SEC Charges New York-Based Fund Executives for Overvaluing Assets During Financial Crisis

Press Release

SEC Charges New York-Based Fund Executives for Overvaluing Assets During Financial Crisis

 
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
2012-242
Washington, D.C., Nov. 28, 2012

The Securities and Exchange Commission today charged three top executives at a New York-based publicly-traded fund being regulated as a business development company (BDC) with overstating the fund’s assets during the financial crisis. The fund’s asset portfolio consisted primarily of corporate debt securities and investments in collateralized loan obligations (CLOs).

An SEC investigation found that KCAP Financial Inc. did not account for certain market-based activity in determining the fair value of its debt securities and certain CLOs. KCAP also failed to disclose that the fund had valued its two largest CLO investments at cost. KCAP’s chief executive officer Dayl W. Pearson and chief investment officer R. Jonathan Corless had primary responsibility for calculating the fair value of KCAP’s debt securities, while KCAP’s former chief financial officer Michael I. Wirth had primary responsibility for calculating the fair value of KCAP’s CLOs. Wirth, a certified public accountant, prepared the disclosures about KCAP’s methodologies to fair value its CLOs, and Pearson reviewed those disclosures.

The three executives agreed to pay financial penalties to settle the SEC’s charges.

“When market conditions change, funds and other entities must properly take into account those changed conditions in fair valuing their assets, said Antonia Chion, Associate Director in the SEC’s Division of Enforcement. “This is particularly important for BDCs like KCAP, whose entire business consists of the assets that it holds for investment.”

This is the SEC’s first enforcement action against a public company that failed to properly fair value its assets according to the applicable financial accounting standard — FAS 157 — which became effective for KCAP in the first quarter of 2008.

According to the SEC’s order instituting administrative proceedings against the fund and the three executives, KCAP did not record and report the fair value of its assets in accordance with Generally Accepted Accounting Principles (GAAP) and in particular FAS 157, which requires assets to be fair valued based on an “exit price” that reflects the price that would be received to sell an asset in an orderly transaction between market participants at the measurement date.

The SEC’s order found that Pearson and Corless concluded that any trades of debt securities held by KCAP in the fourth quarter of 2008 reflected distressed transactions, and therefore KCAP determined the fair value of its debt securities based solely on an enterprise value methodology. However, this methodology did not calculate or inform KCAP investors of the FAS 157 “exit price” for that security. Wirth calculated the fair value of KCAP’s two largest CLO investments to be their cost, and did not take into account the market conditions during that period.

According to the SEC’s order, in May 2010, KCAP restated the fair values for certain debt securities and CLOs whose net asset values had been overstated by approximately 27 percent as of Dec. 31, 2008. Moreover, KCAP’s internal controls over financial reporting did not adequately take into account certain market inputs and other data.

“KCAP should have accounted for market conditions in the fourth quarter of 2008 in determining the fair values of its assets,” said Julie M. Riewe, Deputy Chief of the SEC Enforcement Division’s Asset Management Unit. “FAS 157 is critically important in fair valuing illiquid securities, and funds must consider market information in making FAS 157 fair value determinations and comply with their disclosed valuation methodologies.”

KCAP’s overvaluation and internal controls failures violated the reporting, books and records, and internal controls provisions of the federal securities laws, namely Sections 13(a), 13(b)(2)(A), and 13(b)(2)(B) of the Exchange Act, and Rules 12b-20, 13a-1, 13a-11, and 13a-13 thereunder. Pearson, Corless, and Wirth caused KCAP’s violations and directly violated Exchange Act Rule 13b2-1 by causing KCAP’s books and records to be falsified. Pearson and Wirth also directly violated Exchange Act Rule 13a-14 by falsely certifying the adequacy of KCAP’s internal controls.

Pearson and Wirth each agreed to pay $50,000 penalties and Corless agreed to pay a $25,000 penalty to settle the SEC’s charges. KCAP and the three executives, without admitting or denying the findings, consented to the SEC’s order requiring them to cease and desist from committing or causing any violations or any future violations of these federal securities laws.

The SEC’s investigation was conducted by Adam Aderton of the Asset Management Unit, Noel Gittens, and Richard Haynes, and was supervised by Assistant Director Ricky Sachar.

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