the past 25 years would have earned as much or more investing in short and intermediate term US Treasury securities without bearing the risks and illiquidity of non-traded REITs. More than half of the non-traded REITs' $45.5 billion underperformance results from upfront fees charged to investors in the offerings. The rest of the underperformance results from conflicts of interest which permeate the organization structure of non-traded REITs and which are largely absent in traded REITs.

Non-traded REITs are so inferior to traded REITs that no advisor taking due care could develop a reasonable basis for recommending a non-traded REIT. Advisors recommending non-traded REITs either are not exercising due care or are succumbing to the corrupting influence of the extraordinary commissions sponsors pay for recommending non-traded REITs. The brokerage industry is well aware that recommending non-traded REITs is inconsistent with fiduciary duties.


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An Empirical Analysis of Non-Traded REITs

2015-06-01 By Brian Henderson, Joshua Mallett, and Craig McCann

We find that returns to 81 non-traded REITs which had listed, been acquired by or merged with a listed REIT or had updated per share values average 6.3% annually compared to 11.6% returns earned over the same period in traded REITs. A significant portion of non-traded REITs' $45 billion underperformance results from high up?front fees that average 13.2%, and largely compensate brokers. The remainder of the shortfall results from conflicts of interest that permeate the organizational structure of non-traded REITs.

Non-traded REITs that list on a major securities exchange almost always "internalize" their management and administrative functions prior to listing. We observe corresponding reductions in expenses, on average equal to 9.0% of revenues, largely attributable to the elimination of payments to affiliated parties. Institutional ownership of non-traded REITs rarely occurs until after both an exchange listing and the severing of management and advisory functions from the sponsor, consistent with our view that non-traded REIT investors suffer from the lack of monitoring and effective mechanisms for shareholder protection.


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Ex-post Structured Product Returns: Index Methodology and Analysis

2014-04-02 By Geng Deng, Tim Dulaney, Tim Husson, Craig McCann, and Mike Yan

The academic and practitioner literature now includes numerous studies of the substantial issue date mispricing of structured products but there is no large scale study of the ex-post returns earned by structured product investors. This paper augments the current literature by analyzing the ex-post returns of nearly 18,000 individual structured products issued by 13 brokerage firms since 2007. We construct our structured product index and sub-indices for reverse convertibles, single-observation reverse convertibles, tracking securities, and auto-callable securities by valuing each structured product in our database each day.

The ex-post returns of US structured products are highly correlated with the returns of large capitalization equity markets in the aggregate and individual structured products generally underperform simple alternative allocations to stocks and bonds. The observed underperformance of structured products is consistent with the signifi cant issue date under-pricing documented in the literature.


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Efficient Valuation of Equity-Indexed Annuities Under Lévy Processes Using Fourier-Cosine Series

2014-04-01 By Geng Deng, Tim Dulaney, Craig McCann, and Mike Yan

Equity-Indexed Annuities (EIAs) are deferred annuities which accumulate value over time according to crediting formulas and realized equity index returns. We propose an efficient algorithm to value two popular crediting formulas found in EIAs - Annual Point-to-Point (APP) and Monthly Point-to-Point (MPP) - under general Lévy-process based index returns. APP contracts observe returns of referenced indexes annually and credit EIA accounts, subject to minimum and maximum returns. MPP contracts incorporate both local/monthly caps and global/annual floors on index credits. MPP contracts have payoffs of a "cliquet" option.

Our algorithm, based on the COS method (Fang and Oosterlee, 2008), expands the present value of an EIA contract using Fourier-cosine series, expresses the value of the EIA contract as a series of terms involving simple characteristic function evaluations. We present several examples with different Lévy processes, including the Black-Scholes model and the CGMY model. These examples illustrate the efficiency of our algorithm as well as its versatility in computing annuity market sensitivities, which could facilitate the hedging and pricing of annuity contracts.


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The Fall of Willow

2014-03-04 By Geng Deng and Craig McCann

From May 8, 2000 until June 30, 2007, the UBS Willow Fund was invested in distressed obligations with offsetting but smaller cash and synthetic short debt positions through credit default swaps (CDS). After June 2007 the Fund dramatically increased its purchases of CDS and became massively short distressed debt. Investors in the Fund lost $278.4 million during this second period from June 2007 to December 2012 and the Willow Fund was liquidated in 2013.

The Willow Fund understated the risk of its CDS portfolio and did not disclose the dramatic increase in the Fund's risks. In fact, the Willow Fund stopped reporting the CDS premiums it paid as a line item expense and thereafter bundled them with realized and unrealized gains on losses on its overall securities and derivatives portfolio making it nearly impossible for investors to discern the impact of the Fund's change in strategy and dramatic increase in risk. Investors in the Willow Fund suffered losses of between $351 million and $419 million compared to diversified portfolios of junks bonds while UBS made over $100 million selling and managing the Fund.


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Valuation of Structured Products

2014-02-03 By Geng Deng, Tim Husson, and Craig McCann

The market for structured products has grown dramatically in the past decade. Their diversity and complexity has led to the development of many diff erent valuation approaches, and which approach to use to value a given product is not always clear. In this paper we demonstrate and discuss four approaches to valuing structured products: simulation of the linked fi nancial instrument's future values, numerical integration, decomposition, and partial diff erential equation approaches. As an example, we use all four approaches to value a common type of structured product and discuss the virtues and pitfalls of each. These approaches have been practically applied to value 20,000 structured products in our database.


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Valuation of Reverse Convertibles in the VG Economy

2014-01-07 By Geng Deng, Tim Dulaney, and Craig McCann

Prior research on structured products has demonstrated that equity-linked notes sold to retail investors in initial public off erings are typically issued at above their fair market value. A particular type of equity-linked note { reverse convertibles { embed down-and-in put options and o er investors relatively high coupon payments in exchange for bearing some of the downside risk of the equity underlying the note. We analytically study the magnitude of the overpricing of reverse convertibles - one of the most popular structured products on the market today - within a stochastic volatility model.

We extend the current literature to include analytical valuation formulas within a model of stochastic volatility - the Variance Gamma (VG) model. We show that these complex notes are even more overpriced than previously estimated when stochastic volatility is taken into account. As a result of their complex payout s and the lack of a secondary market to correct the mispricing, reverse convertible notes continue to be sold at prices substantially in excess of their fair market value.


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Crooked Volatility Smiles: Evidence from Leveraged and Inverse ETF Options

2014-01-07 By Geng Deng, Tim Dulaney, Craig McCann, and Mike Yan

We find that leverage in exchange traded funds (ETFs) can a ffect the "crookedness" of volatility smiles. This observation is consistent with the intuition that return shocks are inversely correlated with volatility shocks - resulting in more expensive out-of-the-money put options and less expensive out-of-the-money call options. We show that the prices of options on leveraged and inverse ETFs can be used to better calibrate models of stochastic volatility. In particular, we study a sextet of leveraged and inverse ETFs based on the S&P 500 index. We show that the Heston model (Heston , 1993) can reproduce the crooked smiles observed in the market price of options on leveraged and inverse leveraged ETFs. We show further that the model predicts a leverage dependent moneyness, consistent with empirical data, at which options on positively and negatively leveraged ETFs have the same price. Finally, by analyzing the asymptotic behavior for the implied variances at extreme strikes, we observe an approximate symmetry between pairs of LETF smiles empirically consistent with the predictions of the Heston model.


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Modeling a Risk-Based Criterion for a Portfolio with Options

2013-12-13 By Geng Deng, Tim Dulaney, and Craig McCann

The presence of options in a portfolio fundamentally alters the portfolio's risk and return pro files when compared to an all equity portfolio. In this paper, we advocate modeling a risk-based criterion for optioned portfolio selection and rebalancing problems. The criterion is inspired by Chicago Mercantile Exchange's risk-based margining system which sets the collateralization requirements on margin accounts. The margin criterion computes the losses expected at the portfolio level using expected stock price and volatility variations, and is itself an optimization problem. Our contribution is to remodel the criterion as a quadratic programming subproblem of the main portfolio optimization problem using option Greeks. We also extend the margin subproblem to a continuous domain. The quadratic programming problems thus designed can be solved numerically or in closed-form with high efficiency, greatly facilitating the main portfolio selection problem. We present two extended practical examples of the application of our approach to obtain optimal portfolios with options. These examples include a study of liquidity effects (bid/ask spreads and limited order sizes) and sensitivity to changing market conditions. Our analysis shows that the approach advocated here is more stable and more efficient than discrete approaches to portfolio selection.


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Robust Portfolio Optimization with VaR Adjusted Sharpe Ratio

2013-11-05 By Geng Deng, Tim Dulaney, Craig McCann, and Olivia Wang

We propose a robust portfolio optimization approach based on Value-at-Risk (VaR) adjusted Sharpe ratios. Traditional Sharpe ratio estimates using a limited series of historical returns are subject to estimation errors. Portfolio optimization based on traditional Sharpe ratios ignores this uncertainty and, as a result, is not robust. In this paper, we propose a robust portfolio optimization model that selects the portfolio with the largest worse-case-scenario Sharpe ratio within a given confidence interval. We show that this framework is equivalent to maximizing the Sharpe ratio reduced by a quantity proportional to the standard deviation in the Sharpe ratio estimator. We highlight the relationship between the VaR-adjusted Sharpe ratios and other modified Sharpe ratios proposed in the literature. In addition, we present both numerical and empirical results comparing optimal portfolios generated by the approach advocated here with those generated by both the traditional and the alternative optimization approaches.


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Large Sample Valuations of Tenancies-in-Common

2013-10-28 By Tim Husson, Craig McCann, Edward O'Neal, and Carmen Taveras

In this paper, we value a large sample of tenant-in-common (TIC) investments based on cash flow projections found in 194 private placement memoranda. Our sample of TIC offering documents covers approximately 20% of the TIC industry from 2004 to 2009. Based on the sponsor's projections, we find that the TICs on average were worth 83.6 cents per $1 paid by TIC equity investors. However, we have found that sponsors' cash flow projections overstate likely returns to investors by assuming unrealistically high rental growth rates and unrealistically low vacancy and caps rates.

Adjusting only the sponsors' cap rates alone to rates reflecting market conditions lowers the average valuations by 9.5 cents to 74.1 cents per $1. Adjusting the sponsors' unrealistic rental growth rate and vacancy assumptions lowers the average value further. These low valuations are consistent with average upfront fees and reserves equal to 28% and 12% of equity. Our results suggest that private placement sponsors have considerable latitude in their projections, and that investors should view projected returns with skepticism.


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The Priority Senior Secured Income Fund

2013-09-23 By Tim Dulaney, Tim Husson, and Craig McCann

Retail investors are being sold increasingly obscure non-conventional investments. With the Priority Senior Secured Income Fund (PSSI), issuers may have finally gone too far. PSSI is the first registered investment company that invests primarily in leveraged loans and CLOs. Unlike the mutual funds with which most retail investors are familiar, PSSI investors are not able to redeem shares daily at PSSI's net asset value. PSSI is not listed on an exchange and traded like a closed-end fund and so investors will have neither an observable market price nor any opportunity to sell shares in the secondary market.

PSSI, like other non-traded investments, is an extremely high cost offering. Its upfront fees of at least 9% and annual fees of over 8%, in addition to the high cost of its underlying structured finance investments, require persistently high returns on its portfolio to generate a positive internal rate of return for fund investors. The increased risks borne by investors to generate that return are complex and are not likely to be appreciated by brokers or retail investors.


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Structured Product Based Variable Annuities

2013-09-11 By Geng Deng, Tim Dulaney, Tim Husson, and Craig McCann

Recently, a new type of variable annuity has been marketed to investors which is based on structured product-like investments instead of the mutual fund-like investments found in traditional variable annuities. Embedding a structured product into a variable annuity introduces substantial complexity into an investment typically considered conservative. In this paper, we describe structured product based variable annuity (spVA) crediting formulas and how they differ from traditional VAs, value the embedded derivative position for a range of example parameters, and calculate the fair cap levels required to fairly compensate investors for the derivative position. We also provide extensive backtests of spVA crediting formulas using our calculated cap levels and compare the results to their underlying indexes. Our findings suggest that the complexity of spVAs can be used to hide fees and reduce the comparability of variable annuities to other investments in the market.


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Private Placement Real Estate Valuation

2013-09-03 By Tim Husson, Craig McCann, Edward O'Neal, and Carmen Taveras

As a result of the Securities and Exchange Commission's relaxation of its prohibition against the marketing of private placements, investors will soon be exposed to a broad array of syndicated commercial real estate investments. Private placement commercial real estate investments are illiquid and so cannot be easily valued by reference to frequent transactions in the same asset in active markets.

We have reviewed over 200 syndicated commercial real estate private placement memorandums and find that virtually all include projected cash flows. This study explains how investors and their advisors can use these projections to develop estimates of investment value. We determine a lower bound for discount rates applicable to the cash flows derived from commercial real estate and apply the methodology to an actual commercial real estate private placement investment. Our findings suggest significant overvaluation by commercial real estate private placement investment sponsors even when using conservative estimates of discount rates.


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Structured Certificates of Deposit: Introduction and Valuation

2013-07-30 By Geng Deng, Tim Dulaney, Tim Husson, and Craig McCann

This paper examines the properties and valuation of market-linked certificates of deposit (structured CDs). Structured CDs are similar to structured products -- debt securities with payoffs linked to market indexes -- but while structured products have garnered significant interest in both the financial media and in the academic literature, structured CDs have received relatively little attention. We review the market for structured CDs in the United States and provide valuations for several common product types. Using our methodology, we find significant mispricing of several common types of structured CDs across multiple issuers, which is similar in magnitude to the well-documented mispricing in the structured products market. In particular, we estimate that structured CDs are typically worth approximately 93% of the value of a contemporaneously issued fixed-rate CD. These results suggest that unsophisticated investors may not understand the value, risks, and subtleties of these ostensibly conservative investments.


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Using EMMA to Assess Municipal Bond Markups

2013-06-07 By Geng Deng and Craig McCann

In the past, assessment of the reasonableness of municipal bond markups depended on anecdotal recollection of markups and subjective judgment about what was customary. Interested parties including regulators can now use the MSRB's EMMA service to determine the markups charged on a set of transactions and can make precise and accurate statements about how unusual such markups were, controlling for many factors thought to effect the reasonableness of markups.

We analyze over 13.7 million customer trades, totaling $3.9 trillion in par amount traded in fixed-coupon, long-term municipal bonds. We estimate that investors were charged $10.65 billion in municipal bond markups between 2005 and 2013 in our sample - $6.45 billion in trades on which excessive markups appear to have been charged.

Our sample includes about 30 percent of the fixed-coupon municipal bond trades and so the total markups charged from 2005 to 2013 is likely to be at least $20 billion. $10 billion of this $20 billion in markups were charged on trades on which excessive markups appear to have been charged. These markups are a transfer from taxpayers and investors to the brokerage industry and could be largely eliminated with simple, low-cost improvements in disclosure.


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The Rise and Fall of Apple-linked Structured Products

2013-01-25 By Geng Deng, Tim Dulaney, Craig McCann, and Mike Yan

The rise in Apple's market capitalization in 2012 coincided with a dramatic increase in single-observation reverse convertibles, reverse convertibles and autocallable notes linked to Apple's stock price. These notes all transfer the downside risk of owning Apple to investors but cap the upside at somewhat more than corporate bond yields. Issuers use individual stocks like Apple as the reference obligations for reverse convertible structured products because investors underestimate the risk of suffering losses when the individual stock's price falls.

The decline in Apple's stock price from over $700 in September 2012 to $450 in January 2013 has resulted in over one hundred million dollars of losses in Apple-linked structured products. In this paper, we summarize our published reports on over 650 Apple-linked structured products and identify the impact of Apple's recent stock price decline on investors in these structured products.


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What is a TIC Worth?

2013-01-04 By Tim Husson, Craig McCann, and Carmen Taveras

Tenants-in-common interests are passive real estate investments which are sold based on two claimed benefits: stable "cash on cash" returns and deferral of capital gains tax through 1031 exchanges. The "cash on cash" returns are found in financial projections in TIC offering documents. Using a stylized TIC cash flow projection based on our review of these materials, we show that TICs use aggressive assumptions to inflate the apparent returns to investors.

Projected cash flows must be discounted to determine whether a TIC investment is reasonably priced or not. A TIC's projected cash flows should be subject to sensitivity analysis to determine the risk of unrealistic projections. This traditional risk-return analysis, as part of a reasonable basis suitability analysis, would have determined that TICs had expected returns which were insufficient to compensate for the risk of their leveraged investments in undiversified real estate and that the claimed tax deferral benefits were small compared to the mispricing in TIC offerings.


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Dual Directional Structured Products

2013-01-03 By Geng Deng, Tim Dulaney, Tim Husson, and Craig McCann

We analyze and value dual directional structured products - or simply dual directionals (DDs) - which have been issued in large amounts since the beginning of 2012. DD's evolved out of another type of structured product called absolute return barrier notes (ARBNs); however, DD's lack principal protection and have different embedded options positions, which have yet to be described in the literature. We find that DDs can be broadly organized into two categories: single observation dual directionals (SODDs) and knock-out dual directionals (KODDs). We determine the appropriate option decomposition for these categories and provide analytical formulas for their valuation. We confirm our analytic results using Monte Carlo simulation and use both techniques to value a large sample of DDs registered with the Securities and Exchange Commission up to December 2012. Our results indicate that like many types of structured products, DDs tend to be priced at a significant premium to present value across issuers and underlying securities and that the present value of the decomposition is smaller than the face value net of commissions. We find that DDs with embedded leverage or a single observation feature tend to be worth less than products either without leverage or with a knock-out option.


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Are VIX Futures ETPs Effective Hedges?

2012-06-27 By Geng Deng, Craig McCann, and Olivia Wang

Exchange-traded products (ETPs) linked to futures contracts on the CBOE S&P 500 Volatility Index (VIX) have grown in volume and assets under management in recent years, in part because of their perceived potential to hedge against stock market losses.

In this paper we study whether VIX-related ETPs can effectively hedge a portfolio of stocks. We find that while the VIX increases when large stock market losses occur, ETPs which track short term VIX futures indices are not effective hedges for stock portfolios because of the negative roll yield accumulated by such futures-based ETPs. ETPs which track medium term VIX futures indices suffer less from negative roll yield and thus appear somewhat better hedges for stock portfolios. Our findings cast doubt on the potential diversification benefit from holding ETPs linked to VIX futures contracts.

We also study the effectiveness of VIX ETPs in hedging Leveraged ETFs (LETFs) in which rebalancing effects lead to significant losses for buy-and-hold investors during periods of high volatility. We find that VIX futures ETPs are usually not effective hedges for LETFs.


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Sharpe Ratio Practice Note

We provide a detailed discussion of the relationship between the underlying return distribution and the Sharpe ratio from a series of historical returns drawn from that return distribution. We provide two examples of portfolio allocations that highlight the importance of knowing the uncertainty in the measurement of the Sharpe ratio from a series of historical returns.


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Isolating the Effect of Day-Count Conventions

2012-05-01 By Geng Deng, Tim Dulaney, Tim Husson, and Craig McCann

Day-count conventions are a ubiquitous but often overlooked aspect of interest-bearing investments. While many market traded securities have adopted fixed or standard conventions, over-the-counter agreements such as interest rate swaps can and do use a wide variety of conventions, and many investors may not be aware of the effects of this choice on their future cash flows. Here, we show that the choice of day-count convention can have a surprisingly large effect on the market value of swap agreements. We highlight the importance of matching day-count conventions on obligations and accompanying swap agreements, and demonstrate various factors which influence the magnitude of day-count convention effects. As interest rate swaps are very common amongst municipal and other institutional investors, we urge investors to thoroughly understand these and other `fine print' terms in any potential agreements. In particular, we highlight the ability of financial intermediaries to effectively increase their fees substantially through their choice of day-count conventions.


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Optimizing Portfolio Liquidation Under Risk-Based Margin Requirements

2012-04-06 By Geng Deng, Tim Dulaney, and Craig McCann

This paper addresses a situation wherein a retail investor must liquidate positions in her portfolio -- consisting of assets and European options on those assets -- to meet a margin call and wishes to do so with the least disruption to her portfolio. We address the problem by first generalizing the usual risk-based haircuts methodology of determining the portfolio margin requirement given the current positions of a portfolio. We derive first and second-order analytic estimates for the margin requirements given the positions. Given this generalization, we determine the liquidation strategy that minimizes the total positions liquidated and meets the margin requirement. We implement the strategy on example portfolios and show advantages over traditional piece-wise liquidation approaches. The analytic approach outlined here is more general than the margin context discussed. Our approach is applicable whenever an investor is attempting to maximize the impact of their capital subject to leverage limits and so has obviously applications to the hedge fund industry.


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A Primer on Non-Traded REITs and other Alternative Real Estate Investments

2012-03-07 By Tim Husson, Craig McCann, and Carmen Taveras

In this paper we provide a brief overview of the ways to achieve real estate exposure and focus our analysis on alternative real estate investments. The term alternative real estate investment, as used in this paper, refers to real estate securities such as non-traded Real Estate Investment Trusts (REITs), private REITs, and Tenants-in-Common (TICs), which are often sold to but may be unsuitable for most retail investors. Some common problems of alternative real estate investments are: 1) their illiquid nature allows them to give investors an illusory sense of low price volatility, 2) their high fees and significant conflicts of interests may lead to a loss of shareholder value, and 3) their reliance on leverage to fund current dividend payments may hide their inability to pay future dividends. Limitations on publicly-available data oblige us to concentrate much of our discussion on non-traded REITs. Our analysis is relevant for the even less transparent private placement REIT and TIC market.


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CLOs, Warehousing, and Banc of America's Undisclosed Losses

2012-01-31 By Tim Husson, Craig McCann, and Olivia Wang

Collateralized Loan Obligations (CLOs) are issued by trusts which in turn invest the proceeds from issuing the CLO securities in portfolios of bank loans. This note explains the conflicts of interest created when an investment bank accumulates loans for potential securitization prior to the issuance of a CLO through a practice known as 'warehousing.' Warehousing appears to have resulted in some CLO trusts issuing securities without disclosing to investors that the securities had lost almost all their value because the CLO trust was committed to paying substantially more than the market value of the warehoused loans.

We provide two examples of such problematic CLO offerings in which Banc of America appears to have transferred at least $35 million of losses to investors in July 2007 and which ultimately led to approximately $150 million in losses in just these two CLOs. $35 million of those $150 million in losses occurred before Banc of America sold the securities to investors and only $115 million occurred after investors bought the CLO securities. The problem we identify is more widespread than Banc of America and broader than CLOs.

The Private Placement Memoranda for the products mentioned in the paper: Bryn Mawr II PPM, LCM VII PPM, and Symphony IV PPM. The LCM VII Marketing Deck is available here and the LCM Trustee Reports which document the decline in the value of the LCM VII loans before July 31, 2007 is available here.

News Article
- American Banker - B of A Subpoenaed by Massachusetts Over CLOs by Allison Bisbey
- The New York Times, February 5, 2012 - A Wipeout That Didn't Have to Happen

Recent Award
- Hayes v Banc of America Securities - $1.4 million CLO Award


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Valuing Partial Interests in Trusts

2011-12-15 By Geng Deng, Tim Husson, and Craig McCann

The financial interests of a trust's beneficiaries are often diametrically opposed and conflict among trust beneficiaries is common. Although applicable law requires that trustees adhere to lofty standards of 'good faith' and 'fair dealing' they must make tangible, specific decisions, and sometimes under circumstances in which the settlor's expectations regarding investments and distributions as set forth in the trust document are unclear. Traditional methods for valuing partial interests in trusts offer insufficient guidance to courts in assessing the prudent investor standard, as they often disregard many of the important factors which go into investment decisions--notably, the allocations to different asset classes.

In this paper, we develop a valuation methodology based on Monte Carlo Simulation techniques which allows for economically feasible ex ante valuation of partial interests in trusts. The MCS technique is widely used in modern finance and economics, and is especially useful for valuing partial interests because it can incorporate mortality risk, portfolio asset allocation, varying distributions and the discretionary sale of the trust's assets to fund distributions. We explain how the MCS method can incorporate a variety of assumptions about the income beneficiary's mortality and the trustee's decisions, and show how these factors affect the valuation of partial interests.


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Rethinking the Comparable Companies Valuation Method

2011-11-01 By Paul Godek, Craig McCann, Dan Simundza, and Carmen Taveras

This paper studies a commonly used method of valuing companies, the comparable companies method, also known as the method of multiples. We use an intuitive graphical presentation to show why the comparable companies method is arbitrary and imprecise. We then show how valuations can be significantly improved using regression analysis. Regression analysis is superior to the comparable companies method because, by using more of the available data and imposing fewer unreasonable assumptions, it is more accurate and can value more firms.


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The Properties of Short Term Investing in Leveraged ETFs

2011-07-26 By Geng Deng and Craig McCann

The daily returns on leveraged and inverse-leveraged exchange-traded funds (LETFs) are a multiple of the daily returns of a reference index. Because LETFs rebalance their leverage daily, their holding period returns can deviate substantially from the returns of a leveraged investment. While about half of LETF investors hold their investments for less than a month, the standard analysis of these investments uses a continuous time framework that is not appropriate for analyzing short holding periods, so the true effect of this daily rebalancing has not been properly ascertained.

In this paper, we model tracking errors of LETFs compared to a leveraged investment in discrete time. For a period lasting a month or less, the continuous time model predicts tracking errors to be small. However, we find that in a discrete time model, daily portfolio rebalancing introduces tracking errors that are not captured in the continuous time framework. On average, portfolio rebalancing accounts for approximately 25% of the total tracking error, and in certain scenarios the rebalancing tracking error could rise to as high as 5% in 3 weeks and can dominate the total tracking error. Since investors in LETFs have short average holding periods and high average turnover ratios, the effects of portfolio rebalancing must be accurately accounted for in the analysis of LETF returns.


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The VXX ETN and Volatility Exposure

2011-06-16 By Tim Husson and Craig McCann

Exposure to the CBOE Volatility Index (VIX) has been available since 2004 in the form of futures and since 2006 in the form of options, but recently new exchange-traded products have offered retail investors an easier way to gain exposure to this popular measure of market sentiment. The most successful of these products so far has been Barclays's VXX ETN, which has grown to a market cap of just under $1.5 billion. However, the VXX ETN has lost more than 90% of its value since its introduction in 2009, compared to a decline of only 60% for the VIX index. This poor relative performance is because the VXX ETN tracks an index of VIX futures contracts that can incur negative roll yield. In this paper we review the VIX index and assess the opportunities and risks associated with investing in the VXX ETN.


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Modeling Autocallable Structured Products

2011-03-15 By Geng Deng, Joshua Mallett, and Craig McCann

Since first introduced in 2003, the number of autocallable structured products in the U.S. has increased exponentially. The autocall feature immediately converts the product if the reference asset's value rises above a pre-specified call price. Because an autocallable structured product matures immediately if it is called, the autocall feature reduces the product's duration and expected maturity.

In this paper, we present a flexible Partial Differential Equation (PDE) framework to model autocallable structured products. Our framework allows for products with either discrete or continuous autocall dates. We value the autocallable structured products with discrete autocall dates using the finite difference method, and the products with continuous autocall dates using a closed-form solution. In addition, we estimate the probabilities of an autocallable structured-product being called on each call date. We demonstrate our models by valuing a popular autocallable product and quantify the cost to the investor of adding this feature to a structured product.


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Futures-Based Commodities ETFs

2011-01-28 By Ilan Guedj, PhD, Guohua Li, PhD, and Craig McCann, PhD

Commodities Exchange Traded Funds (ETFs) have become popular investments since first introduced in 2004. These funds offer investors a simple way to gain exposure to commodities, which are thought of as an asset class suitable for diversification in investment portfolios and as a hedge against economic downturns. However, returns of futures-based commodities ETFs have deviated significantly from the changes in the prices of their underlying commodities. The pervasive underperformance of futures-based commodities ETFs compared to changes in commodity prices calls into question the usefulness of these ETFs for diversification or hedging.

This paper examines the sources of the deviation between futures-based commodities ETF returns and the changes in commodity prices using crude oil ETFs. We show that the deviation in returns is serially correlated and that a significant portion of this deviation can be predicted by the term structure of the oil futures market. We conclude that only investors sophisticated enough to understand and actively monitor commodities futures market conditions should use these ETFs.


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Leveraged Municipal Bond Arbitrage: What Went Wrong?

2010-10-25 By Geng Deng and Craig McCann

In this article, we explain that, while marketed as an arbitrage strategy, the leveraged municipal bond strategy was simply an opaque high-cost, highly leveraged bet on the value of call options, interest rates and liquidity and credit risk. Brokerage firms misrepresented the strategy by comparing the yields on callable municipal bonds with the yields on non-callable Treasury securities without adjusting the yields on municipal bonds for their embedded call features and by ignoring 30 years of published literature which demonstrates the remaining difference in after-tax yields is compensation for liquidity and credit risk. We also show that much of the losses suffered by investors were suffered during a period of relatively routine interest rates and not during an unprecedented interest rate environment.

Recent Awards
- Puglisi v Citigroup - $750,000 MAT Five Award
- Young v Deutsche Park Securities - $1 million Aravali Fund Award
- Hosier et al v Citigroup - $54.1 million MAT Finance, MAT Two, MAT Three, MAT Five Award
- Coleman v Citigroup - $230,667 ASTA Five Award
- Beard v Citigroup - $336,000 ASTA Five Award
- Barnett et al v Citigroup - $2,428,000 MAT Five Award


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Auction Rate Securities

2010-10-22 By Craig McCann and Edward O'Neal

Auction Rate Securities (ARS) were marketed by broker-dealers to investors, including individuals, corporations and charitable foundations as liquid, short-term, cash-equivalent investments similar to traditional commercial paper. ARS's liquidity and similarity to short-term investments were entirely dependent on the presence of sufficient orders to buy outstanding ARS at periodic auctions in which they were bought and sold subject to a contractual ceiling on the interest rate the issuer would have to pay. If the demand for an ARS was too low to clear the market, broker dealers sponsoring the auction could place bids just below the maximum interest rate to clear the auction. The lower the public demand for an issue, the larger the quantity broker dealers had to buy to avoid a failed auction.

Participating broker dealers had better information than public investors about the creditworthiness of the ARS issuers and were the only parties with information about the broker dealers' holdings and inclination to abandon their support of the auctions. This severe asymmetry of information made public investors in ARS vulnerable to the brokerage firms' strategic behavior. In this paper, we explain what auction rate securities were, how they evolved, how their auctions worked, and why their flaws caused them to become illiquid securities.


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Leveraged ETFs, Holding Periods and Investment Shortfalls

2010-08-09 By Ilan Guedj, Guohua Li, and Craig McCann

Leveraged and Inverse Leveraged ETFs replicate the leveraged or the inverse of the daily returns of an index. Several papers have established that investors who hold these investments for periods longer than a day expose themselves to substantial risk as the holding period returns will deviate from the returns to a leveraged or inverse investment in the index. It is possible for an investor in a leveraged ETF to experience negative returns even when the underlying index has positive returns. This paper estimates the distributions of holding periods for investors in leveraged and inverse ETFs.

The SLCG study shows that a substantial percentage of investors may hold these short-term investments for periods longer than one or two days, even longer than a quarter. The study estimates the investment shortfall incurred by investors who hold leveraged and inverse compared to investing in a simple margin account to generate the same leveraged or short investment strategy.

The study finds that investors in leveraged and inverse ETFs can lose 3% of their investment in less than 3 weeks, an annualized cost of 50%.


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The Anatomy of Principal Protected Absolute Return Notes

2010-07-30 By Geng Deng, Ilan Guedj, Joshua Mallett, and Craig McCann

Principal Protected Absolute Return Barrier Notes (ARBNs) are structured products that guarantee to return the face value of the note at maturity and pay interest if the underlying security's price does not vary excessively.

The SLCG study derives four closed-form valuation approaches which are considered as representative methodologies on valuing structured products. The approaches are: 1) decomposing an ARBN's payoff into double-barrier linear segment options, 2) decomposing an ARBN's payoff into double-barrier call and put options, 3) transforming an ARBN's path-dependent payoff rule into a path-independent payoff rule which significantly simplifies the derivation of product value, and 4) using PDE (Partial Differential Equations) to model an ARBN's payoff and calculate its value. The study shows the four methodologies to value 214 publicly-listed ARBNs issued by six different investment banks. Most of the products are linked to indices such as the S&P 500 Index and the Russell 2000 Index.

The study finds that the ARBNs' fair price is approximately 4.5% below the actual issue price. Each of the ARBN's fair price is stable across all four valuation methodologies.


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What TiVo and JP Morgan teach us about Reverse Convertibles

2010-06-22 By Geng Deng, Craig McCann, and Edward O'Neal

Reverse convertibles are short term, unsecured notes issued by brokerage firms including JP Morgan, Barclays, Citigroup, Morgan Stanley, Wachovia, Lehman Brothers, and RBC that pay less than the notes' face value at maturity if the price of the reference stock or the level of the reference stock index declines substantially during the term of the note. The SLCG study finds that brokerage firms overcharge for reverse convertibles so significantly that the expected return on these complex investments is actually negative and that reverse convertibles continue to be sold at inflated prices only because investors do not fully understand these products.

The SLCG study reports that despite substantial overpricing in the offerings and the significant losses on the reverse convertible notes in 2008 and 2009, there have been a substantial number of new issues of these dubious investments by JP Morgan, Barclays and many others brokerage firms in 2010. The study illustrates its main themes with JP Morgan's May 14, 2010 TiVo-linked reverse convertible.


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Oppenheimer Champion Income Fund

2010-05-14 By Geng Deng and Craig McCann

During the second half of 2008, Oppenheimer's Champion Income Fund lost 80% of its value - more than any other mutual fund in Morningstar's high-yield bond fund category. These extraordinary losses were due to the Fund's investments in credit default swaps (CDS) and total return swaps (TRS). The Fund used CDS and TRS to leverage up the Fund's exposure to corporate debt and asset-backed securities, including Mortgage-Backed Securities and swap contracts linked to Residential and Commercial Mortgage-Backed Securities indices.


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Malliavin Calculus in Calculating Delta for Structured Products

Malliavin Calculus, also known as Stochastic Calculus of Variations, is useful for calculating sensitivities of financial derivatives to a change in its underlying parameters, such as Delta, Vega, and Gamma. In this article, we discuss how to use Malliavin Calculus to calculate Delta for structured products.


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What Does a Mutual Fund's Term Tell Investors?

2010-04-14 By Geng Deng, Craig McCann, and Edward O'Neal

In a previous article, we highlighted a flaw in the average credit quality statistic frequently reported by bond mutual funds. That statistic understates the credit risk in bond portfolios if the portfolios contain bonds of disperse credit ratings. In this article we address a similar problem with bond mutual funds' reporting of the average term of their portfolios. The somewhat ambiguous nature of this statistic provides an opportunity for portfolio managers to significantly increase the funds' risks, credit risk in particular, by holding very long-term bonds while claiming to expose investors to only the risks of very short-term bonds.

Morningstar uses a fund-provided statistic - the average effective duration - to classify funds as ultra short, short, intermediate or long-term. Funds have figured out how to hold long-term bond portfolios yet be classified as ultra short-term and short-term bond funds. We show that extraordinary losses suffered by these funds in 2008 can be explained by the how much the bond funds' unadulterated weighted average maturity exceeded the maturities typically expected in short-term bond funds.


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What Does a Mutual Fund's Average Credit Quality Tell Investors?

2009-11-30 By Geng Deng, Craig McCann, and Edward O'Neal

The SLCG study explains that the Average Credit Quality statistic as typically calculated by the mutual fund companies and by Morningstar significantly overstates bond mutual funds' true credit quality. This statistic is based on Standard & Poor's and Moody's assessment of the credit risk of the individual bonds in the portfolio and is reported to mutual fund investors using the familiar letter scale for rating the credit risk of bonds.

The study concludes that, for instance, funds that have the credit risk of a portfolio of BBB-rated bonds often report an Average Credit Quality of A or even AA and that given how this statistic is calculated, portfolio managers can easily manipulate their holdings to significantly increase their credit risk and thereby their yield without increasing their reported credit risk at all. Since bond fund managers compete for investors based on yield and risk, the authors find that fund managers who report Average Credit Quality have the ability and the incentive to increase but underreport the credit risk in their bond mutual fund portfolios.


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Structured Products in the Aftermath of Lehman Brothers

2009-11-04 By Geng Deng, Guohua Li, and Craig McCann

SLCG's prior research showed that structured products were poor investments because they were significantly overpriced when offered and were, at best, thinly traded thereafter. SLCG concluded that overpriced structured products survived in the marketplace because structured products' opaqueness obscured their true risks and costs and the high fees earned by underwriters and salespersons.

The current SLCG study presents a brief history of the structured products program at Lehman Brothers and illustrates many of its points with Lehman structured products examples including Principal Protected Notes, Enhanced Return Notes, Absolute Barrier Notes, Steepeners and Reverse Convertibles. The study reports that the spectacular failure of Lehman brothers in September 2008 left investors holding more than $8 billion face value $US-denominated structured products. Dr. Craig McCann, the study's principal author, explained that the Lehman experience is especially instructive of the opportunity for mischief presented by financial engineering; faced with increasing borrowing costs Lehman stepped up its issuance of structured products where its credit risk would not be priced into the debt.


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Charles Schwab YieldPlus Risk

2009-07-20 By Geng Deng, Edward O'Neal, and Craig McCann

From June 2007 through June 2008, investors in YieldPlus (SWYSX and SWYPX) lost 31.7% when other ultra short bond funds had little or no losses. Schwab had marketed YieldPlus as a low risk, higher yielding alternative to money market funds.

The report concludes that YieldPlus's extraordinary losses occurred because the fund held much larger amounts of securities backed by private-label mortgages than other ultra short bond funds. In doing so, Schwab's fund violated concentration and illiquidity limits stated in its prospectus. These private-label mortgage-backed securities holdings had given YieldPlus a slight advantage over its peers prior to 2007. Unfortunately, the extra yield was an order of magnitude smaller than the losses that followed when the value of structured finance securities - especially those backed by mortgages - dropped significantly.

SLCG also found that Schwab significantly inflated the value of YieldPlus's holdings and therefore its NAV in late 2007 and early 2008. By inflating the YieldPlus fund's NAV, Schwab provided existing investors incorrect information about the value of their investments and caused new investors to overpay for shares in YieldPlus.


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Regions Morgan Keegan: The Abuse of Structured Finance

2009-01-20 By Craig McCann

Investors in six Regions Morgan Keegan (RMK) bond funds lost $2 billion in 2007. The RMK funds held concentrated holdings of low-priority tranches in structured finance deals backed by risky debt. We provide five examples of the asset-backed securities RMK invested in: IndyMac 2005-C, Kodiak CDO 2006-I, Webster CDO I, Preferred Term Securities XXIII, and Eirles Two Ltd 263.

RMK did not disclose the risks it was taking until after the losses had occurred. In fact, RMK misrepresented hundreds of millions of dollars of highly leveraged asset-backed securities as corporate bonds and preferred stocks thereby making the funds seem more diversified and less risky than they were. RMK and Morgan Keegan also materially misled investors by comparing these funds to indexes which only contained corporate bonds despite the fact the RMK fund held three times as much asset backed securities as they held coporate bonds.

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The RMK funds held roughly 2/3rds of their portfolios as of March 31, 2007 in structured finance securities and only 22% or 23% in corporate bonds. RMK's structured finance holdings were roughly 90% in mezzanine and subordinated tranches and only 10% in senior tranches. The vast majority of tranches by market value are classified as 'senior' and so the RMK funds were overwhelming invested in the bottom of structured finance deals'capital structures. The attached Excel file contains SLCG's classification of securities in the RMK by senior versus mezzanine/subordinated.

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Roughly 90% of the losses suffered by the RMK funds identifiable from their public filings during the last three quarters of 2007 when the funds collapsed were from the funds' holdings of structured finance securities. The attached slides summarize SLCG's classification of losses in the RMK funds in the last three quarters of 2007.

Download the RMK Losses Due to Structured Finance and Internally Priced Securities slide (.pdf)

Download the RMK Losses Due to Structured Finance and Internally Priced Securities backup (.pdf)


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An Economic Analysis of Equity-Indexed Annuities

2008-09-11 By Craig McCann

At the request of the North American Securities Administrators Association, Dr. McCann authored a White Paper on equity-indexed annuities in support of the SEC's proposal to provide federal investor protections to purchasers of equity-indexed annuities. Dr. McCann concluded that:
- Existing equity-indexed annuities are too complex for investors to understand.
- This complexity is designed to allow the true costs to be hidden.
- The high hidden costs in equity-indexed annuities are sufficient to pay extraordinary commissions to a sales force that is not disciplined by sales practice abuse deterrents found in the market for regulated securities.
- Unsophisticated investors will continue to be victimized by issuers of equity indexed annuities until truthful disclosure and the absence of sales practice abuses is assured.


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Bid-Rigging Schemes in Securities Markets

Bid-rigging is an illegal agreement among conspirators in an auction to predetermine the winning bidder. News that the DOJ and the SEC are investigating bid-rigging schemes in the municipal securities market should not come as a surprise. Bid-rigging conspirators in variety of markets have used the same basic strategies to generate illicit profits for decades. Their actions cause measurable harm to the issuers of the securities involved.


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A CMO Primer: The Law of Conservation of Structured Securities Risk

2007-06-30 By Craig McCann

The collapse of Brookstreet Securities and bailout of two Bear Stearns hedge funds have focused attention on collateralized mortgage obligations (CMOs). These recent CMO losses closely parallel CMO losses in 1994 when a significant increase in interest rates caused many bond mutual funds to fall in value far more than expected. Today's CMO losses resulted from the relatively recent introduction of CMOs with substantial credit risk and the inadequate or misleading way in which that credit risk was disclosed. Dr. McCann provides a selective history and a brief description of CMOs.


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Closed-end Fund IPOs

2007-06-29 By Edward O'Neal

Dr. O'Neal describes a pattern of consistent losses relative to NAV observed after the IPO of closed end funds. Closed-end funds IPO at a 5% premium to their NAVs and within 6 months trade at a 5% discount to their NAVs. It appears that investing in a closed-end fund at the IPO is dominated by investments in seasoned mutual funds. This suggests that closed-end fund IPOs don't pass the NASD's 'reasonable basis' suitability test and recommendations to buy a closed-end fund at the IPO should therefore be per se unsuitable.


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Corporate and Municipal Bonds

2007-06-28 By Michael Piwowar

Corporate and municipal bonds are substantially more expensive for retail investors to trade than similar-sized trades in common stocks. Trading costs including explicit commissions, mark-ups and mark-downs are significantly higher for retail-sized (small) bond trades than for institutional-sized (large) bond trades. Dr. Piwowar summarizes key findings in the academic finance literature on bond market trading costs, including research on the effects of adding price transparency to the bond markets, and explains how bond trading costs can be hidden in realistic examples using simple numerical examples.


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Mandatory Arbitration of Securities Disputes

2007-06-13 By Edward O'Neal and Dan Solin

Dr. O'Neal and attorney/author Dan Solin today released a statistical analysis of the results of the mandatory arbitration process during the 1995 - 2004 period. They assessed almost 14,000 NASD and NYSE arbitration cases and found that Claimant win rates and recovery amounts have declined significantly over time. Moreover, claimants fare more poorly in large cases and in cases against larger brokerage firms. Dr. O'Neal and Mr. Solin estimate that the expected recovery before legal fees and expenses in a large case against a top brokerage firm is only 12% of the amount claimed.


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Fee-Based Brokerage Accounts

Fee-based accounts do not eliminate all the conflicts of interest inherent in commission-based accounts. While fee-based accounts reduce an unscrupulous broker's incentive to excessively trade ("churn") an account to generate commission income, serious conflicts of interest remain.


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Are Structured Products Suitable for Retail Investors?

2006-12-02 By Craig McCann and Dengpan Luo

Equity-linked notes - a type of structured product - are securities issued by brokerage firms and traded in the secondary markets like shares of common stock. These investments offer part of the upside from owning stocks but limit nominal losses if held until maturity. Once sold only to sophisticated investors, structured products are increasingly being sold to unsophisticated retail investors. Equity-linked notes are difficult to evaluate and monitor, have high hidden costs and are illiquid. They are therefore virtually never suitable for unsophisticated investors.


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An Overview of Equity-Indexed Annuities

2006-06-01 By Craig McCann and Dengpan Luo

Equity-indexed annuities are complex investments sold by insurance companies that pay investors part of the capital appreciation in a stock index and guarantee a minimum return if the contract is held to maturity. Equity-indexed annuities to date have been regulated by state insurance commissions, rather than by the SEC and the NASD. We estimate that between 15% and 20% of the premium paid by investors in equity-indexed annuities is a transfer of wealth from unsophisticated investors to insurance companies and their sales forces and that the claimed benefits for EIAs can be had at a tiny fraction of the cost using stocks and Treasury securities.


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Annuities

2005-12-10 By Craig McCann and Kaye A. Thomas

Regulatory scrutiny of variable annuity sales practices and private litigation have focused on the investment risk of subaccounts, on annuity 'switching' and on the purchase of annuities within IRAs. In this paper, we demonstrate that in most situations, investors being sold annuities will pay more taxes and have less wealth in retirement as a result of the tax treatment of investments within tax-deferred annuities.


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Equity-Indexed Annuities: Toxic Investments

Equity-indexed annuities ("EIAs") are contracts with insurance companies that pay investors part of the capital appreciation in a stock index and guarantee a minimum return if the contract is held to maturity. The net result of EIAs' complex formulas and hidden costs is that they survive as the most confiscatory investments sold to retail investors. For an example of misleading EIA descriptions, see the attached Legg Mason page printed off their website today.


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Asset Allocation

Studies have shown over 90% of the variation in historical returns to managed portfolios can be explained by variations in their asset allocation. Asset allocation recommendations, especially to investors living of their wealth should include analysis of risk over the investor's entire expected life.


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Monte Carlo Simulations

Monte Carlo simulation is a powerful tool for estimating the risk of investments. The simulations can be set up in Excel spreadsheets and the assumptions varied to determine the impact of alternative decisions on the client\'s objectives.


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The Fallacy of Time Diversification

Time diversification is the belief that risk declines over longer investment horizons because there is more time for future good years to offset bad years. Time diversification is a fallacy. But since remaining future earnings decline relative to our investments, we should hold less stock in our portfolios as we age.


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Not Your Father's Utility Stock: When It's Not Just A Name Change

In the late 1990s, many publicly traded firms used their stock to buy up other firms. Exchanging a conservative stock for a speculative stock can dramatically increase the risk in an account. Financial advisors must recognize this material event.


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Beta

Beta is a statistic developed from the Capital Asset Pricing Model ("CAPM"). Beta is typically misused whenever it is offered as a measure of risk, significantly understating the risk relevant to most retail investors. Investors as a general rule should therefore not use beta to measure risk.


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Standard Deviation, Sigma or s

Standard deviation is the correct measure of risk for investors' entire portfolios. Presentations of standard deviation can be tailored to inform investors of varying levels of sophistication. It is simple to calculate and interpret and is ubiquitous in the investment management literature and in the brokerage industry.


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Optimal Exercise of Employee Stock Options and Securities Arbitrations

2005-06-01 By Craig McCann and Kaye A. Thomas

In this paper, Craig McCann and Kaye Thomas extend previous analyses of employee stock options and evaluate advice to hold unexercised options.


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The "Issuer Fraud" Defense in Securities Arbitration

Respondents sometimes attempt to shift blame for losses in retail accounts to issuer fraud at companies like WorldCom and Enron. Finding an investor's portfolio imprudently concentrated, arbitrators must not care whether the risk materialized was of an accounting fraud, discovery of a toxic dump or the failure of a bet-the-ranch strategy.


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Covered Call Options & Hedging

Brokers sometimes recommend that investors holding concentrated stock positions sell call options against their stock to hedge risk. Often sold as a conservative strategy, covered call writing delivers exactly the opposite.


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Covered Call Options & Income

Brokerage firms sometimes recommend that clients sell call options to generate income from concentrated positions. Investors, who hold concentrated positions, in part in reliance on the industry's misleading descriptions of covered call writing, may continue to be imprudently exposed to substantial diversifiable risk.


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GMDB's Are Not Much of a Benefit

Annuity abuses arise if investors are misled into believing that the guaranteed minimum death feature of an annuity is worth anything more than a de minimis amount.


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Tax Deferred Annuities Can Make Investors Poorer

Tax deferred annuities often leave investors with less after-tax wealth than they would have had in a taxable account.


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Out-of-Pockets in Stock Option Arbitrations

Out-of-pocket losses are miscalculated in employee stock option arbitrations when stock received is valued at the options' strike price.


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Concentrated Investments, Uncompensated Risk and Hedging Strategies

2004-12-01 By Craig McCann and Dengpan Luo

In this paper, Dr. McCann and Dr. Luo explore the risk of holding concentrated investments and explain and evaluate risk management strategies.


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The Use of Leveraged Investments to Diversify a Concentrated Position

2004-06-01 By Craig McCann and Dengpan Luo

Brokerage firms recently recommended that investors holding a concentrated position in a single stock borrow and invest in a portfolio of additional stocks to reduce risk. Dr. McCann and Dr. Luo demonstrate that this strategy to reduce risk predictably did exactly the opposite.


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Mutual Fund Share Classes and Conflicts of Interest between Brokers and Investors

2003-12-24 By Edward O'Neal

Dr. O'Neal describes the various mutual fund share classes and explains how differences in commissions to brokers and costs to investors across share classes can create conflicts of interests.


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Churning - Revisited: Trading Cost and Control

2003-09-01 By Craig McCann and Dengpan Luo

In a previous paper, Dr. McCann outlined the portfolio approach to assessing the excessiveness of trading in churning cases. In this paper, Dr. McCann and Dr. Luo demonstrate that cost-to-equity ratios of more than 4 or 5% or commission to equity ratios of 2 or 3% in accounts with turnover ratios of 2 indicate excessive trading in common stock portfolios.


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Detecting Personal Trading Abuses

2003-06-01 By Craig McCann

Recent actions by the New York State Attorney General have highlighted abusive personal trading practices by mutual fund portfolio managers. In this paper, Dr. McCann explains how abusive personal trading practices, including those most recently identified, can be detected in a simple, cost effective manner.


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Securities Class Action Lawsuits

2002-12-01 By Craig McCann, Ph.D., CFA

Investors sometimes sue publicly traded companies, executives, accountants and underwriters alleging that important information concerning the companies was omitted or misrepresented thereby causing the investors to pay too much for the companies' securities. Financial economists assist fact finders in determining whether allegedly omitted or misrepresented information was truly important or 'material.' This is done with the use of event studies or by reference to published scientific literature. Financial economists help the parties reach settlements by estimating alleged damages. Alleged damages depend on the amount by which a company's stock price was allegedly inflated and the number of shares that were bought at fraudulently inflated prices. In these slides, SLCG outlines the major issues in estimating alleged damages in securities class action lawsuits.


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The Suitability of Exercise and Hold

2002-06-01 By Craig McCann and Dengpan Luo

Hundreds of lawsuits are currently working their way through the courts and arbitration panels over a strategy referred to as exercise and hold. The advice to exercise employee stock options and hold the acquired stock is essentially advice to acquire and maintain a concentrated position. As such, the advice to exercise and hold can be evaluated within the familiar suitability framework.


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Churning

2001-12-01 By Craig McCann

In this paper, Dr. McCann improves upon traditional indicators of churning and demonstrates that, properly calculated, the trading costs estimate of damages closely parallels the well-managed theory, or benchmark portfolio, estimate of damages.


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Bid-Ask Spread, Sales Credits and Brokers' Compensation

2001-06-01 By Craig McCann and Richard G. Himelrick

In this working paper, co-authored with Richard Himelrick, Esq., Dr. McCann explains the role of market makers and the provision of sales credits as a basis for brokers' compensation.


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McCann On Trading Models

2000-06-01 By Craig McCann

Stock trading models are used by economists to estimate damages in securities class action lawsuits. In this note, we explain the three types of models used by plaintiffs' and defendants' experts.


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