European Commission Recognizes U.S. DCMs and SEFs as “Equivalent”

The European Commission (“EC”) announced a decision recognizing certain CFTC-regulated DCMs and SEFs as “eligible for compliance” with EU trading obligations for certain derivatives. CFTC staff recommended that the CFTC adopt a similar order exempting EU-authorized trading facilities from U.S. registration requirements. The decisions follow the recent agreement between the CFTC and EC to adopt a “common approach” to derivatives trading on certain platforms.

According to the EC, this recognition will allow for EU counterparties to trade derivatives on CFTC-authorized designated contract markets (“DCMs”) and swap execution facilities (“SEFs”) based in the United States. In accordance with the decision, traders will be able to use U.S. trading platforms for such transactions even as MiFID II (and its derivatives trading obligation) becomes applicable on January 3, 2018. The trading obligation will require certain derivatives transactions to be executed on EU venues or venues designated as equivalent by the EC. The European Commission noted that its decision does not affect the ability of EU counterparties to trade on CFTC-regulated DCMs and SEFs with respect to derivatives that are not subject to the EU trading obligation.

CFTC Chair J. Christopher Giancarlo urged his fellow commissioners to “act expeditiously in approving” an exemptive order for EU trading facilities. CFTC Director of the Division of Market Oversight Amir Zaidi added that the CFTC is “close behind” with its own order.

Lofchie Comment: This is a significant success. CFTC Chair Giancarlo had, at once, both reached out to the Europeans in regard to the mutual acceptance of “comparable regulations” and cautioned the Europeans against imposing regulatory requirements that would disadvantage U.S. financial intermediaries.  See CFTC Chair J. Christopher Giancarlo Criticizes “EU Plan to Invade U.S. Markets.”

CFTC Commissioner Behnam Evaluates Implementation of Derivatives Reforms

Commissioner Rostin Behnam identified four key reform priorities: mandatory clearing, exchange trading of standardized swaps, swap data reporting, and capital and margin requirements for non-centrally cleared swaps.

In remarks at the Georgetown Center for Financial Markets and Policy, Commissioner Behnam expressed support for the “broad policy objectives” in Title VII of Dodd-Frank and said that the CFTC acted as a “leader” in implementing over-the-counter derivatives reforms in the wake of the 2008 financial crisis. He acknowledged that these changes have come with “costs and unintended consequences,” and expressed support for ongoing regulatory adjustments.

Commissioner Behnam identified four key reform priorities:

  • Mandatory clearing of swaps: Commissioner Behnam said that the clearing mandate has been largely successful, but questioned the size and interconnectedness of clearinghouses, and whether the clearing mandate and higher capital and margin requirements for uncleared swaps have “disincentivized risk management.” He said that the CFTC will evaluate the potential systemic effects of the clearing mandate, and that he will seek to bolster regulations to promote a safer clearing ecosystem.
  • Exchange trading of standardized swaps: Mr. Behnam noted the unintended consequences of the CFTC’s trading rules that have caused concerns as to market fragmentation and liquidity.
  • Swap data reporting: Mr. Behnam argued that the CFTC needs to develop requirements that establish “clear parameters” for data collection and submission, including when data must be submitted, as well as what form the data must take. He stressed the need for data set uniformity, both across the CFTC and with international regulators.
  • Capital and margin requirements for non-centrally cleared swaps: Noting that the CFTC has yet to adopt capital requirements for swap dealers, Mr. Behnam urged the CFTC to develop tools to monitor market resiliency, safety and liquidity in times of stress.

Mr. Behnam also highlighted three ongoing issues at the CFTC: enforcement, international cooperation and technology. In each case, he expressed general support for ongoing initiatives. As sponsor of the Market Risk Advisory Committee, Commissioner Behnam said he will engage in a “listening tour” to hear perspectives on risk management from market participants, regulators and other interested parties.

Lofchie Comment: Commissioner Behnam’s first published speech covers a lot of ground, but does not suggest that there are new initiatives that he will spearhead or that there are current initiatives that he opposes. Instead, Mr. Behnam indicates he will be in observation mode for the first part of his tenure.

In many ways, Mr. Behnam’s speech is similar to the speech given by CFTC Chair J. Christopher Giancarlo on Monday. Both Mr. Giancarlo and Mr. Behnam expressed broad support for the policy aims of Title VII of Dodd-Frank while noting a number of ways in which the current derivatives regulatory framework can be upgraded (including a handful of shared takes). One important difference may be that Chair Giancarlo believes that there were substantial problems with the CFTC’s prior rulemakings. Commissioner Benham’s remarks seem to suggest a position closer to those of former CFTC Chair Timothy Massad, who referenced the need only to “fine tune” the CFTC Title VII rules. Chair Massad never conceded the existence of material issues or attempted any significant revisions to existing rules. Given that Commissioner Benham was last in the office of Senator Stabenow (D. from Michigan), it is reasonable to expect that Chair Giancarlo intends a more ambitious clean-up of the CFTC’s rules than former Chair Massad attempted or than Commissioner Benham may be willing to support.

MFA Recommends Greater Harmonization of CFTC/EU Swaps Trading Rules

The Managed Funds Association (“MFA”) published a comparative analysis of U.S. and European Union (“EU”) derivatives trading regimes, and made recommendations for further cross-border harmonization. The MFA found the two regimes to be aligned in many important areas. The MFA identified two areas where harmonization could be improved: (1) the calibration of the transparency regime in the EU, and (2) whether prearranged trading is permitted for instruments subject to the trading obligation in the EU.

The MFA made the following observations and recommendations:

  • Pre-trade transparency/modes of execution: evaluate European Securities and Markets Authority (“ESMA”) “transitional transparency calculations” to ensure that liquidity classifications are appropriate and market participants receive adequate liquidity. The CFTC should consider allowing greater flexibility for execution on swap execution facilities.
  • Prohibition on prearranged trading: ensure that prearranged trading is prohibited by ESMA except for block trades.
  • Post-trade transparency: the length of public reporting delays differs between EU and U.S. regimes; ESMA should continue to evaluate transitional transparency calculations and should consider limitations on the use of the extended deferral program of four weeks.
  • Straight-through processing: given that U.S. and EU rules are substantially similar, monitor to ensure that rules are faithfully implemented by trading venues.
  • Impartial/non-discriminatory access to trading venues: given that U.S. and EU rules are substantially similar, monitor to ensure that rules are faithfully implemented by trading venues.
  • Process for determining the derivatives subject to a trading obligation: the CFTC should consider undertaking greater oversight of the “made-available-to-trade” process.
  • Scope of instruments covered by a trading obligation: instruments subject to regulation under both U.S. and EU regimes are substantially similar.
  • Access to trading venue rulebooks: EU regulators should encourage trading facilities to disclose their rulebooks to market participants.

Lofchie Comment: CFTC Chair Giancarlo favors greater flexibility as to the means by which swaps are executed. Having a buy-side group support this direction should be further proof that the Chair is going in the right direction.

Another recommendation by MFA that is worth strong support (and Congressional amendment of Dodd-Frank) is the “made available to trade” process under which an exchange can effectively force a particular type of swap to be traded on exchange (if that type of swap is centrally cleared). Giving an exchange this type of power, where the exchange may be completely self-interested in its use of this authority, is, to put it politely, a very bad idea. Only the CFTC should have the authority to force any particular type of swap to be traded only on-exchange.

CFTC, EU Make Comparability Determinations on Margin Requirements for Uncleared Swaps

The CFTC approved a comparability determination that European Union (“EU”) margin requirements for uncleared swaps are comparable in outcome to relevant CFTC Regulations. The European Commission announced a similar equivalence decision that the CFTC uncleared margin rules are comparable to the EU’s requirements.

The CFTC determination generally allows swap dealers that comply with the EU margin requirements, in circumstances enumerated in the CFTC Regulation 23.160, to be deemed to be in compliance with CFTC requirements. Such swap dealers would remain subject to CFTC examination and enforcement authority. CFTC Letter 17-22, which extended exemptive relief to certain swap dealers that are subject to both U.S. and European margin requirements for uncleared swaps, is no longer applicable.

In addition, the CFTC announced that the CFTC and the EC have agreed to a “common approach” for certain authorized trading venues. Under the common approach, the CFTC plans to grant relief to certain EU trading venues from the swap execution facility (“SEF”) registration requirement, provided they satisfy the “comparable and comprehensive” standard for exemptive relief under CEA Section 5h(g). The EU would propose a corresponding equivalence decision recognizing CFTC-authorized SEFs and designated contract markets as eligible venues.

CFTC Chair J. Christopher Giancarlo characterized the cooperative efforts as an important step in cross-border harmonization:

“These cross-border measures will provide certainty to market participants. It will ensure that our global markets are not stifled by fragmentation, inefficiencies, and higher costs. Indeed these measures are critical to maintaining the integrity of our swaps markets.”

 

Lofchie Comment: This is a significant step by the CFTC both in improving relationships with the Europeans and in accomplishing Chair Giancarlo’s goals of facilitating the ability of firms to transact globally and undoing the geographic market fragmentation that had resulted from the post Dodd-Frank regulatory regime.  One can guess that the Chair will next turn attention to improving the rules for trading on U.S. swap execution facilities, which will benefit the competitiveness of the United States as a financial center.

Treasury Releases Recommendations for Capital Markets Regulatory Reforms

The U.S. Treasury Department (“Treasury”) released a second report pursuant to President Donald J. Trump’s Executive Order establishing core principles for improving the financial system (see coverage of first report). The new report details plans to reduce burdens of capital markets regulation (see also Fact Sheet on report).

The report recommends supporting and promoting access to capital markets, reducing regulatory costs, making changes to market structure and modifying derivatives regulation to facilitate risk transfer.

In a “Table of Recommendations” (beginning on page 205), Treasury lists proposed recommendations. Some highlights include:

  • Public Companies and IPOs (e.g., decrease the cost of being a public company by eliminating the conflict minerals rule);
  • Challenges for Smaller Public Companies (e.g., increase the level at which a company may be considered “small”);
  • Expanding Access to Capital Through Innovation (e.g., allow accredited investors to invest freely in crowdfunded offerings);
  • Maintaining the Efficacy of Private Markets (e.g., expand the definition of accredited investor);
  • Market Structure and Liquidity, Equities (e.g., allow smaller companies to limit the exchanges on which they trade to facilitate the development of centralized liquidity);
  • Market Structure and Liquidity, Treasuries (e.g., provide greater support for the repo market);
  • Market Structure and Liquidity, Corporate Bonds (e.g., improve liquidity);
  • Securitization and Capital (e.g., simplify capital regulation of banks);
  • Securitization and Liquidity (e.g., treat certain securitizations as liquid assets);
  • Securitization and Risk Retention (e.g., provide exemptions from the risk retention requirements);
  • Securitization and Disclosures (e.g., reduce the number of required reporting fields for registered deals);
  • Derivatives and Harmonization Between the CFTC and SEC (e.g., the SEC should adopt its security-based swap rules);
  • Derivatives and Margin Requirements for Uncleared Swaps  (e.g., there should be exemptions from initial margin requirements between bank affiliates of a bank “consistent with the margin requirements of the CFTC and the corresponding non-US requirements”);
  • Derivatives and CFTC Use of No-Action Letters (e.g., rules should be fixed so it is not necessary to rely on no-action letters);
  • Derivatives and Cross-Border Issues (e.g., the U.S. regulators should work with global regulators on issues such as privacy);
  • Derivatives and Capital Treatment in Support of Central Clearing (e.g., required capital should be reduced on centrally cleared transactions);
  • Derivatives and Swap Dealer De Minimis Threshold (e.g., there should be no reduction in the de minimis threshhold for dealer registration);
  • Derivatives and Definition of Financial Entity (e.g., modify the definition, presumably with the goal of reducing the central clearing requirement);
  • Derivatives and Position Limits (e.g., adopt rules but provide hedging exemptions);
  • Derivatives and SEF Execution Methods and MAT Process (e.g., permit a broader range of trading mechanisms);
  • Derivatives and Swap Data Reporting (e.g., improve standardization of reporting requirements);
  • Financial Market Utilities (e.g., consider providing “Fed access” to certain clearing corporations);
  • Regulatory Structure and Processes, Restoration of Exemptive Authority (e.g., restore the SEC’s and CFTC’s plenary exemptive authority under the statutes that they monitor);
  • Regulatory Structure and Processes, Improving Regulatory Policy Decision Making (e.g., adopt clear rules);
  • Regulatory Structure and Processes, Self-Regulatory Organizations (e.g., better define the roles of the SROs in rulemaking); and
  • Internal Aspects of Capital Market Regulation (e.g., U.S. regulators should seek to reach “outcomes based non discriminatory substituted compliance arrangements” with foreign regulators to mitigate “the effects of regulatory redundancy and conflict”).

Lofchie Comment: The prior Administration viewed financial markets as creators of risk that had to be controlled; this Administration appears to view financial markets as creators of growth that would benefit from decreased controls. This is simply a tremendous difference in perspective and tone.

There will and should be a fair amount of discussion over these many and specific recommendations. One broad recommendation, however, stands out: restoring to both the SEC and the CFTC complete exemptive authority as to the requirements of the statutes that they enforce. Depriving the regulators of this authority in the wake of the Congressional enthusiasm for Dodd-Frank had limited the regulators ability to fix Congressional mistakes and over-reaches in drafting. The prior Administration had simply become so locked into defending Dodd-Frank against any criticism that it had become impossible for the regulators to consider, or even discuss, what aspects of it might be working or not. The new Administration does not bear the burden of justification.

NY Fed Bank President Says It’s Time to Evaluate Post-Crisis Regulatory Regime, Questions Effectiveness of Volcker Rule

Federal Reserve Bank of New York (“NY Fed”) President and CEO William C. Dudley articulated several principles to consider when evaluating the post-financial crisis regulatory regime and raised questions about the effectiveness of the Volcker Rule.

Mr. Dudley stated that the financial crisis exposed flaws in the regulatory framework – in particular, capital and liquidity inadequacies at large financial institutions. He cited “a number of important structural weaknesses that made it vulnerable to stress” including: (i) systemically important firms operating without sufficient capital and liquidity buffers, (ii) risk monitoring, measuring and controlling failures, (iii) significant problems in funding and derivatives markets, and (iv) fundamental defects in the securitization markets. These weaknesses, he noted, were “magnified by the lack of a good resolution process for large, complex financial firms that got into trouble.”

Mr. Dudley argued that while the industry “must resolve to never allow a return to [pre-crisis] conditions,” now is an appropriate time to begin evaluating the changes that were made to the regulatory regime. He articulated three principles to keep in mind for an effective regulatory regime:

  1. “Ensure that all financial institutions that are systemically important have enough capital and liquidity so that their risk of failure is very low, regardless of the economic environment.”
  2. “Have an effective resolution regime that allows such firms to fail without threatening to take down the rest of the nation’s financial system, and without requiring taxpayer support.”
  3. Ensure that the financial system remains resilient to shocks by preserving “the centralized clearing of over-the-counter (OTC) derivatives, better supervision and oversight of key financial market utilities, and the reforms of the money market mutual fund industry and the tri-party repurchase funding (“repo”) system.”

Mr. Dudley suggested that regulatory and compliance burdens could be made “considerably lighter” on smaller and medium-sized banking institutions because “the failure of such a firm will not impose large costs or stress on the broader financial system.”

Mr. Dudley also questioned whether the implementation of the Volcker Rule was achieving its policy objectives. Regulating entities under the Volcker Rule is difficult, he argued, because most market-making activity has “an element of proprietary trading” and the division between market-making and proprietary trading is “not always clear-cut.” Mr. Dudley said that while the evidence may be inconclusive, the Volcker Rule could be responsible for a decline in market liquidity of corporate bonds. Mr. Dudley strongly recommended Volcker exemptions for community banks.

Lofchie Comment: Mr. Dudley notes that the profitability of banks has dropped in light of their reduced leverage, but he asserts that they remain “profitable enough to cover their cost of capital.” What makes this remark particularly notable is the contrasting recent assertion of FDIC Vice-Chair Thomas Hoenig who claimed that (i) banks’ return on equity was low because they were too highly leveraged (a completely counterintuitive assertion that Mr. Hoenig did not fully explain) and (ii) that banks were less profitable than essentially every other industry (which would seem to suggest that banks were not profitable enough to cover their costs of capital, or at least that investors’ capital was better deployed elsewhere). Whatever is causing the decline in bank profitability (leverage too high or leverage too low), bank regulators should worry that the firms that they regulate are not making enough money to sustain themselves for the long term.

House Republicans Release Revised CHOICE Act

House Republicans released the Financial CHOICE Act of 2017. The bill is an update of the CHOICE Act of 2016. The new version represents a major overhaul of the current financial services regulatory regime including a partial repeal of Dodd-Frank.

In September 2016, the House Financial Services Committee approved the initial version of the CHOICE Act by a vote of 30 to 26. At a hearing scheduled for April 26, 2017, the Committee will discuss the updated version of the bill. Proposed changes to the current financial regulatory regime include, among other things:

  1. an opt-out of many regulatory requirements for banks and other financial institutions if they maintain a 10% leverage ratio (among other conditions);
  2. subjecting the federal banking agencies to greater congressional oversight and tighter budgetary control;
  3. materially reducing the authority of the Financial Stability Oversight Council and the establishment of a new process of identifying financial institutions as “systemically important”;
  4. a repeal of the Orderly Liquidation Authority and the creation of a new bankruptcy process for banks;
  5. reforms in bank stress tests;
  6. a restructuring of the CFPB, FHFA, OCC, and FDIC into bipartisan commissions appointed by the President;
  7. the elimination of the CFPB supervisory and examination authority;
  8. a repeal of the Volcker Rule; and
  9. facilitated capital raising by small companies, including through crowd-funding.

The Committee released a summary of changes.

Regarding derivatives, the new legislation exempts certain inter-affiliate swaps from nearly all Title VII requirements (except reporting), and otherwise removes a number of changes to Title VII that were previously included (it is suggested that this is because such provisions would be addressed in CFTC reauthorization legislation).

Chairman Jeb Hensarling (R-TX) called the bill a solution that “grows our economy from Main Street up.” He asserted that the CHOICE Act is premised on the principles that all banks need to be well-capitalized and that community banks and credit unions deserve relief from the “crushing burden of over-regulation.”

Lofchie Comment: Changes that the bill would make in the regulatory process are genuinely significant. These are largely in Title III of the proposal (see page 104).

Under the terms of the bill, the various financial regulators (including the banking regulators, the CFTC and the SEC) would be prohibited from issuing a “regulation” (which term would be broadly defined) unless the regulator first issued a statement (i) stating the need for the regulation, (ii) explaining why the private market could not address the problem, (iii) analyzing the adverse impacts of the regulation, and (iv) attempting to quantify the costs and benefits of the regulation, including its effects on economic activity, the basis for its determinations, and, most significantly, “an explanation of predicted changes” that will be brought about by the regulation.  A final rulemaking would be required to include “regulatory impact metrics selected by the [regulator’s] chief economist.”

Adherence to this process would make the tasks of the regulator materially more difficult, or at least it would make it more difficult for the regulators to pass rules. Of course, there is a significant amount of good in that. Regulators should be subject to a reasonably high burden of consideration in adopting rules that may cost market participants, in the aggregate, millions of dollars in compliance costs or that have negative effects on the economy generally.

One of the most interesting provisions of the bill is the requirement that regulators should provide an explanation of predicted changes that will result from the rule. Doubtless, in many cases, the predictions will turn out to be wrong. But that is ok. It is unreasonable to expect that regulators will be always, or even that consistently, correct in their predictions. The new standard may be hard to assess, but the attempt is still worthwhile.

CFTC Names First-Ever Chief Market Intelligence Officer

CFTC Acting Chair J. Christopher Giancarlo appointed Andrew B. Busch Chief Market Intelligence Officer. Mr. Busch will lead the new Market Intelligence Unit which is designed “to understand, analyze and communicate current and emerging derivatives market dynamics, developments and trends – such as the impact of new technologies and trading methodologies.” The position is a first for the agency. Mr. Bush will start on April 10, 2017. Acting Chair Giancarlo explained that:

“[t]he new Chief Market Intelligence Officer . . . will help activate the CFTC’s latent capability for market intelligence, giving us better insight into the needs of participants in the futures and swaps we oversee.”

Previously, Mr. Busch founded and served as CEO of the boutique economic research company, Bering Productions, Inc.

Acting Chair Giancarlo Asserts “New Direction Forward” for CFTC

CFTC Acting Chair J. Christopher Giancarlo called for the CFTC to “reinterpret its regulatory mission” by (i) fostering economic growth, (ii) enhancing U.S. financial markets, and (iii) “right-sizing its regulatory footprint.” Acting Chair Giancarlo delivered his remarks before the 42nd Annual International Futures Industry Conference, on the day after President Donald J. Trump announced his intention to nominate Mr. Giancarlo as CFTC Chair (see previous coverage).

In his speech, Mr. Giancarlo called for an end to the “overly prescriptive regulation of the American derivatives markets,” which he asserted are now “more fragmented, more concentrated, less liquid, and less supportive of economic growth and renewal than in the past.” Mr. Giancarlo noted that he is not opposed to Title VII of Dodd-Frank (in which, he maintained, “Congress got much right”), but rather with the CFTC’s implementation of the market reforms.

Acting Chair Giancarlo stated that the CFTC should foster economic growth by:

  • reducing regulatory burdens through initiatives like “Project KISS” (“Keep It Simple, Stupid”), designating his chief of staff as the CFTC Regulatory Reform Officer, and reviewing all CFTC rules in order to reduce regulatory burdens and costs for participants in markets under CFTC oversight;
  • becoming a “smarter regulator” by restructuring agency surveillance organizations and appointing a Chief Market Intelligence Officer who will report directly to the CFTC Chair; and
  • embracing financial technology (“fintech”) by adopting a “do-no-harm” approach and reviewing agency treatment of fintech innovation.

Acting Chair Giancarlo also asserted that the CFTC should enhance financial markets by:

  • “calibrating bank capital charges for economic growth” as a voting member of the Financial Stability Oversight Committee;
  • reforming the CFTC’s “flawed swaps trading implementation” with a “better regulatory framework for swaps trading” that allows market participants to select the manner of trade execution best suited to their needs, rather than having specific types “chosen for them by the federal government”; and
  • improving coordination with global regulators through measures while “fully embrac[ing] the Trump Administration’s Executive Order to advance American interests in international financial regulatory negotiations and meetings.”

Lastly, Mr. Giancarlo suggested that the CFTC should obtain a “right-size regulatory footprint” by:

  • “normaliz[ing] CFTC operations” after the “era of Dodd-Frank implementation” by decreasing regulatory burdens and attending to “longer range goals,” such as leveraging diversity;
  • “eschew[ing] empire building” at the CFTC by “resetting its focus on its core mission” and streamlining the work of various divisions; and
  • “run[ning] a tighter ship” in the wake of recent reductions in the agency budget and appropriations.

Acting Chair Giancarlo concluded:

“The time has come to reduce regulatory barriers to economic growth. The American people have elected President Trump to turn the tide of over-regulation. Financial market regulators, like the CFTC, must pursue their missions to foster open, transparent, competitive and financially sound markets in ways that best foster American prosperity.”

CFTC Chair Timothy Massad Resigns

CFTC Chair Timothy G. Massad tendered his resignation to President Obama. He will leave the CFTC on January 20, 2017. In a statement, which was accompanied by a 16-page summary of the CFTC’s accomplishments during his two-and-a-half-year tenure, Chair Massad asserted that the Commission had realized his agenda:

“I came to the CFTC with a number of priorities, and I am proud we have made significant progress in every area.”

Chair Massad highlighted accomplishments during his tenure. The CFTC:

  • ensured that “commercial businesses [could] continue using the derivatives markets efficiently and effectively to hedge routine commercial risk and engage in price discovery”;
  • “worked to ensure clearinghouses are stronger and more resilient through enhanced risk surveillance, new supervisory stress testing, and the development and completion of recovery and wind down plans and rules”;
  • “largely finished implementing the regulatory framework for swaps”;
  • “improved international coordination”;
  • “engaged in robust enforcement efforts”; and
  • took action to “address the new challenges and opportunities in the derivatives markets, particularly cyber threats, clearinghouse resilience, and the increased use of automated trading.”

Chair Massad emphasized that he “worked to make sure the rules focus on where the greatest risk exists, in transactions between large financial institutions,” and to ensure they were “largely harmonized with other domestic and international requirements.” He also noted that the clearinghouses are “stronger and more resilient,” through enhanced risk surveillance, new supervisory stress testing, and the development and completion of recovery wind down plans and rules.