Articles Tagged with Advertising

The Securities and Exchange Commission recently issued an Order Instituting Administrative and Cease-and-Desist Proceedings against Massachusetts Financial Services Company (“MFS”), an SEC-registered investment adviser.  According to the SEC’s Order, MFS advertised hypothetical returns pertaining to its blended research stock ratings without informing clients that a number of the hypothetical portfolios’ superior returns were based on back-tested models.  Without admitting or denying the allegations in the SEC’s Order, MFS submitted an offer of settlement to resolve the matter.

According to the SEC’s Order, MFS has employed a quantitative-based research department since 2000.  In 2000, the department developed what MFS calls “blended research” strategies, which involve “combining fundamental and quantitative ratings to arrive at a blended stock score, and by using a portfolio optimization process that considers the blended scores along with risk and other portfolio constraints.”  As of May of this year, MFS had approximately $21 million in assets under management invested in blended research strategies.

The SEC’s Order alleges that from 2006 through 2015, MFS created research proofs based on the blended research analysis. The data and a bar chart describing the analysis were featured in MFS advertisements.  MFS subsequently used the bar chart in three different kinds of marketing materials: in a standard slide deck from 2006 through 2015, in responses to formal requests from clients starting in 2012, and in a white paper that discussed MFS’s blended research strategies.  These materials were marketed exclusively to institutional clients, prospective institutional clients, financial intermediaries, and investment consultants.

On April 17, 2017, the Securities and Exchange Commission (“SEC”) filed a complaint in the United States District Court for the Southern District of New York against Justin D. Meadlin (“Meadlin”), an investment adviser, and Hyaline Capital Management, LLC (“Hyaline”), his advisory firm.  The complaint alleges that Meadlin and Hyaline made fraudulent misrepresentations and omitted material facts in order to “induce clients, and prospective investors… to invest funds with them.”  These actions caused them to be in violation of Sections 206(1), 206(2), and 206(4) of the Investment Advisers Act of 1940 (“Advisers Act”) and Rule 206(4)-8 under the Advisers Act.

The SEC’s complaint alleges that from September 2012 to April 2013, Meadlin sent emails that exaggerated the amount of Hyaline’s assets under management (“AUM”) to clients and prospective investors.  These emails provided that Hyaline had AUM that ranged from $17.5 million to $25 million.  In reality, however, Hyaline had only $5.5 million in AUM during the relevant time period.  Meadlin also sent emails that contained false statements pertaining to expected AUM. Continue reading

On October 18, 2016, Parker MacIntyre hosted a seminar addressing legal issues that registered investment advisers (“RIAs”) often face, including developing cybersecurity guidance and implications of the new Department of Labor Fiduciary Rule.  The attendees consisted of sixteen individuals representing thirteen RIAs registered from around the southeast.  Both SEC-registered and state-registered RIAs were represented among the attendees.

Parker MacIntyre was pleased to welcome Noula Zaharis, the Director of the Securities and Charities Division of the Secretary of State of Georgia, as a guest speaker.  She began the seminar with a presentation on how the Georgia Secretary of State registers and regulates investment advisers and common deficiencies encountered by the Georgia regulators.  Highlights from another presentation, entitled “Common Deficiencies, Exam Priorities, and Regulatory Initiatives,” included common deficiencies found in RIA examinations, exam priorities that RIAs should ideally be aware of, and the Secretary of State’s regulatory initiatives. Continue reading

The F-Squared Investments matter continues to have far-reaching consequences for those investment advisers who used F-Squared’s falsely inflated and improperly labeled backtested performance results in advertisements. As discussed previously, in November of 2015 Virtus Investment Advisers was fined $16.5 million for including the false and misleading performance results in its own advertisements and filings with the Securities Exchange Commission (“SEC”). More recently, the SEC charged Cantella & Co. (“Cantella”), a Boston-based investment adviser that licensed F-Squared’s Alpha Sector strategy, with securities violations for employing F-Squared’s false track record in its marketing materials.

F-Squared is an investment adviser that creates and markets index products using exchange-traded funds (“ETFs”). It sub-licenses these indexes to various unaffiliated investment advisers who manage assets pursuant to those indexes. In 2014 F-Squared admitted in a settled SEC administrative proceeding that it had materially misrepresented the performance results of its largest ETF strategy, AlphaSector, by labeling these results as actual results from a seven-year period when they were in fact hypothetical results derived through backtesting. In addition, F-Squared claimed that the strategy had outperformed the S&P 500 Index from 2001 to 2008 when in fact the hypothetical data contained a calculation error that falsely inflated results by 350 percent. F-Squared agreed to pay disgorgement of $30 million and a penalty of $5 million to settle the claim.

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The U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia recently denied a petition to review an order of the Securities Exchange Commission (“SEC”) imposing sanctions against Raymond J. Lucia and investment adviser Raymond J. Lucia Companies, Inc. (“Lucia Companies”) for violations of the Investment Advisers Act of 1940 and the advertising rule thereunder, Rule 206(4)-1. In denying the motion, the DC Circuit affirmed the SEC’s broadened views on the use of back-tested performance in marketing and advertising materials.

As discussed previously, this case involves the improper use by an investment adviser of back-tested performance data in retirement-planning seminars. Raymond J. Lucia, and Lucia Companies allegedly used a hypothetical inflation rate that was lower than actual historical rates to make their performance results more favorable. In addition, the performance data allegedly failed to reflect the deduction of advisory fees and was not calculated in a manner fully consistent with the advertised investment strategy. As a result, the SEC barred Raymond J. Lucia from the securities industry and imposed civil penalties of $300,000.

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The Securities and Exchange Commission (“SEC”) recently brought an administrative proceeding against unregistered fund manager Steven Zoernack and his firm, EquityStar Capital Management, LLC (“EquityStar”), for engaging in allegedly fraudulent conduct in violation of federal securities and investment adviser laws. Mr. Zoernack and EquityStar allegedly concealed Mr. Zoernack’s criminal history, used false identities, and distributed false and misleading marketing materials, among other things, in their bid to lure investors.

As alleged, Mr. Zoernack created EquityStar in May of 2010 to serve as the investment adviser for two private investment funds, Global Partners and Momentum. Between 2011 and 2014 Mr. Zoernack actively sought investors for the two funds, managing to sell approximately $5.6 million of interests in Global Partners and Momentum. As EquityStar’s managing member and sole employee, he handled all activities of the firm and drafted all marketing and offering materials. In the furtherance of these activities, Mr. Zoernack allegedly made many material misrepresentations to investors and prospective investors regarding himself and EquityStar.

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Last week we discussed the Lucia matter and the parameters it added for investment advisers to consider prior to utilizing performance advertisements. Today we will discuss two more administrative proceedings involving performance advertisements and the practical implications which can be taken from these cases.

The matter of Virtus Investment Advisers revolved around one of Virtus’ sub-advisers, F-Squared Investments. F-Squared was an investment adviser that had previously been fined by the SEC for allegedly advertising false inflated performance numbers of its most successful investment strategy, AlphaSector. AlphaSector consisted of an algorithm-based sector rotation strategy which traded nine industry exchange-traded funds from the S&P 500 Index. Virtus’ assets under management which utilized this strategy grew from $191 million at the end of 2009 to 11.5 billion by 2013. Unfortunately, F-Squared allegedly falsely stated that the AlphaSector strategy had a history dating back to 2001 and that it had historically outperformed the S&P 500 Index from 2001 to 2008. The SEC found that no assets had tracked the strategy from 2001 to 2008 and its back-tested performance data was miscalculated and substantially overstated results.

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Pursuant to Section 206 of the Investment Advisers Act of 1940 (“Advisers Act”) and Rule 206(4)-1, it is considered fraud for a registered investment adviser to publish, circulate, or distribute any advertisement which contains any untrue statement of material fact or which is false or misleading. One type of advertising that has been the focus of recent regulatory activity is performance advertising.

Performance advertisements are generally used by investment advisers to portray their past performance results to prospective clients. In order to be avoid misleading the prospective client, all material facts regarding the performance data and how it was calculated must be disclosed. This includes disclosing any material market conditions, the amount of advisory fees or other expenses that were deducted, whether results portrayed include reinvested dividends and other earnings, the investment strategies which were used to obtain the results, and any other material fact which may have impacted the results in any way.
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On December 22, 2014, the SEC announced a settlement with F-Squared Investments (“F-Squared”) in which F-Squared will pay a civil penalty and disgorgement for violations of the anti-fraud provisions of the Investment Advisers Act by advertising falsely inflated performance numbers of its most successful exchange traded fund (“ETF”) investment strategy. Under the terms of the settlement, F-Squared, the largest U.S. marketer of index products using ETFs, agreed to disgorge $30 million and pay a $5 million penalty.

In October 2008, F-squared, along with its co-founder and former CEO, developed an investment strategy called AlphaSector. AlphaSector used data received from an algorithm to decide whether or not to buy or sell nine industry-focused ETFs. The algorithm was developed by an intern at a private wealth advisory firm, who told F-Squared’s CEO that it had been used before to manage the private wealth advisor’s client assets. The intern sent F-Squared’s CEO three separate data sets of hypothetical, back-tested weekly trends for each of the ETFs. This data was then used by an F-Squared employee to calculate hypothetical back-tested results for AlphaSector from April 2001 to September 2008.
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On November 17th, the Texas State Securities Board’s Office of Inspections and Compliance charged Mowery Capital Management, LLC (“Mowery Capital”) and one of its investment adviser representatives (collectively “Respondents”) with fraud for failing to disclose certain conflicts of interests, charging excessive fees, plagiarizing advertising material, and other material misrepresentations. The complaint requests that the state Securities Commissioner revoke Respondents’ registration with the state, levy an administrative fine, and issue a cease and desist order prohibiting any further fraudulent behavior.

When registering as a registered investment adviser, a Form ADV must be completed and filed with the appropriate securities authority. Part 2 of the Form ADV, or the “Brochure,” acts as the primary disclosure document for clients and requires the applicant to write in plain English general information about the business (i.e. types of services offered, fee schedule, business and educational background of employees), including any possible conflicts of interest the applicant may have.
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