SEC Charges Schwab Entities and Two Executives With Making Misleading Statements
Schwab Entities to Pay More Than $118 Million to Settle SEC Charges
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Washington, D.C., Jan. 11, 2011 — The Securities and Exchange Commission today charged Charles Schwab Investment Management (CSIM) and Charles Schwab & Co., Inc. (CS&Co.) with making misleading statements regarding the Schwab YieldPlus Fund and failing to establish, maintain and enforce policies and procedures to prevent the misuse of material, nonpublic information. The SEC also charged CSIM and Schwab Investments with deviating from the YieldPlus fund's concentration policy without obtaining the required shareholder approval.
The SEC also filed a complaint in federal court against CSIM's former chief investment officer for fixed income Kimon Daifotis as well as Schwab official Randall Merk, who is an executive vice president at CS&Co. and was president of CSIM and a trustee of the YieldPlus and other Schwab funds. The SEC alleges that Daifotis and Merk committed fraud and other securities law violations in connection with the offer, sale and management of the YieldPlus Fund.
CSIM and CS&Co. agreed to pay more than $118 million to settle the SEC's charges. The SEC's case continues against the executives.
Robert Khuzami, Director of the SEC's Division of Enforcement said, "All financial firms and professionals — including large mutual fund providers — must be vigilant in accurately describing the risks of the products they sell to the public, especially the widely-held mutual funds that are the bread-and-butter investments of retail investors."
Antonia Chion, Associate Director of the SEC's Division of Enforcement, said, "Schwab marketed the fund as a cash alternative with only slightly more risk than a money market fund even though, at one point, half of the fund's assets were invested in private-issuer, mortgage-backed and other securities with maturities and credit quality that were significantly different than investments made by money market funds."
The YieldPlus Fund is an ultra-short bond fund that, at its peak in 2007, had $13.5 billion in assets and more than 200,000 accounts, making it the largest ultra-short bond fund in the category. The fund suffered a significant decline during the credit crisis of 2007 and 2008. Its assets fell from $13.5 billion to $1.8 billion during an eight-month period due to redemptions and declining asset values.
According to an administrative order issued by the SEC against the Schwab entities and the SEC's related complaints against the entities and the two executives filed in federal court in San Francisco, they failed to inform investors adequately about the risks of investing in the YieldPlus Fund. For example, they described the fund as a cash alternative that had only slightly higher risk than a money market fund. The statements were misleading because the fund was more than slightly riskier than money market funds, and the Schwab entities and Merk and Daifotis did not adequately inform investors about the differences between YieldPlus and money market funds.
The SEC found that the YieldPlus Fund deviated from its concentration policy when it invested more than 25 percent of fund assets in private-issuer mortgage-backed securities (MBS). Mutual funds and other registered investment companies are required to state certain investment policies in their SEC filings, including a policy regarding concentration of investments. Once established, a fund may not deviate from its concentration policy without shareholder approval. Schwab's bond funds, including the YieldPlus Fund and the Total Bond Market Fund, had a policy of not concentrating more than 25 percent of assets in any one industry, including private-issuer MBS. The funds violated this policy, and the Investment Company Act, by investing approximately 50 percent of the assets of the YieldPlus Fund and more than 25 percent of the Total Bond Fund's assets in private-issuer MBS without obtaining shareholder approval.
According to the SEC's order and complaints, the YieldPlus Fund's NAV began to decline and many investors redeemed their holdings as the credit crisis unfolded in mid-2007. Unlike a money market fund, few of the fund's assets were scheduled to mature within the next several months. As a result, the fund had to sell assets in a depressed market to raise cash. While the YieldPlus Fund's NAV declined, CSIM, CS&Co., Merk, and Daifotis held conference calls, issued written materials, and had other communications with investors that contained a number of material misstatements and omissions concerning the fund. For example, in two conference calls, Daifotis made false and misleading statements that the fund was experiencing "very, very, very slight" and "minimal" investor redemptions. In fact, Daifotis knew that YieldPlus had experienced more than $1.2 billion in redemptions during the two weeks prior to the calls, which caused YieldPlus to sell more than $2.1 billion of its securities. Similarly, Merk authored, reviewed and approved misleading statements about the fund, such as a false claim that the fund had a "short maturity structure" that "mitigated much of the price erosion" experienced by its peers.
The SEC also found that CSIM and CS&Co. did not have policies and procedures reasonably designed — given the nature of their businesses — to prevent the misuse of material, nonpublic information about the fund. For example, they did not have specific policies and procedures governing redemptions by portfolio managers who advised Schwab funds of funds, and did not have appropriate information barriers concerning nonpublic and potentially material information about the fund. As a result, several Schwab-related funds and individuals were free to redeem their own investments in YieldPlus during the fund's decline.
Without admitting or denying the findings in the SEC's order or the allegations in the SEC's complaint, CSIM and CS&Co. agreed to pay a total of $118,944,996, including $52,327,149 in disgorgement of fees by CSIM, a $52,327,149 penalty against CSIM, a $5 million penalty against CS&Co., and pre-judgment interest of $9,290,698. Some of CSIM's disgorgement may be deemed satisfied up to a maximum of $26,944,996 for payments made within the next 60 days to settle related investigations by FINRA or state securities regulators.
The SEC seeks to have payments placed in a Fair Fund for distribution to harmed investors, and the related recoveries by other regulators, such as FINRA, may be contributed to the Fair Fund. The payments and any Fair Fund are subject to approval by the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California.
CSIM, CS&Co. and Schwab Investments also consented to an SEC order requiring them to cease and desist from committing or causing future violations of the federal securities laws. The SEC order also requires them to comply with certain undertakings, including correction of all disclosures regarding the funds' concentration policy. In addition, the Commission censured CSIM and CS&Co., and required them to retain an independent consultant to review and make recommendations about their policies and procedures to prevent the misuse of material, nonpublic information.
In its order, the Commission found that:
- CSIM and CS&Co. willfully violated anti-fraud provisions of the Securities Act of 1933, Sections 17(a)(2) and (3).
- CSIM willfully violated anti-fraud provisions of the Investment Advisers Act of 1940, Section 206(4) and Rule 206(4)-8.
- Schwab Investments willfully violated Section 13(a) of the Investment Company Act of 1940 by deviating from its concentration policy, and CSIM willfully aided and abetted and caused the violation.
- CSIM and CS&Co. willfully aided and abetted and caused violations of the false filings provision of the Investment Company Act, Section 34(b).
- CS&Co. violated Section 15(g) (formerly Section 15(f)) of the Securities Exchange Act of 1934, and CSIM violated Section 204A of the Advisers Act, both of which require policies and procedures that are reasonably designed, taking into consideration the nature of the entities' businesses, to prevent the misuse of material, nonpublic information.
The SEC's complaint against Daifotis and Merk alleges violations and aiding and abetting violations of the anti-fraud provisions of the Securities Act, Exchange Act, and Investment Advisers Act, including Section 10(b) and Rule 10b-5 of the Exchange Act, and other violations, including Sections 13(a) and 34(b) of the Investment Company Act.
Melissa Hodgman, David Mendel and Robert Cohen in the SEC's Division of Enforcement conducted the investigation. The SEC's litigation against the executives will be led by David Gottesman and Frederick Block. The SEC acknowledges the assistance of FINRA in this matter.
# # #
For more information about this enforcement action, contact:
Associate Director, SEC Division of Enforcement
Robert A. Cohen
Assistant Director, SEC Division of Enforcement