J.P. Morgan Chase & Co. has agreed to pay $6 million to settle allegations that brokers at Hambrecht & Quist, which it acquired in late 1999, took kickbacks from customers who wanted to buy stock in hot initial public offerings, the securities industry's main self-regulatory body said yesterday.
It was the third recent brokerage-house settlement of allegations that employees broke federal securities laws against sharing in the profits reaped by customers who bought and sold IPO stock in the market frenzy of the late 1990s.
Credit Suisse First Boston Corp. paid $100 million to settle investigations by the self-regulatory group, NASD, and by the Securities and Exchange Commission, and FleetBoston Financial Corp. paid $28 million to close a probe into Robertson Stephens Inc., which it bought in 1998. None of the companies admitted wrongdoing.
Hambrecht & Quist had primary responsibility for allocating shares in 12 IPOs between November 1999 and March 2000, and most of the stocks rose 60 percent or more on the first day of trading, potentially making them very profitable. More than 90 H&Q accounts, most of them hedge funds and small institutional investors, showed a pattern of paying inflated commissions and receiving that IPO stocks, according to NASD.
Customers who got those IPO stocks paid commissions of up to $1.25 per share on unrelated trades, compared with the usual charge of 6 cents, and the firm's overall commission revenue more than tripled on the day of one IPO, the NASD said.
J.P. Morgan Chase, which gave up $5 million in profits and paid a $1 million fine, said in a statement that the company is "pleased to put this behind us." It said NASD did not allege that Hambrecht & Quist or any of its employees requested payments for IPO shares. "Some clients may have placed more trades with H&Q or voluntarily paid higher commissions in order to be viewed as higher revenue customers, but not at the company's request," a J.P. Morgan spokesman said.
Barry R. Goldsmith, NASD's executive vice president for enforcement, responded: "Both sides knew what was going on. . . . This was a joint venture that proved to be profitable to the investors as well as the firm. . . . You can't do that. It is a violation of NASD rules and federal securities law."
NASD cited a pattern of large commissions on IPO days as well as e-mails such as one in which a sales broker wrote to a senior syndicate manager, saying that a certain customer has a "consistent pattern of rewarding the firm with commissions when they are given [IPO] stock and I anticipate they will do the same here."