DALLAS — JPMorgan Chase has agreed to pay Texas $3.2 million for failing to warn customers about the risks of auction-rate securities, among the largest fines since the ARS market collapsed in early 2008.
The settlement, the terms of which the firm agreed to in principle on Aug. 14, 2008, includes the ARS liabilities of Bear, Stearns & Co., which was acquired by JPMorgan that year.
JPMorgan agreed to buy back $3 billion of ARS nationally and pay a total of $25 million in fines to the states that were part of the settlement.
The Feb. 2 consent order signed by Texas securities commissioner Denise Voigt Crawford states that JPMorgan Chase “failed to ensure that all of its registered representatives made appropriate disclosures to customers regarding the nature and risks of auction-rate securities.”
A multi-state investigation into the ARS market found that firms selling auction-rate securities told their clients they were like money market accounts, easily converted to cash. Many investors were not aware that ARS were actually long-term bonds subject to a complex auction process that, upon failure, can result in accounts being frozen with lower interest rates on the debt.
The consent order states that some JPMorgan employees told customers the securities were “liquid, safe, short-term investments and did not highlight the risk that, in the event of a failed auction, the securities might become illiquid.”
JPMorgan also used the proprietary name of M-Stars — municipal short-term auction rate securities — in marketing the debt, which regulators said led certain investors to conclude that ARS were short-term instruments.
The consent order formalizes an August 2008 agreement with JPMorgan and some of its affiliates to repurchase auction-rate securities from investors and pay a total of $25 million in fines to states.
On Jan. 25, Credit Suisse Securities agreed to a $1.4 billion settlement with the state of Texas for its role in the ARS market, including its agreement to buy back nationwide all ARS purchased through the firm by individual investors before Feb. 14, 2008. The estimated buyback from Texas investors is $220 million.
Last year, Wachovia Securities agreed to pay a $3.98 million fine to the state in its settlement of the ARS investigation.
Citigroup has agreed to pay a $3.6 million fine, but that deal is awaiting final settlement.
Also awaiting formal settlement are agreements with Bank of America Merrill Lynch, Wells Fargo, Morgan Stanley, UBS Securities, Goldman Sachs Group Inc., Deutsche Bank Securities Inc. and others. All of the firms agreed to repurchase auction-rate securities sold in the state.
Texas was among several states that shared investigative duties in the ARS settlements. Since 2008, state securities regulators have secured settlements calling for firms to repurchase from investors more than $61 billion in auction-rate securities.