T. Rowe Price & Associates, the Baltimore-based investment firm with some $6 billion of assets under management, was censured by the Securities and Exchange Commission yesterday for allegedly inadequate disclosures to customers about a specialized investing service for individual accounts of about $100,000.
Prices Associated responded with some criticism of its own for the regular agency, condeming the SEC for failure to adopt investment company guidelines for the types of accounts at issue. An SEC advisory committee had called for guidelines in 1973.
Moreoever, Price revealed that since "uncertainties" continue to exist about such accounts, the Baltimore firm will stop offering the service as of March 31.
The subject of the SEC complaint generally is called a "mini-account" service in that investment buisness -- a vehicle for a limited number of individuals who do not have the volume of capital to compete with insurance companies or pension funds in a stock market dominated by large institutional investors.
Rowe Price called its account a managed portfolio program. Started in May 1972, it was designed for about 100 clients who were described as "forgotten investors," with substantial funds but not enough money to contract for full private management on the scale of much larger investors.
According to the SEC, whose official censure yesterday was the only action against Rowe Price, the problem with the special portfolio program was that promotional literature did not disclose "the amount of individualized treatment" provided each account and the extent to which investment decisions would be based upon "model portfolios."
A Rowe Price spokesman, Steven Norwitz, said a team of investment counselors reviewed stocks for the portfolios (total assets of which are about $5 million) and that a manager implemented recommendations for each client based upon such individual factors as risk levels and tax brackets. Counselors did not meet regularly with clients, but sent out monthly statements, he Rowe Price spokesman added.
In response to the SEC administrative action, Rowe Price accepted the sanction of censure without admitting or denying the allegations -- the first such SEC case against Rowe Price since it was founded in 1937.
Rowe Price said it considered its disclosure "complete and accurate" and said the firm has a "recognized history" of being open with clients. The investment company also said it thought the complaint could have been handled as a "routine regulatory amtter" rather than as a formal complaint.
The company spokesman siad Rowe Price had not received any complaints from its clients and said it had embarked on negotiations with current portfolio program investors about possible avenues of future investment when the plan is ended. No advisory fees will be charged in the final quarter of the plan.