J.P. Morgan to pay $153.6 million for misleading investors in CDO sale

Washington, D.C., June 21, 2011 – The Securities and Exchange Commission today announced that J.P. 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, J.P. Morgan also agreed to improve the way it reviews and approves mortgage securities transactions.

The SEC alleges that J.P. 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.

“J.P 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 J.P. 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 J.P. 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) L.P. – the investment advisory arm of GSC Capital Corp. (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 J.P. 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, J.P. 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 J.P. 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.

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