The Securities and Exchange Commission recently announced that Merrill Lynch has agreed to pay a $10 million penalty to settle charges that it was responsible for misleading statements in offering materials provided to retail investors for structured notes linked to a proprietary volatility index.
According to the SEC’s order instituting a settled administrative proceeding, the offering materials emphasized that the notes were subject to a 2 percent sales commission and 0.75 percent annual fee. Due to the impact of these costs over the five-year term of the notes, the volatility index would need to increase by 5.93 percent from its starting value in order for investors to earn back their original investment on the maturity date. But the offering materials failed to adequately disclose a third cost included in the volatility index known as the “execution factor” that imposed a cost of 1.5 percent of the index value each quarter.
According to the SEC announcement, the notes were issued by Merrill Lynch’s parent company Bank of America Corporation, and Merrill Lynch had principal responsibility for drafting and reviewing the retail pricing supplements. The SEC’s order found that Merrill Lynch did not have in place effective policies or procedures to ensure its personnel drafted and approved disclosures that adequately disclosed the impact of the execution factor.
The SEC’s order finds that Merrill Lynch violated Section 17(a)(2) of the Securities Act of 1933, which prohibits obtaining money or property by means of material misstatements and omissions in the offer or sale of securities. Without admitting or denying the findings, Merrill Lynch agreed to cease and desist from committing or causing any similar future violations and pay a penalty of $10 million.
The foregoing information, which is publicly available, is being provided by The White Law Group. The White Law Group is a national securities fraud, securities arbitration, and investor protection law firm with offices in Chicago, Illinois and Vero Beach, Florida.
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