Wednesday, June 6, 2012
The SEC and investment management company OppenheimerFunds Inc. settled charges that its sales and distribution arm made misleading statements about two of its mutual funds struggling in the midst of the credit crisis in late 2008. Oppenheimer agreed to pay more than $35 million to settle the SEC’s administrative charges.
According to the SEC, Oppenheimer used derivative instruments known as total return swaps (TRS contracts) to add substantial commercial mortgage-backed securities (CMBS) exposure in a high-yield bond fund called the Oppenheimer Champion Income Fund and an intermediate-term, investment-grade fund called the Oppenheimer Core Bond Fund. The 2008 prospectus for the Champion fund didn’t adequately disclose the fund’s practice of assuming substantial leverage in using derivative instruments. When declines in the CMBS market triggered large cash liabilities on the TRS contracts in both funds and forced Oppenheimer to reduce CMBS exposure, Oppenheimer disseminated misleading statements about the funds’ losses and their recovery prospects.
The TRS contracts allowed the two funds to gain substantial exposure to commercial mortgages without purchasing actual bonds. But they also created large amounts of leverage in the funds. Beginning in mid-September 2008, steep CMBS market declines drove down the net asset values (NAVs) of both funds. These losses forced Oppenheimer to raise cash for month-end TRS contract payments by selling securities into an increasingly illiquid market. According to the SEC’s order, the funds’ portfolio managers under instruction from senior management began executing a plan in mid-November to reduce CMBS exposure. Just as they began to do so, however, the CMBS market collapse accelerated, creating staggering cash liabilities for the funds and driving their NAVs even lower.
Without admitting or denying the SEC’s findings, OppenheimerFunds agreed to pay a penalty of $24 million, disgorgement of $9,879,706, and prejudgment interest of $1,487,190. This money will be deposited into a fund for the benefit of investors. OppenheimerFunds and OppenheimerFunds Distributor also agreed to provisions in the order censuring them and directing them to cease and desist from committing or causing any violations or future violations of these statutes and rules.