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Univ. of Toledo College of Law

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Monday, May 23, 2011

FINRA & Nuveen Settle ARS Disclosure Allegations for $3 Million

FINRA announced today that it fined Nuveen Investments, LLC, of Chicago, $3 million for creating misleading marketing materials used in sales of auction rate preferred securities (ARPS).  In contrast to other types of auction rate securities, the Nuveen ARPS were preferred shares issued by closed end mutual funds to raise money for the funds to use to invest.

By early 2008, over $15 billion of Nuveen Funds' ARPS had been sold to retail customers by third-party broker-dealers. Nuveen did not sell the ARPS to customers, but in its role as distributor for Nuveen Funds, it created marketing brochures that were used by the broker-dealers who sold the ARPS to retail customers. The brochures were the primary sales and marketing material Nuveen created for the auction rate preferred securities. FINRA found that the brochures, also available on Nuveen's website, failed to adequately disclose liquidity risks for ARPS. Nuveen neglected to include the risks that auctions for the ARPS could fail, investments could become illiquid and that customers might be unable to obtain access to funds invested in the ARPS for a period of time should the auctions fail. Instead, the brochures contained misleading statements which described the ARPS as safe and liquid investments. Also, FINRA found that Nuveen failed to maintain adequate supervisory procedures to ensure that the materials it used to market the auction rate preferred securities accurately described the features and risks of the securities.

Nuveen failed to revise disclosures in their brochures after a lead auction manager responsible for approximately $2.5 billion of the ARPS notified Nuveen in early January 2008 that it intended to stop managing Nuveen auctions. On January 22, 2008, the lead manager did not submit support bids in an auction for a series of Nuveen auction rate preferred stock and that auction failed. FINRA found that the auction failure and Nuveen's inability to find a replacement for the lead manager raised serious questions for Nuveen about whether investors in Nuveen's ARPS would be able to obtain liquidity for the securities in future auctions. Despite this, Nuveen failed to revise its marketing brochures to reflect these risks and, thus, the brochures were misleading. In February 2008, widespread auction failures occurred throughout the auction rate securities market, including auctions for Nuveen funds ARPS.

To date, the Nuveen funds have redeemed approximately $14.2 billion of the $15.4 billion of the ARPS that were outstanding on February 12, 2008. As part of the settlement, Nuveen agreed to use its best efforts to effect redemptions of any remaining outstanding Nuveen funds ARPS.

 

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