«UNITED STATES OF AMERICA Before the SECURITIES AND EXCHANGE COMMISSION INVESTMENT ADVISERS ACT OF 1940 Release No. 2525 / June 22, 2006 ...»
UNITED STATES OF AMERICA
SECURITIES AND EXCHANGE COMMISSION
INVESTMENT ADVISERS ACT OF 1940
Release No. 2525 / June 22, 2006
File No. 3-12341
In the Matter of : ORDER INSTITUTING PUBLIC ADMINISTRATIVE
: AND CEASE-AND-DESIST PROCEEDINGS,
WEISS RESEARCH, INC., : MAKING FINDINGS, AND IMPOSING REMEDIAL
MARTIN WEISS, AND : SANCTIONS AND A CEASE-AND-DESIST ORDER: PURSUANT TO SECTIONS 203(e), 203(f), AND 203(k)
LAWRENCE EDELSON: OF THE INVESTMENT ADVISERS ACT OF 1940 :
The Securities and Exchange Commission (“Commission”) deems it appropriate and in the public interest that public administrative and cease-and-desist proceedings be, and hereby are, instituted pursuant to Sections 203(e) and 203(k) of the Investment Advisers Act of 1940 (“Advisers Act”) against Weiss Research, Inc., and pursuant to Sections 203(f) and 203(k) of the Advisers Act against Martin Weiss and Lawrence Edelson (“Edelson”) (collectively “Respondents”).
In anticipation of the institution of these proceedings, Respondents have submitted individual Offers of Settlement (the “Offers”) which the Commission has determined to accept.
Solely for the purpose of these proceedings and any other proceedings brought by or on behalf of the Commission, or to which the Commission is a party, and without admitting or denying the findings herein, except as to the Commission’s jurisdiction over them and the subject matter of these proceedings, Respondents consent to the entry of this Order Instituting Public Administrative and Cease-and-Desist Proceedings, Making Findings, and Imposing Remedial Sanctions and a Cease-and-Desist Order Pursuant to Sections 203(e), 203(f), and 203(k) of the Investment Advisers Act of 1940 (“Order”), as set forth below.
On the basis of this Order and Respondents’ Offers, the Commission finds that:
1. Weiss Research, Inc. is a privately-held Florida corporation headquartered in Jupiter, Florida. Weiss Research publishes a number of newsletters that provide general commentary about the securities markets. Weiss Research also publishes “premium services” newsletters that, in addition to providing market commentary, recommend specific securities transactions.
Weiss Research is not registered as an investment adviser with either the Commission or any state securities regulator. Weiss Research was registered with the Commission as an investment adviser pursuant to Section 203(a) of the Advisers Act until it withdrew its registration in 1997 according to publicly available records.
2. Martin Weiss, age 58, is a resident of Palm Beach Gardens, Florida. He owns and controls Weiss Research through a corporate entity. Martin Weiss drafted or reviewed many of Weiss Research’s advertisements for its publications.
3. Lawrence Edelson (“Edelson”), age 50, is a resident of Palm Beach Gardens, Florida.
He was employed by Weiss Research from 1996 to January 31, 2003, when he became an independent contractor for Weiss Research. Edelson continues to provide copywriting and editorial services to Weiss Research.
Weiss Research’s Activities
4. Weiss Research is a newsletter publisher that, since approximately the mid-1990s, has published a number of “premium services” newsletters that provide subscribers with specific advice on the purchase or sale of securities. Subscribers to these newsletters receive, in addition to periodic analyses of economic trends and business developments, frequent facsimiles or emails recommending the purchase or sale of specific investments. These facsimiles and e-mails, which Weiss Research characterizes as “simple, plain-English, – sell-this-buy-that – signals,” often only identify the investment and provide verbatim trading language for the subscribers to recite to their brokers. Weiss Research sends trading instructions to its premium services subscribers only when it purports to see an investment opportunity arise. Weiss Research charges its subscribers between $1,000 and $5,000 for annual subscriptions to its premium services. From 2000 to 2004, Weiss Research had a total of approximately 10,000 subscribers to its premium services newsletters.
5. Weiss Research offers several different premium services publications, each of which reflects a different investment strategy. Some focus on stock investments, while others focus on options trading. Currently, Weiss Research offers approximately ten different premium services, including Stock Options Alert, Larry’s Gold Trader, Gold Trader Hotline, Index Options Hotline, and Stock Market Dogs and Darlings.
6. Between at least September 2001 and December 31, 2004 (the “relevant time period”), Weiss Research helped potential subscribers choose the premium service that was best for them. For example, during a portion of the relevant period, Weiss Research provided a questionnaire on its website which inquired about topics such as the subscriber’s age, income, cash holdings, assets, tax status, investment experience, and objectives. After potential subscribers completed the questionnaire, Weiss Research’s website responded with an automated evaluation of the subscriber’s risk profile along with a recommendation of whether Weiss Research’s premium services would be appropriate for that subscriber. Weiss Research also had customer service representatives available to answer questions regarding premium services. In addition to this tool, during the relevant time period, Weiss Research’s advertisements claimed that subscribers would not only receive trading recommendations, but also private telephone numbers and e-mail addresses for contacting Martin Weiss and Edelson directly.
7. Starting in approximately September 2001 and through March 31, 2005, Weiss Research enabled its premium services subscribers to engage in “auto-trading.” Auto-trading was an arrangement in which premium services subscribers requested that Weiss Research send trading instructions directly to their broker-dealers for automatic execution. Weiss Research provided its premium services subscribers with a list of brokerage firms that were willing to enter into auto-trading agreements. Weiss Research received no commissions or fees from the auto-trading broker-dealers or additional fees from auto-trading subscribers. Weiss Research estimates that 25% of its premium services subscribers utilized auto-trading.
8. Subscribers who wished to participate in auto-trading generally opened accounts at and executed auto-trading agreements with one of the broker-dealers from the Weiss Research list. Under the auto-trading agreements, premium services subscribers directed their brokerdealers to execute automatically all transactions recommended in the Weiss Research premium service newsletters without the need for any further instruction or pre-approval from the subscribers.
9. During the relevant time period, Weiss Research advised its premium services subscribers to execute every recommended trade and to avoid altering the trading instructions in order to receive the greatest benefit from Weiss Research’s strategies. According to Weiss Research, auto-trading “eliminate[d] the need for subscribers to manually review and communicate orders to their broker.”
10. Weiss Research worked with certain of the auto-trading broker-dealers for purposes of record keeping and customer service. For example, Weiss Research requested and received from some of the auto-trading broker-dealers copies of trade confirmations with customers’ names and account numbers redacted to verify the prices at which its subscribers’ orders were filled. Further, Weiss Research requested and occasionally received from the broker-dealers the names of their auto-trading customers to verify that only paying subscribers were receiving its trading recommendations.
11. Almost all of Weiss Research’s auto-trading subscribers opened accounts with broker-dealers from the list Weiss Research provided and used those broker-dealers primarily for Weiss Research-recommended trades. As of at least December 31, 2003, Weiss Research’s autotrading subscribers had more than $30,000,000 in assets in their auto-trading brokerage accounts.
Weiss Research stopped facilitating auto-trading for new subscribers on December 31, 2004, and for all subscribers on April 1, 2005.
Weiss Research’s Selective Statements About Profitability
12. During the relevant time period, Weiss Research disseminated advertisements prepared by Martin Weiss, Edelson, and others that gave examples of the profits those subscribers who followed the recommendations in Weiss Research’s premium services newsletters could earn. These solicitations were designed to attract new subscribers to Weiss Research’s premium services and persuade existing subscribers to subscribe to additional premium services. These advertisements, however, selectively highlighted profitable trades, omitted specific references to unprofitable trades, and presented an unrealistic picture of Weiss Research’s investment success.
13. Weiss Research, in promotional materials prepared by Martin Weiss, Edelson, and others, sometimes used selective, outdated, and/or hypothetical examples of specific returns that subscribers might have realized on individual trades had they followed Weiss Research’s recommendations, without advising that the overall return was or might not be profitable. For example, Weiss Research, in promotional materials disseminated until July 2003, claimed that subscribers “who followed our recommendations scooped up 400% profits,” and also “bagged profits like 400%... 39%... 217%... 100%... 374%... 66%... 171%... 222%.” In other advertisements, Edelson told potential subscribers, “I cannot guarantee profits. This is a speculative service for your speculative money. But as you can see from the penny gold shares I’m eyeing right now, it’s not an understatement when I say you could make back the cost of the subscription fee 30...40...even 50 times over.” Because this publication carried a maximum subscription rate of $5,000 per year, this claim indicated that subscribers could profit by as much as $250,000 by following Weiss Research’s recommendations.
14. The overall performance of Weiss Research’s premium services did not support these profit claims. In fact, during the relevant time period, many subscribers who followed each Weiss Research trading recommendation – as Weiss Research encouraged its subscribers to do – experienced overall returns that were substantially lower than Weiss Research’s profit examples and most actually lost money. Although Weiss Research disclosed to subscribers that losses are possible, it did not include information on specific losing trades or disclose that, for the most part, its premium services newsletters had not been profitable for subscribers.
15. Weiss Research maintained internal performance records which noted every trade Weiss Research recommended and the hypothetical profit or loss an investor would have experienced if he or she had followed Weiss Research’s recommendations. Weiss Research did not make these performance records available to subscribers or potential subscribers. These performance records demonstrate that, during the relevant time period, subscribers to most of Weiss Research’s premium services, who followed Weiss Research’s recommendations without deviation, would have lost money. Subscribers to the few profitable services would have realized overall gains that were well below the profits from individual trades represented in Weiss Research’s advertisements.
16. For one of its premium services, Weiss Research also made claims in 2004 about its overall trading strategy that were inconsistent with actual results. In its “Operating Manual” provided to new subscribers, Weiss Research claimed that its “proprietary SIX-STEP option selection process has a proven track record of finding the best profit opportunities in up AND down markets.” In reality, this particular premium service had generated an overall loss for subscribers since its inception.
17. Weiss Research’s selective use of profitable trades and omission of information about losing trades in its advertisements created an impression that subscribers to its premium services would consistently realize large profits overall if they followed Weiss Research’s recommendations.
Weiss Research’s Claims About Edelson’s Involvement
18. Weiss Research, in advertisements and other materials prepared or reviewed by Martin Weiss and Edelson, represented to existing and potential premium services subscribers that they would receive expert trading advice from Edelson and advertised his decades of experience and “uncanny” ability to pick profitable trades. In reality, Edelson was not actually involved in selecting the specific recommendations during a portion of the relevant time period.
The recommended trades were selected without Edelson’s knowledge by other Weiss Research employees with little or no specific experience in the particular markets at issue.
19. Weiss Research’s claims about the profitability and performance history of its premium services publications, and Edelson’s involvement in the trading recommendations of certain publications, were significant factors in subscribers’ decisions to purchase Weiss Research’s premium service publications.
C. Legal Discussion Weiss Research Operated as an “Investment Adviser”