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How The Brokerages Misled Customers On Auction Rate Securities

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A key question in the liability of brokerages in the failure of the auctions for auction rate securities is what customers were told about the risks of the products they bought. The brokerages now claim they properly warned customers about the products, and that they never considered them cash or cash equivalent. Most individual brokers we've spoken to off the record say that this is very inaccurate, and every retail customer we've spoken to (including some who are friends and family of DealBreaker editors) say they bought these securities with the understanding that they were "highly liquid" or "cash equivalents."
So what did the brokerages tell retail customers? There were lots of disclosure documents that say a variety of confusing things but almost none of them reveal the risk of systemic and perhaps permanent auction failures for the auction rate preferred securities that pay low interest rates even after auction failure. And, as the screen shot of a ARPS customer online account above reveals, the brokerages did, in fact, take actions that encouraged customers to regard the ARPS as cash. This account comes from a Merrill Lynch customer account. (Click on image for a bigger version.)