Swiss Bank UBS settles losses to towns

The Dailey New Transcript reports:

Dedham Town administrator William Keegan says a $120,000 settlement Dedham will receive from Swiss bank UBS for an investment that failed will cover the town’s costs in that deal, but no more.

Nineteen Massachusetts municipal governments and public agencies will recover more than $35 million from UBS in the settlement over risky investments that turned sour instead of generating cash for municipal budgets.

“We were part of an investment that all of these towns participated in. It was a triple-A-rated investment,” Keegan said. “It was something that failed along the way.”

Yesterday’s agreement came three months after the state began investigating whether the Switzerland-based investment bank misled the governments into believing that their investments were sufficiently low-risk to make them permissible for cities and towns under state law.

State Attorney General Martha Coakley, who announced the settlement with two units of parent firm UBS AG, said her office was still reviewing whether to propose additional penalties against the company under the state’s False Claims Act.

A New York-based spokeswoman for UBS, Karina Byrne, said the firm agreed that the municipalities’ investments in so-called auction-rate securities weren’t allowed under state law.

Byrne said UBS was pleased with the settlement, in which the company agreed to reimburse more than $35 million, representing the principal payments the municipalities initially made.

At issue are investments the municipalities made through UBS in short-term bonds known as auction-rate securities, which were once considered safe. But starting in February, weekly and monthly auctions at which investors normally purchase the securities failed to yield buyers, as investors sought to avoid risk amid turmoil in credit markets.

Many local governments invested in the more than $300 billion auction-rate securities market to build up their operations budgets or help finance everything from water projects to road work and hospital expansions. But governments have recently found their cash frozen as buyers dried up.

While local governments in other states have ended up in similar trouble, UBS’ Byrne said, “The reasons supporting this (Massachusetts) agreement apply only to the circumstances of this specific case under Massachusetts law.”

Massachusetts towns due to receive cash under the settlement are Andover, Barnstable, Belchertown, Boylston, Dedham, East Longmeadow, Hudson, Mattapoisett, Needham, Warren, Wayland, Westborough, Whitman and Winchester. Also due to recover money are the cities of Chicopee and Holyoke; the City of Holyoke Contributory Retirement System; Town of Merrimac Light; and the Massachusetts Turnpike Authority.

The town of Springfield MA had $14 million returned by another firm. The contracts contained mandated statements of investment risk level permitted.