Banking Agencies Propose Updating Calculation of Derivative Contract Exposure Amounts

The Comptroller of the Currency, the Federal Reserve Board and the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation proposed allowing “advanced-approaches” banking organizations (i.e., those with $250 billion or more in total consolidated assets, or $10 billion or more in on-balance sheet foreign exposure) to use an alternative approach for calculating derivative exposures under regulatory capital rules.

The proposed approach – the standardized approach for counterparty credit risk (“SA-CCR”) – would replace the current exposure methodology (“CEM”). If adopted, the proposal would (i) require advanced-approaches banking organizations to use SA-CCR to calculate their standardized total risk-weighted assets by July 1, 2020 and (ii) allow non-advanced-approaches banking organizations to use either CEM or SA-CCR when calculating standardized total risk-weighted assets.

In addition, the proposal would require advanced-approaches banking organizations to use SA-CCR to determine the exposure amount of derivative contracts for calculating total leverage exposure and would amend the cleared transactions framework to include SA-CCR.

Comments on the proposal must be submitted within 60 days from the date of publication in the Federal Register.

SEC Commissioner Offers Recommendations on Implementing G20 Swaps Reforms

SEC Commissioner Hester M. Peirce offered recommendations to regulators on implementing G20 swaps reforms. Ms. Peirce said that the G20 reforms were not foolproof and encouraged regulators to exercise “healthy skepticism” when implementing them.

In remarks before the International Regulators Conference, Ms. Peirce said that “poorly designed regulations” played a role in the 2007-2009 financial crisis. She cited the “favorable regulatory treatment given to highly rated securitization tranches.” She stated that, among other things:

  • “central clearing is not a panacea” and brings its own risks;
  • regulators should attend to market feedback and market professionals’ knowledge when considering rulemaking; and
  • regulators must consider more flexible regulation rather than a one-size-fits-all approach.

In implementing the regulatory framework for security-based swaps, Ms. Peirce advised, the SEC should:

  • reexamine proposed and final regulations to ensure that the regulatory framework serves its intended purpose;
  • devise clear rules and provide guidance instead of relying on staff no-action letters;
  • streamline regulatory processes so that the agency can promptly respond when implementation issues arise;
  • ensure that the compliance periods for rules provide the market with sufficient time to prepare for and then comply with requirements; and
  • provide that multiple rule sets do not overly burden market participants.

In addition, Ms. Peirce advocated for regulatory cross-border deference as international regulators develop their framework for security-based swaps. According to Ms. Peirce, regulatory cross-border deference will ensure that the global over-the-counter derivatives market can serve the risk management needs of companies throughout economies.

Lofchie Comment: Commissioner Peirce’s call for the regulators to be self-critical is welcome. Likewise are her suggestions that both the causes of the financial crisis and the regulatory responses to it be critically re-examined.

There are, however, important challenges to her stated goals. Is it possible to have multiple regulators both be open to ongoing regulatory review and revision and, at the same time, to conform their own rules? It is certainly good news that the CFTC and the SEC are cooperating now; but will the agencies be able to sustain such cooperation over the long term?

CFTC Commissioner Advocates for International Regulatory Cooperation

CFTC Commissioner Rostin Behnam advocated for international regulatory cooperation to address the risks posed by benchmark reforms, margin, Brexit, cross-border regulation and FinTech. In a speech at the 2018 ISDA Annual Japan Conference, Mr. Benham weighed in on the following:

  • Benchmark Reforms. Mr. Behnam emphasized the importance for global regulatory authorities to work with one another as well as private sector entities to facilitate the transition away from various inter-bank offer rates. He praised the work being done by, among others, the UK FCA, Japanese regulators, and, in the United States, the public-private partnership of the Alternative Reference Rates Committee (“ARRC”). Mr. Behnam encouraged market participants to examine LIBOR-fallback language in existing contracts and highlighted the work of market participants and regulators to develop alternative contract language to facilitate this approach. He also broadly encouraged participants to transact in SOFR-referenced derivatives markets, noting that a move to SOFR could help avoid the consequences of “zombie LIBOR.” Mr. Behnam noted that, while he is aware of “some preference” for continuing with LIBOR, regulators are generally “anticipating a clear and certain break from LIBOR.” He also highlighted the work of the CFTC Market Risk Advisory Committee, in particular its Interest Rate Benchmark Reform Subcommittee. He expressed his hope that the subcommittee would “complement” the work of the ARRC.
  • Initial Margin. Mr. Behnam stated that the full phase-in of initial margin requirements in 2020 raises “a number of potential challenges for the marketplace.” He stressed that the CFTC and U.S. bank regulators are listening to concerns of market participants about 2020 implementation and are gathering information to understand the situation to “avoid catastrophe.” He highlighted the work and recommendations of, among others, ISDA and SIFMA, and while not committing to their suggested approach, said that the CFTC and other regulators would “bundle” efforts toward “appropriate recommendations and guidance.”
  • Cross-Border Regulation. Mr. Behnam said that CFTC Chair J. Christopher Giancarlo’s recent whitepaper announcing his vision of the agency’s approach to applying its statutory authority over swaps activities to cross-border activities merely reflected his ambitions and views. Mr. Behnam distanced himself from the white paper, stating that he thinks the CFTC should build its internal consensus in accordance with formal, statutory procedures while considering the needs of and affording deference towards global regulators. He noted that the timing for turning the white paper proposals into formal rulemaking is “unclear,” and noted that Mr. Giancarlo had suggested that it would be “several quarters” for such a sea change to progress. Mr. Behnam said that the sufficient time was needed, expressing his view that aspects of Mr. Giancarlo’s proposals would depart from CFTC policy and “may even conflict with our governing statute and prior [CFTC] interpretations thereof or lead to gaps in certain protections afforded to U.S. persons transacting overseas.”
  • FinTech. Mr. Behnam urged regulators to approach FinTech with “an open mind and a healthy respect for [regulators’] role in the markets.”

Lofchie Comment: Commissioner Benham’s remarks included some pointed criticisms of CFTC Chair Giancarlo. In reference to the White Paper that Chair Giancarlo published on cross-border regulation, Mr. Benham asserted that CFTC commissioners ought to act only through formal commission action, such as the issuance of concept releases or formal rule makings.

There is nothing in the law that limits the ability of CFTC commissioners to take individual public stands on regulatory issues. If it were improper for a CFTC Commissioner to express a personal view, then it would be not only improper to publish a White Paper, but also improper for a commissioner to deliver a speech or other public statement that has not been ratified by the entire commission. Both Commissioner Benham’s speech and Chair Giancarlo’s White Paper present the standard disclaimer that the views expressed are those of the author and not the views of the Commission or staff.

Financial regulation benefits tremendously from debates about policy that are backed by views as to market behavior and facts. Commissioner Benham’s disagreement with Chair Giancarlo approach ought to focus on the substance of the Chair’s well considered views, and not with its existence.

SEC Director of Investment Management Outlines Policy Initiatives

In testimony before the U.S. House Committee on Financial Services, SEC Division of Investment Management (the “Division”) Director Dalia Blass outlined the following underlying aims of the Division: (i) improve the retail investor experience; (ii) modernize the regulatory framework and engagement; and (iii) utilize resources efficiently. The Division is working on the following rule proposals or potential rulemaking areas:

  • propose Regulation Best Interest;
  • modernize fund disclosure both by reviewing the content of disclosures and by allowing funds to provide shareholder reports online;
  • improve disclosure as to variable annuities;
  • finalize a rule for the issuance of exchange-traded funds (“ETFs”), so that the SEC exemptive process can more efficiently process exemptive relief requests for ETFs not within the scope of the rule;
  • reduce obstacles to publishing research on investment funds in compliance with the Fair Access to Investment Research Act of 2017;
  • harmonize and improve registration and reporting requirements for business development companies and closed-end registered investment companies (“RICs”);
  • regulate the use of derivatives by RICs;
  • publish guidance regarding valuation procedures;
  • update investment adviser marketing rules;
  • improve investment company liquidity disclosures;
  • support fund innovation as to cryptocurrency-related holdings; and
  • review the proxy process.

Lofchie Comment: While the SEC talks the talk as to facilitating innovation, walking the walk is far more difficult. ETFs, for example, have become a significant product in the financial markets, and yet the SEC is only now considering a rule to routinize their issuance. As to cryptocurrency funds, one really has to question whether the SEC wants them to go forward, or is hoping that interest in the product is a bubble that will pop before the SEC is pushed to act. Compare SEC Rejects Another Nine Proposed Bitcoin ETFs with SEC Commissioner Peirce Calls on SEC to Embrace Innovation and Allow Cryptocurrency Risk-Taking.

Federal Register: CFTC Proposes to Simplify Exemptive Process for Foreign Clearing Organizations

The CFTC proposed amendments to codify policies and procedures for a non-U.S. clearing organization to obtain an exemption from registration as a derivatives clearing organization (“DCO”). The amendments were published in the Federal Register. Comments must be received on or before October 12, 2018.

As previously covered, the proposal would amend CFTC Parts 39 and 140, which address procedures for registration as a DCO. The proposal would (i) establish a new rule, CFTC Rule 39.6, that would create a regulatory framework for exempting non-U.S. clearing organizations from DCO registration with the CFTC, (ii) mandate clearing organizations to “observe the principles for financial market infrastructures in all material respects and be in good regulatory standing in its home country” under proposed regulation 39.6(a)(1)(ii), and (iii) obligate that a memorandum of understanding satisfactory to the CFTC be in effect between the agency and the clearing organization’s home country regulator.

CFTC Chair Evaluates Challenges Facing Derivatives Market

CFTC Chair J. Christopher Giancarlo assessed the challenges facing the CFTC and the United States in the global competition as a center for the derivatives markets. In an address at the West Texas Legislative Summit, Mr. Giancarlo warned that the CFTC must be proactive if the United States is to retain its preeminent position in the global financial markets.

Mr. Giancarlo described the significance of the commodity derivatives market and its impact on pricing. He pointed out that even those who do not participate in such markets are still affected and that 90 percent of companies in the Fortune 500 use derivatives to hedge. He highlighted the challenge of global competition, particularly China’s domestic futures market, specifically alluding to the country’s recent opening to international participation, which has “competitive implications” for the United States. To maintain “world leadership,” he said, it is urgent that derivatives markets in the United States maintain “openness, orderliness, and liquidity” to sustain global economic leadership.

Mr. Giancarlo emphasized the importance of establishing a regulatory framework that is “ahead of the curve,” and advocated for the “SMART-REG” approach he first outlined in 2014. This approach, he said, is intended to “solve problems – real problems, not invented ones.”

Mr. Giancarlo asserted that under his leadership, the CFTC has “emphasized greater care and precision in rule drafting, more thorough econometric analysis, and a reduced docket of new rules and regulations to be absorbed by market participants.”

Lofchie Comment: Chairman Giancarlo went beyond a discussion of the derivatives markets to discuss the underlying commodities markets. In explaining the success of the shale revolution in the United States, he described a “combination of American technological innovation, North American geology, U.S. property law, the skilled and entrepreneurial American workforce and our dynamic capitalist economy.” Chairman Giancarlo continues to be a voice of clarity and an educator in an often confused debate about the value of markets and the limits of governments as providers of services and products.

It is not so long ago that the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics collapsed in economic failure. That collapse seemed as if it would put an end to any debate as to the benefits of government ownership of the means of production. But today that debate is revived, or at least there are new advocates for it. To the extent that these advocates are taken seriously, it is important that advocates for private enterprise and for market competition not be shy to point out successes, face criticisms and to make comparisons as to the successes of different systems.

CFTC Leaders Respond to Criticisms Raised in Vatican Document

CFTC Chair J. Christopher Giancarlo and CFTC Chief Economist Bruce Tuckman responded to criticisms outlined in the Bollettino, a document released by the Vatican that “lays out ethical foundations to govern economic and financial systems.” The CFTC leaders defended derivatives and credit default swaps (“CDS”), which were subject to particular scrutiny in the document.

Mr. Giancarlo and Mr. Tuckman emphasized that it is important to recognize the “social utility” of derivatives. They asserted that derivatives products help to “moderate price, supply and other commercial risks” which can facilitate economic growth and prosperity. Additionally, they highlighted that derivatives can be tools for risk transfer and mitigation, particularly in agricultural communities.

Notably, Mr. Giancarlo and Mr. Tuckman argued that in order for agricultural exporting nations to help “feed the world’s growing population,” they must have support from derivatives markets. They added that derivatives markets play a significant role in aiding return on capital, which they said supports investments in various farming technologies that are necessary to meet the global food demand.

Mr. Giancarlo and Mr. Tuckman focused on three specific issues related to CDS: (i) information asymmetries, (ii) speculation and (iii) profiting from the suffering of others. They argued that information asymmetry is an inherent aspect of a healthy financial system and that speculation contributes to the “generation of information and the dissemination of that information to the public at large.” They stated that proper uses of CDS “require a counterparty on the other side of the trade,” and speculators fulfill this role. Mr. Giancarlo and Mr. Tuckman further asserted that research shows that CDS trading on sovereign bonds (i) “lowers countries’ cost of debt and increases the information efficiency of their bond markets” and (ii) acts as “an important check on poor fiscal management.”

Mr. Giancarlo and Mr. Tuckman concluded that derivatives “help stabilize the price of global commodities and financial rates in a manner that is particularly beneficial to the world’s poor.”

Lofchie Comment: It is important that participants in our capitalist system be willing to step up to its defense, educate as to its social benefits and engage with its well-intentioned critics.

CFTC Issues Guidance to Exchanges and Clearinghouses on Virtual Currency Derivative Product Listings

The CFTC issued staff guidance to exchanges and clearinghouses to “ensure proper surveillance and oversight of the trading and clearing of virtual currency contracts.”

The CFTC stated that virtual currencies “are unlike any commodity that the CFTC has dealt with in the past.” The CFTC cited heightened risks and a lack of transparency and susceptibility to market manipulation as causes for concern about how virtual currency derivative products may impact the commodities markets. As a result of these risks, the CFTC identified several areas that demand greater attention from designated contract markets (“DCMs”), swap execution facilities (“SEFs”) and derivatives clearing organizations (“DCOs”). As described in the advisory, the CFTC set the following expectations:

  • Enhanced Market Surveillance. The CFTC expects exchanges to enter into information-sharing agreements with spot markets for virtual currency products in order to facilitate access to trade data. The CFTC heightened its expectations for the monitoring of “relevant data feeds” from the underlying spot markets. The CFTC expects that exchange-listed virtual currency contracts should be based on spot markets that adhere to federal anti-money laundering regulations.
  • Close Coordination with the CFTC Surveillance Group. The CFTC expects exchanges to regularly coordinate with CFTC staff regarding the surveillance of virtual currency derivative contracts, provide certain trade data to CFTC staff upon request, and coordinate with staff regarding the timing of new virtual currency derivative listings.
  • Large Trader Reporting. The CFTC recommends that exchanges implement a large trader reporting threshold for virtual currency derivative contracts at “five bitcoin” or the “equivalent for other virtual currencies.” This threshold could help to better identify traders who are engaging in virtual currency-related market manipulation.
  • Outreach to Members and Market Participants. The CFTC expects exchanges to “meaningfully” engage with stakeholders in the lead-up to new virtual currency derivative product listings. This includes the expectation that exchanges will solicit comments from stakeholders not only on contract terms and vulnerability to market manipulation, but also on the impact on clearing members and futures commission merchants. The CFTC also expects exchanges to share feedback from market participants with CFTC staff.
  • DCO Risk Management. The CFTC expects a DCO to submit to CFTC staff proposed initial margin requirements and other relevant information concerning a proposed virtual currency derivative contracts. CFTC staff also expects DCOs to explain their consideration of stakeholders’ views in approving proposed contracts.

The CFTC explained that in the event that a self-certified virtual currency derivative contract raises concerns, the CFTC will provide a notice to the exchanges regarding its concerns as to compliance with the CEA and CFTC rules.

CFTC Commissioners Have Different Wish Lists

In separate remarks at the FIA 40th Annual Law and Compliance Conference, CFTC Commissioners Brian Quintenz and Rostin Behnam described their respective regulatory priorities in contrasting terms.

Commissioner Quintenz advocated for concerted efforts to accomplish harmonization between SEC and CFTC swap regulation. According to Mr. Quintenz, firms that register as both swap dealers and securities-based swap dealers with the CFTC and the SEC, respectively, should be subject to different regulatory requirements only when there are “irreconcilable difference[s] between the securities and derivatives markets.” Further, Mr. Quintenz emphasized the importance of pushing for full harmonization where possible, noting that small differences often lead to a large cost for compliance. As to CPO/CTA registration for registered investment advisers, SEFs and data reporting, Mr. Quintenz argued that deference to the rules of the other agency may be appropriate. A firm engaged in trading and reporting swaps and security-based swaps should follow “one set of rules, instead of two,” he argued.

While Commissioner Behnam also spoke about SEC/CFTC harmonization, he emphasized more broadly that CFTC Chair J. Christopher Giancarlo’s agenda for regulatory change was overly ambitious. In Mr. Behnam’s words:

We’ve been waiting for deliverables in terms of Project KISS, Reg. Reform 2.0, and CFTC and SEC harmonization, and anticipating resolution of unfinished business in terms of the de Minimis exception, position limits, capital, and Regulation Automated Trading (Reg. AT). Since that time, we’ve received the Chairman’s white paper on “Swaps Regulation Version 2.0,” which purports to set the agenda for Reg. Reform 2.0. While I appreciate the Chairman’s transparency in setting forth his vision and, in his words, starting a dialogue, I can’t help but note that there is already a process for dialogue with market participants regarding potential rule changes – the notice and comment process for proposed rules under the Administrative Procedure Act. Adding another white paper just pushes back the timeline for getting to actual deliverables. It adds another step to the process. It also takes a lot of staff time when budgets are tight.

Commissioner Behnam went on to say: “If [CFTC] staff is directed to focus on reworking the broader framework for the swaps market in lieu of fine-tuning and building on the progress we’ve made since 2008, we risk creating greater uncertainty and impracticability at increased costs to market participants.”

Lofchie Comment: While one can be sympathetic to Commissioner Behnam’s skepticism of the need for regulatory change, and that such change itself can be costly, sufficient time has now passed since Dodd-Frank was adopted to evaluate many of the rule changes. Many of the rule changes have not only not produced the suggested benefits, but have had a negative impact on liquidity, have increased market fragmentation, and have materially increased costs to end users. Particularly given the tremendous speed with which the swap rules were adopted, and given that there is now sufficient data to evaluate at least some of the results that they have produced, there seems a great benefit in the rethinking suggested by Chair Giancarlo and CFTC Chief Economist Bruce Tuckman. It should also be noted that many of the observations made by Chair Giancarlo had also been raised by him when he was a Commissioner, but had not received the attention that they merited or the discussion that they deserved and now hopefully will receive.

CFTC Chair Unveils New Measure of Swaps Market Size and Risk

CFTC Chair J. Christopher Giancarlo introduced a new measure for the size of the rates segment of the swaps markets and called for a new “paradigm” in describing that market.

In remarks delivered at Derivcon 2018 in New York, Mr. Giancarlo characterized notional value as a highly flawed metric for the size and risk of the swap market, and emphasized that reliance on the metric for regulatory purposes leads to poor allocation of public resources. In particular, he noted that the common use of notional amounts in public discourse without normalizing for duration or offsetting positions creates an impression that the market is much larger than it is in actual risk terms, and has led to misguided policy decisions.

Mr. Giancarlo unveiled a new metric for measuring the size of the rate swap markets developed by CFTC Chief Economist Bruce Tuckman. This measure would evaluate market size based on entity-netted notionals (“ENNs”), which are produced by converting notional amounts for rate swaps of all durations into five-year risk equivalents, and then netting long and short exposures in the same currency between pairs of market participants. Mr. Giancarlo explained that ENNs are designed to describe the amount of market risk transfer in the interest rate swaps markets. Using this method of calculating risk, the aggregate risk transfer amount is sized much more consistently with other major markets, such as the debt market, and can be evaluated accordingly.

Mr. Giancarlo encouraged consideration of the ENN including its potential uses for regulation, but noted that his intention was not to come up with a specific alternative to the current swap dealer de minimis calculation methodology. He also emphasized that ENNs are not intended to quantify credit or operational risk.

Lofchie Comment: Query whether the new measure will be adopted by those who believe that there is a political advantage in exaggerating the size of the swaps market? It sounds a lot more ominous to describe a swap as having a billion dollar notional than it does to describe it as having a four dollars and thirty-seven cents market value.