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Auction Rate Securities Still Failing to provide Liquidity Solution for Large Investors

2008 marked many memorable controversies in the financial world. From Bernie Madoffs $50 billion ponzi scheme to the crash of the financial markets, and let’s not forget the collapse of the auction-rate securities (ARS) market. As a result, individual and institutional investors of ARS have now found themselves entangled in a financial nightmare.

For investors who’ve been stuck holding illiquid auction-rate securities since February 2008, the likelihood that regulators will find a solution to their dilemma anytime soon is remote. Even though some of Wall Street’s biggest firms have bought back more than $60 billion of their clients’ securities, another $135 billion of the bonds still remain frozen.

As reported Dec. 31, 2008 by the, the illiquidity status of auction-rate securities is hitting small businesses especially hard. Vicor Corp., which makes power systems for electronics, is one of those businesses. The company invested nearly $40 million in auction-rate securities before the market’s collapse in February. At the time, the company’s management thought the bonds were safe and liquid investments. Now, the earliest that Vicor can expect to see some of its auction-rate money is 2010.

UBS is one of the firms that sold Vicor the auction bonds, and it has pledged to buy back about $18 million worth of the securities beginning in June 2010. However, Vicor also bought another $20 million of auction securities from Bank of America, which has yet to offer any kind of buy-back program to Vicor and other large institutional and corporate holders of auction-rate securities.

Suffering from the same terrible fate is another company named Tufts Health Plan, who lost a huge chunk of its money that was tied up in illiquid auction-rate securities The Massachusetts-based health care provider has nearly half of its total cash holdings – approximately $30 million – in auctionrate securities at Citigroup. So far, Citigroup hasn’t announced any plans to help Tufts get its money back.