Skip to main content

FINRA fines firms $9 million for leveraged ETFs

The Financial Industry Regulatory Authority, or Finra, has ordered Citigroup Inc. (C), Morgan Stanley (MS), UBS AG (UBS) and Wells Fargo & Co. (WFC) to pay a combined $9.1 million for allegedly improper sales of leveraged and inverse exchange-traded funds.

Wall Street’s self-regulator fined the companies a total of more than $7.3 million and also ordered them to pay $1.8 million in restitution to customers who bought the ETFs.

Finra said the brokerages failed to reasonably supervise sales of these types of ETFs in 2008 and part of 2009, and wrongly steered some clients to them. Leveraged and inverse ETFs are designed for short-term trading, and aren’t for long-term investors.

ETFs trade daily on exchanges like stocks, and the leveraged versions use futures or derivatives to multiply the daily returns of an index, sometimes striving to double or triple the return. Inverse ETFs seek to return the opposite of the index. Over terms longer than a day, the compounding effect can lead to results that vary significantly from the one-day outcome, making them unpredictable and highly risky to hold for longer periods.

Finra said Tuesday that each of the four companies sold billions of dollars of these non-traditional ETFs to customers, and some were held for extended periods when markets were volatile.