The Financial Industry Regulatory Authority ("FINRA") recently posted "Margin Debt at Record Levels: Know the Risks" http://www.finra.org/investors/highlights/margin-debt-record-levels-know-risks, which warns that:
Like the stock market, margin debt has risen sharply in recent months. According to FINRA's latest margin statistics, borrowing by investors in November 2017 stood at an all-time high of $627.4 billion. This is almost a $100 billion increase over margin borrowing at the end of 2016-and more than double the level of borrowing at the end of 2010.
FINRA often gets phone calls from investors after they receive a margin call, which is essentially a demand by your firm for the repayment of your margin debt. Now, in the midst of a bull market, is a good time to get ahead of things. In the event you get a margin call from your brokerage firm-are you prepared?
Some investors mistakenly believe that a firm must contact them first for a margin call to be valid. This is not the case.
Case In Point
In a Financial Industry Regulatory Authority ("FINRA") Arbitration Statement of Claim filed in July 2017, Claimant Cain sought the expungement of a customer complaint from his Central Registration Depository records ("CRD"). Respondent UBS consented to the request and did not participate in the hearing. In the Matter of the FINRA Arbitration Between, Brian Thomas Cain, Claimant, vs. UBS Financial Services, Inc., Respondent (FINRA Arbitration 17-01952 / January 16, 2018).
Prior to the sole FINRA Arbitrator conducting a hearing, Claimant Cain notified the surviving customer of the expungement application and of her right to participate. The surviving customer opposed the expungement request but did not participate in the hearing. Additionally, Claimant provided to the Arbitrator a copy of the other customer's obituary notice reflecting his death on December 29, 2014.
In recommending expungement, the sole FINRA Arbitrator considered, in part, the settlement agreement from the original customer complaint, which did not name Claimant as a party. To the Arbitrator's credit, notwithstanding the absence of naming Claimant as a party in the customer complaint, the trier-of-fact noted the existence of "innuendo." As set forth in the FINRA Arbitration Decision:
The customers alleged that Mr. Cain ordered the liquidation of securities in their UBS account although there were no outstanding margin calls and [the customers] were not in default on any loan or obligations.Claimant submitted (UBS Bates Stamp 002112- Daily Margin House Call Report MGED651P dated October 12, 2012) which is made part of Arbitrator's Exhibit 2. In accordance with this Margin Report on October 12, 2012, and Mr. Cain's sworn testimony, the customer accounts with UBS over which Mr. Cain as Complex Director had ultimate oversight, were no less than $199,742.00 in deficit (negative equity), let alone below the 35% margin maintenance requirement for the uncovered option writing that was the basis for these collateral, options and loan accounts.Mr. Cain as Complex Director for UBS had both marketing and compliance responsibilities. He and his subordinates wearing their marketing hats contacted the customers in advance of liquidating their accounts with UBS to try to have them meet their contractual obligations with UBS, both as to negative equity and to margin requirements. They were not required to contact the customer under the terms of the UBS Client Relationship Agreement and Loan Disclosure. Any modification of the Client Relationship Agreement had to be in writing, which Mr. Cain and his subordinates did not amend by having conversations with the customers. The options available to UBS under the Client Relationship Agreement are summarized in the Statement of Claim at pages 7 and 8. UBS also had security interest in all of the customers' assets held or carried by any UBS entity. The customers were both experienced lawyers and one of them claimed to be experienced in options and selected the investments. Their profiles, including for a family trust for which one of them was a trustee and beneficiary, sought aggressive and speculative trading. Purportedly, only 20% of their assets were with UBS, but they did not transfer any of their own assets to remedy their negative equity position.Mr. Cain testified that if he did not liquidate the customers; accounts to enforce rights UBS had, UBS' Margin Department would have done so to comply with regulatory rules. Given the volatility of these investments UBS believed it necessary to liquidate the customers' open positions to determine the actual amount of the deficit at the time and then to liquidate their assets held with UBS to meet regulatory and UBS requirements.In this Arbitrator's view, Mr. Cain acted appropriately. Despite the marketing downside to his decision, he took the appropriate compliance action
Bill Singer's Comment
Compliments to the sole FINRA Arbitrator for a superb rationale for recommending expungement! A very thorough presentation of content and context. Nice job!
Online FINRA BrokerCheck records as of January 19, 2018, disclose the Cain was first registered in 1997. Online FINRA BrokerCheck records disclose under the heading "Customer Dispute-Settled" that UBS received a customer complaint on April 25, 2013, seeking $875,000 in damages based upon "Allegations," that:
CLAIMANTS ALLEGE IT WAS REPRESENTED TO THEM THEIR OPTIONS POSITIONS WOULD NOT BE LIQUIDATED IF FUNDS TO COVER A MARGIN DEBIT WERE TRANSFERRED BY AN AGREED DEADLINE. TIME FRAME; OCTOBER 2012- JANUARY 2013.
UBS settled the matter on September 9, 2014, for $45,000 to which Cain did not contribute. BrokerCheck reflects a "BrokerStatement," purportedly from Cain:
I DENY ALL CLAIMANTS' ALLEGATIONS AND BELIEVE THEY ARE TOTALLY WITHOUT MERIT. THE CUSTOMERS' ACCOUNT WAS SUBJECT TO A MARGIN CALL AND WAS IN DEFICIT. PURSUANT TO APPLICABLE RULES. INVESTMENTS WERE REQUIRED TO BE LIQUIDATED TO SATISFY THE MARGIN CALL. THE CUSTOMERS WERE GIVEN SUFFICIENT NOTICE REGARDING THE POSSIBILITY OF MARGIN CALLS IN THEIR ACCOUNT AND HOW TO AVOID SUCH CALLS BY MAKING SURE SUFFICIENT FUNDS ARE IN THE MARGIN ACCOUNT. PURSUANT TO APPLICABLE RULES, MARGIN CALLS MUST BE SATISFIED OR THE FIRM COULD BE IN VIOLATION OF THOSE MARGIN RULES. I DID NOT PROMISE OR GUARANTEE THAT POSITIONS IN THE CUSTOMERS' ACCOUNT WOULD NOT BE LIQUIDATED IF FUNDS WERE TRANSFERRED IN BY A PARTICULAR DEADLINE. FURTHER, WHILE THE CUSTOMERS INDICATED THAT THEY WOULD TRANSFER FUNDS IN TO REMEDY THE MARGIN CALL, THEY DID NOT DO SO. FINALLY, UNDER THE CUSTOMERS' MARGIN ACCOUNT AGREEMENT, THEY WERE SPECIFICALLY NOTIFIED THAT THE FIRM IS NOT REQUIRED TO GIVE ANY PRIOR NOTICE IF POSITIONS ARE LIQUIDATED AS THE RESULT OF A MARGIN CALL OR DEFICIT. IN INTEND TO DEFEND THESE CLAIMS VIGOROUSLY AND PURSUANT TO FINRA RULES, SEEK EXPUNGEMENT OF THESE FALSE ALLEGATIONS FROM MY PUBLIC RECORD.
Understand Margin CallsYou Can Lose Your Money Fast and With No Notice.If your account falls below the firm's maintenance requirement, your firm generally will make a margin call to ask you to deposit more cash or securities into your account. If you are unable to meet the margin call, your firm will sell your securities to increase the equity in your account up to or above the firm's maintenance requirement.However, your broker may not be required to make a margin call or otherwise tell you that your account has fallen below the firm's maintenance requirement. Your broker may be able to sell your securities at any time without consulting you first. under most margin agreements, even if your firm offers to give you time to increase the equity in your account, it can sell your securities without waiting for you to meet the margin call.
Margin Trading RisksThere are a number of risks that you need to consider in deciding to trade securities on margin. These include: