Morgan Keegan takes $200M hit in bond fund case

WASHINGTON — The Financial Industry Regulatory Authority (FINRA), the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) and five state regulators from Alabama, Kentucky, Mississippi, South Carolina and Tennessee announced today that each has settled enforcement proceedings against Morgan Keegan & Company, Inc. Morgan Keegan will pay restitution of $200 million for customers who invested in seven affiliated bond funds, including the Regions Morgan Keegan Select Intermediate Bond Fund (Intermediate Fund). Morgan Keegan's affiliate, Morgan Asset Management, managed the funds.

FINRA found that from the beginning of Jan. 2006 to the end of Sept. 2007, Morgan Keegan marketed and sold the Intermediate Fund to investors using sales materials that contained exaggerated claims, failed to provide a sound basis for evaluating the facts regarding the fund, were not fair and balanced, and did not adequately disclose the impact of market conditions in 2007 that caused substantial losses to the value of the Intermediate Fund.

The Intermediate Fund invested predominantly in structured products, including mezzanine and subordinated tranches of structured securities including sub-prime products. Morgan Keegan marketed the Intermediate Fund as a relatively safe, investment-grade fixed income mutual fund investment when, in fact, the fund was exposed to risks associated with its investments in mortgage-backed and asset-backed securities, and subordinated tranches of structured products. By the beginning of 2007, Morgan Keegan was aware that the Intermediate Fund was experiencing difficulties related to the holdings in the fund impacted by turmoil in the mortgage-backed securities market yet failed to adequately disclose those risks in the sales materials or internal guidance. In March 2007, when adverse market conditions began to affect the fund, over 54 percent of the portfolio was invested in asset-backed and mortgage-backed securities, and 13.5 percent was invested in subprime products.

Brad Bennett, FINRA Executive Vice President and Chief of Enforcement, said, "FINRA acknowledges the efforts of the Securities and Exchange Commission and state securities regulators in resolving this matter against Morgan Keegan and providing restitution to harmed investors. Firms must ensure that their marketing materials fully and accurately describe the products they sell, including the attendant risks and any relevant information about market conditions that may impact those products. By not fully disclosing the risks, Morgan Keegan portrayed the Intermediate Fund as a safer investment than it was."

FINRA's settlement includes findings that Morgan Keegan failed to establish, maintain and enforce an adequate supervisory system, including written supervisory procedures reasonably designed to achieve compliance with NASD rules. Morgan Keegan's supervisory system and written procedures were not reasonably designed to ensure that its sales literature disclosed certain information as to risk and did not contain exaggerated claims. As a result, Morgan Keegan failed to adequately describe the nature, holdings and certain risks of the Intermediate Fund. In addition, beginning in 2007 when the particular risks associated with the Intermediate Fund's holdings began to impact negatively the holdings in the fund, Morgan Keegan failed to take steps reasonably designed to revise its advertising materials to inform customers of the specific risks of investing in the fund under the current market conditions.

This investigation was conducted by Gino Ercolino, David Fenimore, Gregory Firehock, Theresa Ridder and Richard Santiago of the Enforcement Department, with the assistance of FINRA's Advertising Regulation Department.

Investors can obtain more information about, and the disciplinary record of, any FINRA-registered broker or brokerage firm by using FINRA's BrokerCheck. FINRA makes BrokerCheck available at no charge. In 2010, members of the public used this service to conduct 17.2 million reviews of broker or firm records. Investors can access BrokerCheck at www.finra.org/brokercheck or by calling (800) 289-9999. Investors may find copies of this complaint, as well as other disciplinary documents, in FINRA's Disciplinary Actions Online database.

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