Dear Twitter-Based Newsletter Sellers: The SEC Is After You

Tyler Durden's picture

Now that Twitter is officially the second coming of Yahoo Finance message boards, the inundation with offers from clueless hacks who have nothing better to do than sell you $29.95 newsletters with guaranteed get rich quick schemes (one has to be so grateful for this boundless supply of noble humanitarians who would rather see you get rich than follow their own advice, and invest with their own capital), even more guaranteed than Obama's MyRA ponzi scheme, has hit off the charts levels. However, there is some hope this is ending, and the regulators, as usual 3-5 years behind the curve - are finally be cracking down on these self-acclaimed financial Nostradami following an announcement today that the SEC "charged a New York-based money manager and his firm with making false claims through Twitter, newsletters, and other communications about the success of their investment advice and a mutual fund they manage."

And while this description would fit roughly half the people who can't wait to share their copious financial "advise" on the social network (for a modest fee) in this specific case, the SEC was targeting Mark A. Grimaldi and Navigator Money Management (NMM), whom it found that they "selectively touted the past performance of the Sector Rotation Fund (NAVFX) and specific securities recommendations they made to clients.  They cherry-picked highlights but ignored less favorable recommendations and other data that would have made the facts complete."

The SEC’s order finds that Grimaldi also made misleading statements on Twitter.  He claimed responsibility for model portfolios in his newsletters that “doubled the S&P 500 the last 10 years.”  However, Grimaldi made the claim even though he had no involvement in the model portfolio performance for the first three years.

Once again: a description that covers pretty much everyone seeking to retain new clients on "we-only-win-here" Twitter.

Grimaldi agreed to pay a penalty of $100,000, and he and the firm agreed to be censured and comply with certain undertakings including the retention of an independent compliance consultant for three years.  Without admitting or denying the SEC’s findings, NMM and Grimaldi are required to cease and desist from future violations of these sections of the securities laws.

No more Twitter-touting for him. But the worst news for all newsletter peddlers: "SEC exam staff notified NMM that the newsletters could be considered advertisements under Rule 206(4)-1, which generally prohibits false or misleading advertisements by investment advisers." This supposedly also includes his false and misleading tweets, which considering Twitter is a public venue, pretty much guarantee anyone who has been touting their performance is now SEC-fodder.

From the full SEC charge:

“The securities laws require investment advisers to be honest and fully forthcoming in their advertising to give investors the full picture,” said Sanjay Wadhwa, senior associate director for enforcement in the SEC’s New York Regional Office.  “Grimaldi and his firm are being held accountable for using social media and widely disseminated newsletters to cherry-pick information and make misleading claims about their success in an effort to attract more business.”

 

According to the SEC’s order, Grimaldi is majority owner, president, and chief compliance officer at NMM, which is based in Wappingers Falls, N.Y.  Grimaldi particularly used a newsletter called The Money Navigator to solicit clients for NMM and investors for the Sector Rotation Fund.  The Money Navigator had more than 60,000 subscribers.  In 2008, the SEC conducted an examination of NMM and a fund it managed.  SEC exam staff notified NMM that the newsletters could be considered advertisements under Rule 206(4)-1, which generally prohibits false or misleading advertisements by investment advisers.  SEC staff also noted that the newsletters could be considered advertisements under Rule 482, which governs advertisements for mutual funds and other investment companies and has specific requirements for ads containing performance data.

 

The SEC’s order details several misleading advertisements made by NMM and Grimaldi in newsletters following that SEC examination.  For example, they misleadingly claimed in a December 2011 newsletter that Sector Rotation Fund was “ranked number 1 out of 375 World Allocation funds tracked by Morningstar.”  However, a time period of Oct. 13, 2010 to Oct. 12, 2011 was cherry-picked to broadly acclaim that ranking, and Sector Rotation Fund had a poorer relative performance during other time periods.  From Jan. 1 to Nov. 30, 2011, the day before Grimaldi published the ad, at least 100 other mutual funds in that same Morningstar category outperformed Sector Rotation Fund.

And the full filing: