Since the earliest days of the subprime litigation wave, one of the recurring questions has been whether the wave would spread beyond the financial sector. The question remains, but allegations in a new securities lawsuit suggest that circumstances arising from the subprime crisis are affecting a diverse variety of companies, and by extension the claims asserted against them.


According to their press release (here), on September 16, 2008, plaintiffs’ counsel filed a securities class action lawsuit in the United States District Court for the Southern District of California against NextWave Wireless and certain of its directors and officers. NextWave is a mobile broadband and multimedia technology company that develops, produces and markets mobile multimedia and wireless broadband products. A copy of the complaint can be found here.


According to the press release, the complaint alleges that:


Defendants issued materially false and misleading statements regarding the Company’s business and financial results. As a result of defendants’ false statements, NextWave stock traded at artificially inflated prices during the Class Period, reaching as high as $10.10 per share in June 2007.


On August 7, 2008, after the market closed, Nextwave issued its second quarter 2008 financial results, announcing it only had $71.1 million in cash and similar instruments available as of June 30, 2008 and, unless it raised money, its cash would run out at the beginning of October 2008. As a result, the Company was seeking financing that would give the Company enough money to operate through June 2009. On this news, NextWave’s stock fell $1.90 per share to close at $0.95 per share, a one-day decline of 67%.


According to the complaint, the true facts, which were known by the defendants but concealed from the investing public during the Class Period, were as follows: (a) NextWave did not have adequate sources of liquidity to continue operations as it executed its growth strategy and continued making aggressive worldwide acquisitions; (b) defendants had no reasonable basis to make favorable statements that the Company’s WiMAX semiconductor products would be available for commercial sale in the first half of 2008; (c) NextWave’s growth and acquisition strategy was not financially successful and did not provide the basis for continued growth or financial success because it was straining NextWave’s fragile liquidity position and NextWave did not have the financial resources to continue to operate its world-wide operations through the end of 2008; (d) NextWave failed to timely disclose that it had invested all of its marketable securities in extremely high-risk and illiquid auction rate securities; and (e) NextWave’s ability to continue as a going concern was seriously in question by reason of the facts alleged in subparagraphs (a)-(d) above.


The most interesting part about these allegations to me is the reference to the company’s investment in auction rate securities. The complaint itself further alleges with respect to these "extremely high-risk and illiquid auction rate securities" that NextWave "had misrepresented these investments as marketable securities on its balance sheet included in its financial statements disseminated in its Form 10-K and 10-Q and press release."


There have of course been many prior lawsuits against investment banks and broker-dealers in which it is alleged that the financial institutions misrepresented the risks of auction rate securities. But this new lawsuit against NextWave represents the first instance of which I am aware in which an auction rate investor has been sued for failing to disclose its exposure to auction rate securities investments. Obviously, there are a lot of other allegations in the lawsuit, but the auction rate investments allegations are an important part of the complaint and, if nothing else, are noteworthy.


The allegations about the company’s alleged balance sheet misclassification of its auction rate investments is of particular concern. Many companies (and other entities) hold auction rate securities investments, and all of these entities have been struggling both with valuation issues and with balance sheet classification issues. These classification and disclosure issues affect not just auction rate related investments but subprime and other mortgage-backed investments as well. At least theoretically, plaintiffs’ lawyers could allege similar investment disclosure and asset classification issues in connection with these companies.


Perhaps I am getting ahead of myself, but I also wonder whether similar "failure to disclose investment exposure" allegations might be alleged against companies that will be reporting significant write-downs in their holdings of securities of, for example, Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac, Lehman Brothers, and AIG. Admittedly, this may be a far-fetched possibility at this point. But some companies’ write-downs of their investments in those assets could be material, which in turn could affect the reporting companies’ own stock market valuations. If the impact is significant, angry investors might consider their litigation alternatives.


Another Credit Crisis Lawsuit: There was also a more conventional credit crisis lawsuit filed today. According to the plaintiffs’ counsel’s September 16, 2008 press release (here), plaintiffs have filed a securities class action lawsuit against BankUnited Financial Corp. and certain of its directors and officers. A copy of the complaint can be found here.


According to the press release, the complaint alleges that


Defendants made false and misleading statements about BankUnited. Specifically, defendants misrepresented: (a) the losses the Company was likely to suffer due to BankUnited’s poor underwriting standards, which losses would occur once interest rates reset on the billions of dollars of pay-option arms (adjustable rate mortgages where borrowers had the ability to choose their payment amount during the initial period of the loan); (b) BankUnited’s sketchy appraisal process, which permitted borrowers to obtain mortgages in excess of their ability to pay and in excess of the value of the underlying property; and (c) BankUnited’s policies with regard to "piggy-back" loans, which are essentially second mortgages made at the time a home is purchased to fund a down payment.


The BankUnited lawsuit is the latest to raise allegations involving Option ARM mortgages, which I have discussed in prior posts, most recently here.


Run the Numbers: Many readers know that I have been tracking subprime and credit crisis-related securities lawsuits. My running tally can be accessed here. As time has gone by, definitional issues have become increasingly challenging. The NextWave lawsuit may present the most significant definitional challenge to date, because the auction rate investment allegations arguably are a peripheral part of the complaint.


I could go either way on this one, but after some thought, I have decided to include the NextWave lawsuit in my count, simply due to the fact that the company’s financial problems apparently were due in part to its investments in auction rate securities. Reasonable minds could differ on whether or not to include the lawsuit.


But with the addition of the NextWave and BankUnited lawsuits, the current tally of subprime and credit crisis-related lawsuits now stands at 114, of which 74 have been filed in 2008.


Dear Bob, you might not remember me, but I used to work at AIG: If you have not yet seen it, you must read the September 16, 2008 letter (here) that Maurice "Hank" Greenberg, AIG’s former Chairman and CEO and current Chairman and CEO of C.V. Starr, to now-former AIG Chairman and CEO Robert Willumstad.


I can’t imagine why Greenberg thinks Willumstad might have been concerned that Greenberg would "overshadow" him. Willumstad undoubtedly was reassured that, although Greenberg did feel compelled to note "you and the Board have presided over the virtual destruction of shareholder value built up over 35 years," it was not Greenberg’s "intention to point fingers or be critical."


Hat tip to the Wall Street Journal for the link.