UBS facing nearly $1 billion in Puerto Rico claims

Damage claims over its closed-end bond funds exceeded $900 million, the firm disclosed in third quarter earnings

Oct 28, 2014 @ 10:59 am

By Mason Braswell

Claims tied to UBS Wealth Management Americas' Puerto Rico closed-end municipal bond funds have risen to nearly $1 billion, the firm said in its third-quarter earnings report Tuesday.

Total damages sought exceed $900 million, up from $600 million in the second quarter and $300 million in the first quarter, according to the report. Clients of UBS's Puerto Rico unit who owned the Puerto Rico municipal bonds have alleged fraud, misrepresentation and unsuitability, the firm said.

“There's a very aggressive marketing campaign going on in Puerto Rico among lawyers,” said Lars Soreide, an attorney who is representing some investors in the funds.

The complaints have been cropping up since the funds started to lose value rapidly in August 2013 as investors became skeptical of Puerto Rico's ability to pay back its debts.

In February, a shareholder action was filed against a number of UBS entities alleging hundreds of millions in losses. Another federal class action was filed in May seeking damages for investor losses from May 2008 to May 2014, according to the firm's earnings report.

Earlier this month, the firm settled with the Office of the Commissioner of Financial Institutions for the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico for $5.2 million over charges that its brokers may have made unsuitable recommendations in selling the funds.

UBS said in its earnings report that an internal review had shown that some clients, mostly on the advice of one broker, invested proceeds of non-purpose loans in closed-end fund securities in violation of UBS policies.

UBS had sold more than $10 billion of the funds through 2012, according to marketing materials. The value of many of the funds remains depressed and more claims will likely be filed, according to another plaintiff's attorney, Jeffrey Kaplan of Dimond Kaplan & Rothstein P.A.

It will likely be several years before it is clear how much, if any, of the alleged damages the firm will have to pay. Mr. Kaplan said he was scheduling arbitration hearings, where investors will plead their case, for 2016.

“For investors who have not brought claims yet, there's a long road ahead of them,” he said.

UBS said it had set aside it estimated it would need to cover the actual damages, but did not disclose the amount. Last quarter, the firm set aside $44 million.

UBS spokesman Gregg Rosenberg declined to comment but the firm has said in the past that the funds had performed well for more than 20 years and provided additional tax benefits to investors. Other firms, including Bank of America Merrill Lynch, also face litigation.


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