Friday, March 28, 2008

Auction Rate Mark Down

I wondered how long it would be before brokerage firms finally faced reality and marked down the value of auction rate securities on customer statements. It looks like UBS is the first to bite the bullet:

TORONTO -- In the first confirmation that problems in the auction-rate securities markets has eroded the principal holdings of individual investors, UBS AG is marking down the value of the securities in its brokerage customers' accounts.

Until now, customers who were unable to sell securities in regularly scheduled auctions were told that the securities retained full value and would receive higher interest rates.

UBS, however, using an internal model to value the securities, will mark them down this afternoon and inform clients via their online statements shortly thereafter, people familiar with the matter said. The markdowns will range from a few percentage points to more than 20%, the people said.

I wonder how you model the value of a security with no market? These auction rates are worth only what someone else is willing to pay and if you have one that no one will buy it's value is....nothing.

By the way, the Massachusetts Secretary of State has issued subpeonas to three brokers in his investigation of the auction rate market:

Massachusetts Secretary of State William F. Galvin said today that he has issued subpoenas to business units of three large financial services companies as he seeks more information for his investigation into auction rate market securities.

Galvin's office said he has issued subpoenas to UBS Securities LLC; Merrill, Lynch, Pierce, Fenner & Smith Inc.; and Bank of America Investment Services Inc., all of which are registered as Massachusetts broker dealers.

Galvin wants to know if clients were warned about the risks of investing in auction rates. I can answer that question with a resounding NO.

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