Bloomberg reports Fees Exceed Maximum Yields on ‘Black Box’ Reverse Convertibles.

Royal Bank of Scotland Group Plc, JPMorgan Chase & Co. and Barclays Plc are charging fees on some structured notes that equal or exceed the securities’ highest possible yield, as sales of the opaque products draw scrutiny from regulators.

On June 15, RBS gave brokers a 2.75 percent commission to sell a three-month reverse-convertible note with a 2.56 percent potential yield, according to a prospectus. Last month, JPMorgan charged 5.25 percent in fees and commissions on a three-month Citigroup Inc.-linked note that paid 5 percent interest, and Barclays offered brokers a 2 percent commission on a security paying 2 percent interest, according to other prospectuses.

Reverse convertibles generally pay higher interest rates than corporate bonds, with last month’s notes yielding an average of 15.7 percent per year, Bloomberg data show. Their risk lies in so-called down-and-in put options built into the products that allow banks to repay buyers with shares if an underlying stock declines a certain amount. Investors in RBS’s note could lose money if Alcoa Inc. drops by more than 25 percent.

Down-and-in put options aren’t traded on exchanges, making them difficult to value without a computer model. The customized contracts are privately negotiated by banks and their clients in the $615 trillion over-the-counter derivatives market, where trades and prices aren’t reported publicly.

Investors in JPMorgan’s reverse convertibles, which pay 5 percent interest over three months, are exposed to losses if Citigroup declines more than 20 percent. JPMorgan collected a 5.25 percent fee for selling $784,000 of the securities on May 25, according to the prospectus. Barclays’ $1 million offering on May 10 is linked to the stock of Apple Inc., with the option triggered if shares drop more than 25 percent.

Undisclosed costs, such as a profit for the issuer, are generally included in the notes’ sale price, according to Finra. It is “all but impossible” for investors to determine the size of these costs or “whether the reverse convertible represents a good deal,” Finra said on its website.

“It’s pretty easy to build in extra fees because retail investors aren’t in a position to price the embedded options,” said Janet Tavakoli, founder of Chicago-based consulting firm Tavakoli Structured Finance, in a June 16 telephone interview.

JPMorgan, RBS, and Barclays all declined to comment. What could they say other than they straightforward screwed their clients. All of the those companies have proven they have no sense of fiduciary responsibility and will screw clients for short-term gains and fees.

Why anyone would want to deal with companies that pull this kind of stunt is beyond me.

It pays to refuse any deal offered by JPMorgan, RBS, Barclays and of course Goldman Sachs although it was not involved in this particular scam.

Mike “Mish” Shedlock
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