The Securities & Exchange Commission (SEC) has announced that JP Morgan Securities LLC will pay $153.6 million to settle SEC charges that it misled investors in a complex mortgage securities transaction just as the housing market was starting to plummet. Under the settlement, harmed investors will receive all of their money back. In settling the SEC’s fraud charges against the firm, JP Morgan also agreed to improve the way it reviews and approves mortgage securities transactions.
The SEC alleges that JP Morgan structured and marketed a synthetic collateralized debt obligation (CDO) without informing investors that a hedge fund helped select the assets in the CDO portfolio and had a short position in more than half of those assets. As a result, the hedge fund was poised to benefit if the CDO assets it was selecting for the portfolio defaulted. The SEC separately charged Edward S. Steffelin, who headed the team at an investment advisory firm that the deal’s marketing materials misleadingly represented had selected the CDO’s portfolio.
“JP Morgan marketed highly-complex CDO investments to investors with promises that the mortgage assets underlying the CDO would be selected by an independent manager looking out for investor interests,” said Robert Khuzami, director of the Division of Enforcement. “What JP Morgan failed to tell investors was that a prominent hedge fund that would financially profit from the failure of CDO portfolio assets heavily influenced the CDO portfolio selection. With today’s settlement, harmed investors receive a full return of the losses they suffered.”
According to the SEC’s complaint against JP Morgan filed in U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York, the CDO known as Squared CDO 2007-1 was structured primarily with credit default swaps referencing other CDO securities whose value was tied to the U.S. residential housing market. Marketing materials stated that the Squared CDO’s investment portfolio was selected by GSCP (NJ) LP—the investment advisory arm of GSC Capital Corporation (GSC)—which had experience analyzing CDO credit risk. Omitted from the marketing materials and unknown to investors was the fact that the Magnetar Capital LLC hedge fund played a significant role in selecting CDOs for the portfolio and stood to benefit if the CDOs defaulted.
The SEC alleges that by the time the deal closed in May 2007, Magnetar held a $600 million short position that dwarfed its $8.9 million long position. In an internal e-mail, a JP Morgan employee noted, “We all know [Magnetar] wants to print as many deals as possible before everything completely falls apart.”
The SEC alleges that in March and April 2007, JP Morgan knew it faced growing financial losses from the Squared deal as the housing market was showing signs of distress. The firm then launched a frantic global sales effort in March and April 2007 that went beyond its traditional customer base for mortgage securities. The JP Morgan employee in charge of Squared’s global distribution said in a March 22, 2007, e-mail that “we are so pregnant with this deal…Let’s schedule the cesarian (sic), please!” By 10 months later, the securities had lost most or all of their value.
According to the SEC’s complaint, JP Morgan sold approximately $150 million of so-called “mezzanine” notes of the Squared CDO’s liabilities to more than a dozen institutional investors who lost nearly their entire investment. These investors included:
►Thrivent Financial for Lutherans, a faith-based non-profit membership organization in Minneapolis.
►Security Benefit Corporation, a Topeka, Kan.-based company that provides insurance and retirement products.
►General Motors Asset Management, a New York-based asset manager for General Motors pension plans.
►Financial institutions in East Asia including Tokyo Star Bank, Far Glory Life Insurance Company Ltd., Taiwan Life Insurance Company Ltd., and East Asia Asset Management Ltd.
Without admitting or denying the allegations, JP Morgan consented to a final judgment that provides for a permanent injunction from violating Section 17(a)(2) and (3) of the Securities Act of 1933, and payment of $18.6 million in disgorgement, $2 million in prejudgment interest and a $133 million penalty. Of the $153.6 million total, $125.87 million will be returned to the mezzanine investors through a Fair Fund distribution, and $27.73 million will be paid to the U.S. Treasury.
The settlement also requires JP Morgan to change how it reviews and approves offerings of certain mortgage securities. In addition, JP Morgan’s consent notes that it voluntarily paid $56,761,214 to certain investors in a transaction known as Tahoma CDO I. The settlement is subject to court approval.
In a separate complaint filed against Steffelin, who headed the team at GSC responsible for the Squared CDO, the SEC alleges that Steffelin allowed Magnetar to select and short portfolio assets. The complaint alleges that Steffelin drafted and approved marketing materials promoting GSC’s selection of the portfolio without disclosing Magnetar’s role in the selection process. In addition, unknown to investors, Steffelin was seeking employment with Magnetar while working on the transaction. The SEC’s complaint charges Steffelin with violations of Sections 17(a)(2) and (3) of the Securities Act and Section 206(2) of the Investment Advisers Act of 1940. The SEC seeks injunctive relief, disgorgement of profits, prejudgment interest, and penalties against Steffelin.
Separately, GSC’s bankruptcy trustee has consented to the entry of an administrative order requiring the firm to cease and desist from committing or causing violations or future violations of Sections 17(a)(2) and (3) of the Securities Act and Section 204 and 206(2) of the Advisers Act and Rule 204-2 thereunder. GSC is in bankruptcy, and its settlement is subject to approval by the bankruptcy court.