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Raymond James ARS Investors at a Total Loss?

Investors with Raymond James Financial, who thus far have only received a four-page letter dated January 2, 2009 from Thomas James, chairman and chief executive officer, in which he says the company cannot repurchase the securities it sold because it doesn’t have enough capital on hand, are still holding out for answers from the St. Petersburg-based financial services firm regarding their illiquid auction rate securities.

The message is of little comfort to clients of Raymond James Financial who currently own about $1 billion in outstanding auction-rate bonds and auction-rate preferred securities. It’s the same scenario they’ve faced since February 2008, when the $330 billion auction-rate securities market collapsed and left hundreds of thousands of investors unable to sell securities that had been touted as cash equivalents.

Facing pressure from state and federal regulators, a number of financial firms such as UBS, Wachovia, Merrill Lynch, Morgan Stanley and others announced plans to repurchase the illiquid securities from their clients. Many already have completed their buyback programs. Clients of Raymond James Financial, however, have been left in a holding pattern.

As it turns out, they may be in for a long wait. Any potential relief is likely tied to Raymond James Financial’s ability to secure a bank loan and buy back the securities after it becomes a bank-holding company. But that process will not be completed until next summer.

Meanwhile, Raymond James Financial remains under investigation by the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC), the New York Attorney General and the Florida Office of Financial Regulation for its handling of auction-rate securities.

As of December 31, 2008, shares of Raymond James Financial had fallen more than 40% meaning the company’s stock has taken a beating from the firm’s inability to make good on its customers’ auction-rate securities.