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Archive for December, 2007

Bloomberg Names Regions Morgan Keegan As Worst Performing Bond Fund

On December 28, 2007 Bloomberg news reported:

“The worst-performing bond fund was the $190 million Regions Morgan Keegan Select high Income, which plunged 59 percent because of losses tied to subprime mortgages.  It’s managed by Jim Kelsoe at Morgan Asset Management Inc. in Memphis, Tennessee.
The Morgan Keegan bond mutual funds are “worst in class” at a time when the phrases “subprime crises” and subprime lending” have become household words and moved from the financial news to mainstream news.  In 2007, the funds lost 50 percent or more of their value, while other funds in their peer group either had positive returns or losses of 8 percent or less.
Of 439 other intermediate bond funds and 253 other high-income bond funds, none suffered losses of this magnitude.

Regulators Scrutinize Bear Hedge Fund Redemption

Federal regulators are investigation whether Bear Stearns hedge fund managers withdrew money from the now bankrupt funds shortly before the funds froze investor redemptions.

The Securities and Exchange Commission and United States Attorney are investigating reports that Ralph Cioffi, the Bear Stearns hedge fund manager, withdrew $2 million of his $6 million investment and invested it another Bear Stearns hedge fund.

In February 2007, investors began looking for the exits in an attempt to cut losses. They were blocked from doing so for months by Bear’s asset management team, which continued to underplay the turmoil in the mortgage market, according to reports. At one time, the funds, including leverage, held approximately $35 billion in toxic debt.

Investors Suffer Losses in Morgan Keegan Bond Funds

Investors in various Morgan Keegan Bond Funds have suffered huge losses over recent months. Many of these Morgan Keegan Bond Funds have experienced losses in their net asset values of more than 50% since the beginning of 2007, most of these losses coming in the past five months.

Specifically, the following Morgan Keegan Bond Funds have been adversely impacted:

Regions Morgan Keegan Select High Income-A, (Sym: MKHIX), Year to Date Return a/o (12/14/07) –56.66 percent

Regions Morgan Keegan Select High Income-C, (Sym: RHICX), Year to Date Return a/o (12/14/07) –56.76 percent

Regions Morgan Keegan Select High Income-I, (Sym: RHIIX), Year to Date Return a/o (12/14/07) –56.56 percent

RMK High Income Fund, (NYSE: RMH), Year to Date Return a/o (12/14/07) –62.91 percent

RMK Strategic Income Fund, (NYSE: RSF), Year to Date Return a/o (12/14/07) –64.08 percent

Regions Morgan Keegan Select Intermediate Bond Fund-A, (Sym: MKIBX), Year to Date Return a/o (12/14/07) –47.84 percent

Regions Morgan Keegan Select Intermediate Bond Fund-C, (Sym: RIBCX), Year to Date Return a/o (12/14/07) –48.07 percent

Regions Morgan Keegan Select Intermediate Bond Fund-I, (Sym: RIBIX), Year to Date Return a/o (12/14/07) –47.72 percent

All of these funds are managed by Morgan Keegan Asset Management Inc. and James C. Kelsoe. The abysmal performance of these funds is largely attributable to management’s decision to concentrate the funds’ investments in high risk mortgage- backed securities and CDOs. Recent Bloomberg reports on these funds establish that mortgage-backed securities and CDOs constituted more than 50% of each funds portfolio. This investment strategy appears to have been highly imprudent in light of the many concerns about the mortgage-backed securities and CDO markets that existed in 2005 and 2006.

Indiana Charity Files Arbitration Claims Against Bond Fund Advisor Over Sub-Prime Losses

Last week, an Indiana charity that “makes wishes come true” for children with life threatening illnesses filed arbitration claims over sub-prime related losses it allegedly suffered in a bond fund managed by Regions Morgan Keegan.  The Indiana Children’s Wish Find claimed that it lost $48,000 or 22% of its $220,000 investment in the Regions Morgan Keegan Select Intermediated Bond Fund.

The Wish Fund claims that it was misled by Morgan Keegan concerning the level of risk it assumed by investing in the fund.  According to the Wish Fund Regions Bank, an affiliate of Morgan Keegan suggested that the Wish Fund move money from it’s money market account into the bond fund.  Regions Bank allegedly represented that the bond fund was an appropriate low risk alternative to a CD.  The Wish Fund alleged that the bond fund was heavily invested in risky-low rated mortgage debt.  

Continuing Subprime Woes: Issues With Short Term Money Market Funds

Columbia Management, a unit of Bank of America Corp., has closed its Strategic Cash Portfolio amid losses on asset-backed securities. According to the Wall Street Journal, the fund is currently valued at $12 billion, down from $40 billion just months ago. Bank of America closed this fund just weeks after announcing that it had set aside $600,000,000 to cover potential losses on its money market funds and an institutional cash management fund.

The Strategic Cash Portfolio, considered an enhanced money fund, was offered exclusively to high net worth individuals and institutional investors with at least $25 million or more. The enhanced fund was sold as an alternative to money-market funds, considered among the safest of all investments.

Investors, largely concerned with the crumbling subprime market, began pulling money out of the fund beginning in August 2007. Withdrawal requests continued until the fund was no longer able to sustain itself. Upon its closing, the fund’s share price was reported to be 99.4 cents on the dollar.

According to Bank of America, investors are left with two options. The largest investors will be redeemed “in kind”-given their share of the underlying securities in lieu of a cash payment. Smaller investors will be able to cash out at the 99.4 cents on the dollar current share price.

The Strategic Cash Portfolio is not the only enhanced money fund experiencing pressure from the continuing subprime crisis. Another enhanced money fund, the GEAM Trust Enhanced Cash Fund, managed by GE Asset Management, saw similar losses just a month ago due to investor concerns over the investments held by the fund. Investors in the GEAM fund were able redeem their position at 96 cents on the dollar.

Similarly, SEI, Wachovia/Evergreen Investments, Credit Suisse Asset Management, U.S. Bancorp/FAF Advisors, and Legg Mason separately announced that each had set aside funds or purchased losing investments from their funds to support their money market funds. Most have reported that such actions were necessitated by poor performing investments in special investment vehicles (“SIVs”).

If you are an investor in the Columbia Management Strategic Cash Portfolio, GEAM Trust Enhanced Cash Fund or a similar enhanced money fund, and have experienced significant investment losses, you may have legal claims to recoup your losses.

A $34 Billion Cash Fund to Close Up

Investors running for the exits have caused the closure of one of the largest U.S. short-term funds catering to institutional clients.

Columbia Management is shutting its Columbia Strategic Cash Portfolio, it told clients late last week, after facing major withdrawal requests from large investors. The fund, which held $34 billion at the end of November, has been split in two. Of the total, $21 billion has been put into accounts for the large investors who are seeking to cash out. An additional $12 billion remains in the fund, which will be wound down.

Columbia is a unit of Bank of America Corp., and Strategic Cash Portfolio was among its biggest products catering to institutional clients.

The fund’s closure spotlights spreading uncertainty among investors as they yank money out of “enhanced” cash funds like Strategic Cash Portfolio. Funds like these are designed to carry slightly more risk than money-market funds, which are traditionally among the safest investments around.

Though Columbia isn’t the only fund company struggling to navigate the credit-market turmoil, shutting such a sizable fund represents a black eye for the firm and for Bank of America.
Only some investors will be able to get their cash out. Several of the fund’s biggest investors are being redeemed “in kind” — that is, they have been given their share of the underlying securities, rather than a cash payment. Smaller shareholders can cash out at the fund’s share price, which is currently 99.4 cents on the dollar. The fund required a minimum investment of $25 million.

It is the latest crisis not only at enhanced cash funds, but also traditional money-market funds. Two weeks ago, Florida state officials temporarily shuttered an enhanced cash fund after investors pulled out billions of dollars amid concerns about the quality of its investments.
Last month, GEAM Trust Enhanced Cash Fund, managed by GE Asset Management, lost value partly because of its investments in some asset-backed securities. That $5.6 billion fund let investors redeem their money at 96 cents for every dollar invested.

All of this reflects the pressure placed on fund managers by the turmoil in the credit markets.

“Originally, investors hoped they would be treated like money-fund investors and the [fund] advisers would back them” in case the portfolios suffer losses, says Peter Crane, of Crane Data, a research firm specializing in money funds and other short-term investments.

“But GE created the precedent, he says. “And the management company has every right to pass the losses through.”

Chris Linehan, a GE spokesman, said “the investors in [GE Enhanced Cash Fund] understood that there could be volatility,” he said.

A report yesterday by Standard & Poor’s found that about 30 U.S.-oriented enhanced cash funds rated by S&P had lost a total of $20 billion, or 25%, of their assets, in the third quarter. In one of the more dramatic instances, one fund (which S&P declined to identify) saw its assets under management shrink by 98%, or $2.5 billion.

Even traditional money-market funds have felt pressure. In the past few months, at least a half-dozen financial institutions, including Bank of America, have taken steps such as buying the funds’ troubled securities to protect their money funds. These include FAF Advisors Inc., a unit of U.S. Bancorp, Credit Suisse Group‘s Credit Suisse Asset Management and Wachovia Corp.’s Evergreen Investments.

Money-market funds are required to maintain an unchanging $1-per-share net asset value; if they waver from that they are said to “break the buck.” Enhanced cash funds don’t have the same requirement. Nevertheless, investors generally expect them not to lose principal value.

Enhanced cash funds have grown in popularity as investors sought slightly higher yields amid historically low interest rates. They achieved added returns partly by investing in complex securities backed in part by mortgages and other assets. However, many of these, even those with high credit ratings, have collapsed in price. Spooked by these problems, investors have been fleeing enhanced cash funds.

“This exodus put more downward selling pressure on securities and some [enhanced] funds were forced to sell, causing further stress,” Standard & Poor’s credit analyst Jaime Gitler said in a report yesterday.

Officials at Columbia declined to identify specific holdings in the Strategic Cash Portfolio. A spokesman said the fund had exposure to troubled investments known as structured investment vehicles in line with other enhanced cash funds.

Losses on some of the fund’s investments led Bank of America to try to shore up the fund’s portfolio before it was decided to close it down, according to a person familiar with the matter.

The decision by officials at Columbia Management to close Columbia Strategic Cash Portfolio came last week. The fund had suffered $1 billion in withdrawals since the start of the month and several large investors in the pool were seeking to redeem investments. In the past, investors were able to buy and sell shares of the fund at $1 per share. But by last week the value of the portfolio had sunk below $1 per share, so it was no longer possible to cash investors out at that price without inflicting losses on remaining shareholders.

This means, says Mr. Crane, that Columbia is telling the large investors that “if you want to sell something and take a loss, that’s up to you.”

The spokesman said approximately 90% of the fund’s portfolio is investments carrying a rating of triple-A or double-A, the two highest-rating levels.

Bank analyst Jeff Harte of Sandler O’Neill & Partners described closing the fund as “not that big of a deal,” since it was an enhanced fund marketed to sophisticated institutional investors. “If you’re getting a premium yield, you’re taking a premium risk,” said Mr. Harte, who rates Bank of America a “hold.”

Bank of America had been holding up Columbia Management as a bright spot in its growing wealth-management division. But troubles have been building within the group.

Last month, Bank of America disclosed that it would provide support of up to $300 million for an institutional cash fund, and a similar amount to a separate group of money-market funds that own troubled securities. While Bank of America didn’t identify the affected fund at the time, people familiar with the matter now say it was Strategic Cash Portfolio. A Columbia spokesman said that in the firm’s continuing dialogue with individual investors and advisers, it explains that the money-market funds aren’t affected by what happened to the Strategic Cash product.

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