Finra adds BDCs, leveraged ETFs to focus for 2013

Jan 20, 2013 @ 12:01 am

By Dan Jamieson

Finra will continue to zero in on yield-oriented products this year, but also will focus on business development companies, exchange-traded funds and products that use leverage — along with automated investment advice.

On Jan. 11, the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority Inc. posted its 2013 regulatory and examination priorities letter.

Referring to BDCs, Finra warned that they have “significant market, credit and liquidity risks,” and risk overleveraging illiquid portfolios with low-cost financing.

Leveraged loans are relatively illiquid and difficult to value, while commercial-mortgage-backed securities and high yield carry higher risks than normal, given their historically low yields, Finra said.

High distribution rates on closed-end funds attract investors who may not understand that some funds are returning capital, the letter warned.

The letter also expressed concern about a “proliferation” of ETFs and exchange-traded notes that use leverage or track volatility measures, emerging markets and currencies.

Also for the first time, Finra examiners this year will be looking at the use of automated investment advice.

Finra said that it is concerned that the automated advice platforms may not gather enough information about investors and fail to match portfolios with risk appetite.

DIFFERENT PRIORITIES

Last year, Finra warned firms that it would focus on social media and electronic communications, but that area was dropped from the 2013 exam priority letter.

Structured products also were dropped from the list this year.

According to compliance experts, just because Finra doesn't include something in a letter doesn't mean examiners won't be looking into it.

“With any new product, like BDCs, that are growing 350% year over year ... it's just a natural that Finra would want to make sure it's growing appropriately,” said Kevin Hogan, president of the Investment Program Association, which represents sponsors of direct-participation programs.

Nontraded BDCs have grown to nearly $3 billion in assets, he said.

“I would be surprised if [Finra] found anything out of the ordinary,” Mr. Hogan said.

djamieson@investmentnews.com Twitter: @dvjamieson

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