Wednesday, October 20, 2010

FINRA Press Release: Reverse Convertibles

FINRA Orders Ferris, Baker Watts to Pay Nearly $700,000 for Inappropriate Sales of Reverse Convertible Notes

The Financial Industry Regulatory Authority (FINRA) issued a press release today announcing that
it has fined the former Ferris, Baker Watts LLC, acquired by RBC Wealth Management, $500,000 for inadequate supervision of sales of reverse convertible notes to retail customers as well as unsuitable sales of reverse convertibles to 57 accounts held by elderly customers who were at least 85 years old and customers with a modest net worth.
The settlement is detailed in the FINRA AWC No. 20070091803.

A reverse convertible note is a type of structured product that is linked to an equity security or an index. It is a short-term note that pays a relatively high coupon rate compared to traditional notes. The returns of the note at maturity depends on whether the equity, called ‘reference asset’, falls below a pre-specified trigger price during the term of the note. If it does, then the note returns the market value of the number of shares of the reference asset which could have been purchased on the note’s pricing date with the note’s face value. If it does not, then the note returns its face value.

SLCG has written a paper on the topic including a paper that values and analyzes a large sample of reverse convertible notes. We find that these notes are largely and consistently overpriced, yet reverse convertibles continues to be sold which, combined with the complexity of and the lack of a secondary market for these notes, implies that investors do not fully understand the returns and risks of these notes.

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