NEW YORK, USA -- Rafael Blanco Latorre, commissioner of the Puerto Rico Office of the Financial Institutions, recently told Reuters that his office is winding up an investigation into whether Puerto Rican bond funds were unsuitable for the UBS clients who bought them, and that the results of that investigation would soon be released. This report will likely impact the claims of potentially thousands of Puerto Rican investors, including clients of UBS and other brokerage houses, who lost much of their life savings by investing in closed-end Puerto Rican bond funds.
These bond funds held Puerto Rican government bonds that were underwritten by UBS and sold by UBS and other brokerage firms and investment companies, such as Merrill Lynch, Oppenheimer Funds, and Wells Fargo. The bond funds plunged in value at the end of the summer of 2013 as concerns grew about Puerto Rico's weak economy and ability to repay government debt. The net asset value of these funds fell nearly 40% in 2013, according to a report by the Office of the Financial Institutions commissioner, and have reportedly fallen even more in 2014. In February 2014, UBS issued a report stating that Puerto Rico's debt would be downgraded to "junk" status by one or more of the Big Three credit rating agencies (Moody's, S&P and Fitch).
Puerto Rican bond funds were reportedly sold to investors as safe and secure investments that were suitable for conservative investors and retirees. In fact, however, that was not the case.
All brokers, financial advisers and brokerage firms owe certain enforceable legal duties to their investor clients. Among them is the duty to understand and disclose, prior to the investment, all material facts and risks of a proposed investment, and to refrain from recommending or purchasing investments that are unsuitable for the investor in light of that investor's age, investment time horizon, risk tolerance, and other factors.
Investors who purchased these bond funds may have compelling claims to recover their losses. So far, approximately 200 people on the island have filed Puerto Rico bond fund cases with the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority (FINRA) against UBS and other brokers, according to FINRA records and Reuters.