Thursday, August 19, 2010
FINRA fined HSBC Securities (USA) Inc. $375,000 for recommending unsuitable sales of inverse floating rate Collateralized Mortgage Obligations (CMOs) to retail customers. HSBC failed to adequately supervise the suitability of the CMO sales and fully explain the risks of an inverse floating rate or other risky CMO investment to its customers. As a result of HSBC not implementing an adequate supervisory system and procedures relating to the sale of inverse floating rate CMOs to retail customers, six of its brokers made 43 unsuitable sales of inverse floaters to retail customers who were unsophisticated investors and not suited for high-risk investments. In addition, HSBC's procedures required a supervisor's pre-approval of any sale in excess of $100,000; FINRA found that 25 of the 43 CMO sales were in amounts exceeding $100,000 and that in five of these instances, customers lost money in their inverse floating rate CMO investments. HSBC has paid these customers full restitution totaling $320,000.
A CMO is a fixed income security that pools mortgages and issues tranches with various characteristics and risks. CMOs make principal payments throughout the life of the security with the maturity date being the last date by which all of the principal must be returned. The timing of the return of principal payments can vary depending on interest rate changes. One of the more risky CMO tranches is the inverse floater, a type of tranche that pays an adjustable rate of interest that moves in the opposite direction from movements of an interest rate index, such as LIBOR. Since 1993, FINRA has advised firms that inverse floating rate CMOs "are only suitable for sophisticated investors with a high-risk profile."
In concluding this settlement, HSBC neither admitted nor denied the charges, but consented to the entry of FINRA's findings.