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Wells Fargo Ordered to Buy Back $94 Million of Auction-Rate Debt

Wells Fargo & Co., the fourth-biggest U.S. bank by assets, was ordered by an arbitration panel to buy back about $94 million of auction-rate securities from investors.

Wells Fargo Advisors LLC, the San Francisco-based bank’s brokerage unit, must pay par value to investors including James S. Cohen and a family trust for the securities, the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority arbitration panel said in a decision dated Dec. 24. The investors’ request for $20 million in damages was denied.

The $330 billion worldwide market for auction-rate securities collapsed during the 2008 credit crunch as potential buyers vanished. The crisis sparked regulatory investigations and lawsuits alleging that underwriters and brokers had falsely promoted auction-rate securities as safe, cash-like investments.

Tony Mattera, a Wells Fargo spokesman, said the bank is disappointed by the decision and is reviewing it. William Dahill, an attorney for Cohen at Wollmuth Maher & Deutsch LLP in New York, didn’t immediately respond to messages seeking comment. The Wall Street Journal reported on the arbitration award earlier today.

Auction-rate securities are municipal bonds, corporate bonds and preferred stocks whose rates of return are periodically reset through auctions.

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