CFTC and UK Financial Conduct Authority Sign FinTech Collaboration Arrangement

The CFTC and the UK Financial Conduct Authority (“FCA”) signed an agreement to facilitate collaboration, share information and support each other’s FinTech initiatives. This is the first FinTech arrangement for the CFTC with a non-U.S. counterpart.

The “Cooperation Arrangement” is primarily focused on the agencies’ respective FinTech initiatives, specifically the CFTC’s “LabCFTC” and the FCA’s “Innovate” programs. The regulators agreed to a framework for the exchange of information on businesses who participate in the programs, trends and developments in FinTech, regulatory issues surrounding FinTech development, best practices for engaging with innovators, and the activities of organizations that promote innovation. The regulators further committed to referring FinTech businesses to each other when such businesses are interested in operating in the other regulator’s jurisdiction. They also agreed to a variety of other measures intended to foster their mutual understanding of technology. The FCA and CFTC will host a joint event in London to facilitate FinTech firms’ engagement with both regulators.

CFTC Chair J. Christopher Giancarlo spoke of the groundbreaking nature of the arrangement: “This is the first FinTech innovation arrangement for the CFTC with a non-U.S. counterpart. We believe that by collaborating with the best-in-class FCA FinTech team, the CFTC can contribute to the growing awareness of the critical role of regulators in 21st century digital markets.” FCA Chief Executive Andrew Bailey agreed, saying, “As our first agreement of this kind with a U.S. regulator, we look forward to working with LabCFTC in assisting firms, both here in the UK and in the U.S., who want to scale and expand internationally in our respective markets.”

Lofchie Comment: Regulators cooperating with each other to better understand markets and products and to prepare for change is a far better approach than fighting over jurisdiction or shutting down change.

Global Markets into 2018

The Center for Financial Stability (CFS) hosted a small private workshop for leaders in finance to delve into issues that will shape the future of asset values and investment management on December 6.

CFS Special Counselor Jack Malvey set the stage with an essay “Toward the Mid-21 st Century Global Financial System” –

Workshop topics included:

– Geopolitics and Big Picture Challenges through 2020 – AI, cyber, etc;
– Global Macro, Quantitative Tightening, and Financial Stability;
– Financial Industry Transitions – Active versus Passive Management, etc; and
– Opportunities and Risks (a selection follows).


– Buy cash today – the rate of return will be extraordinarily high.
– Central banks will more actively incorporate financial stability into actions and mandates.
– Emerging markets will outperform.
– The Fed desires to move further away from the zero lower bound.
– NPLs in China are overstated / bank earnings mitigate and neutralize risks.
– Global macro investment opportunities via uneven tightening.


– I will buy cash – but tomorrow.
– Bitcoin correction.
– Limited attractive equity names based on valuation / similar to Tokyo in 1989.
– Geopolitical tensions will increase with North Korea, China, Russia, and Saudi Arabia.
– Inflation surprise / data may be misread.
– Artificial intelligence channeled for ill.

Best wishes into the Holiday Season and 2018!

SEC Chair Jay Clayton Updates House Finance Committee on EDGAR System Breach

SEC Chair Jay Clayton testified before the U.S. House Financial Services Committee providing an update on the EDGAR system cybersecurity breach (see previous coverage). He also outlined the SEC’s regulatory agenda reiterating previous testimony provided to the Senate Banking Committee (see previous coverage). His principal priorities include the facilitation of capital formation and encouraging initial public offerings.

NY Department of Financial Services Cybersecurity Regulation Now Effective

New York State’s “first-in-the-nation” cybersecurity regulation became effective on August 28, 2017.

The New York Department of Financial Services (“DFS”) cybersecurity regulation requires banks, insurance companies and other institutions regulated by the DFS (“covered entities”) to implement a cybersecurity program to protect consumer data (see previous coverage). A covered entity is required to have (i) a written cybersecurity policy or policies approved by the entity’s board of directors or a senior officer, (ii) a “Chief Information Security Officer” in place to protect data and systems, and (iii) other relevant “controls and plans” intended to fortify the safety of the financial services industry.

Firms also will be required to submit a Certification of Compliance annually that concerns the firm’s cybersecurity compliance program. The first such Certificate must be submitted by February 15, 2018. The DFS now requires covered entities to submit notices of certain cybersecurity events to the DFS Superintendent within 72 hours of any occurrence. Covered entities will be able to report cybersecurity events through the DFS online cybersecurity portal.  Institutions also will be able to use the portal to file notices of exemption.

DFS Superintendent Maria Vullo commented on the program:

“With cyber-attacks on the rise and comprehensive federal cybersecurity policy lacking for the financial services industry, New York is leading the nation with strong cybersecurity regulation requiring, among other protective measures, set minimum standards of a cybersecurity program based on the risk assessment of the entity, personnel, training and controls in place in order to protect data and information systems.”


Lofchie Comment: As if the life of a compliance officer trying to manage technology risk was not worrisome enough, the NY DFS has now added a state-wide regulatory burden to their job. On the positive side, there is a three-day weekend coming.

OCIE Cybersecurity Report Shows “Overall Improvement”

The SEC Office of Compliance Inspections and Examinations (“OCIE”) examined 75 broker-dealers, investment advisers and investment companies as part of its Cybersecurity 2 Initiative to assess industry practices concerning cybersecurity preparedness. OCIE National Examination Program staff reported an overall improvement in awareness of cyber-related risks and the implementation of certain cybersecurity practices since the OCIE’s Cybersecurity 1 Initiative.

According to the OCIE Risk Alert, the Cybersecurity 2 Initiative examinations focused on written policies and procedures, and included more testing of controls. Specifically, it addressed:

  1. governance and risk assessment;
  2. access rights and controls;
  3. data loss prevention;
  4. vendor management;
  5. training; and
  6. incident response.

Notably, the OCIE found that all broker-dealers, all funds, and nearly all advisers examined in the Cybersecurity 2 Initiative maintained written cybersecurity policies and procedures around the protection of customer/shareholder records. These findings contrasted with those of the Cybersecurity 1 examinations. The OCIE also found firms that were not “adhering to or enforcing” policies and procedures, and firms where guidance for employees was too general. The OCIE report included recommendations for improving controls in their respective cyber programs.

In a related white paper on cyber risk, the Bank for International Settlements Financial Stability Institute evaluated the regulatory and supervisory initiatives in a number of leading jurisdictions, including Hong Kong SAR, Singapore, the United Kingdom and the United States. The report reviewed supervisory approaches to assessing the cyber-risk vulnerability and resilience of banks. The paper also identified a trend toward “threat-informed” testing frameworks, which use threat intelligence to design simulated cyber attacks when testing the cybersecurity of an entity.

SEC Economist Examines Role of Artificial Intelligence

SEC Division of Economic and Risk Analysis Acting Director and Chief Economist Scott Baugess discussed the development and use of artificial intelligence and machine learning within the SEC, challenges presented by artificial intelligence technologies, and the future of these technologies within the SEC.

Mr. Baugess explained that progress in development of artificial intelligence technologies has made it necessary for regulators to examine the potential uses and impacts of this technology on the regulatory environment. He observed that while there is obvious value in potentially being able to more effectively predict investor behavior, “latent variables,” such as fraud which is not seen until it is found, make understanding likely outcomes an especially difficult task. Because of these unobservable outcomes and other difficulties such as translating languages, the application of machine learning to regulating financial markets is less straightforward than it is in other contexts.

Machine learning has been utilized by the SEC in various capacities, including to analyze tips, complaints and referrals and to identify abnormal disclosures. Mr. Baugess noted that machine learning is also useful for detecting potential investment adviser misconduct by identifying outlier reporting behaviors. While acknowledging the value of this form of analysis, he cautioned that reliance on machine learning technologies, such as feeding the results of unsupervised learning algorithms into machine learning, can lead to false positives, or instances where misconduct or SEC rule violation is errantly identified.

Mr. Baugess concluded by emphasizing that although machine learning will improve the SEC’s ability to identify possible fraud or misconduct, he expects that “human expertise and evaluations” will always be necessary in the regulation of capital markets.

Lofchie Comment: This is technology expertise that the SEC should consider outsourcing. Perhaps the SEC should call up the credit card companies and ask them for some lessons in catching fraudulent transactions.

Sargen: A Tale of Two Countries: UK and France


  • Theresa May’s decision to call an early election as Prime Minister has come back to haunt her:  Labor Party leader Jeremy Corbyn mounted a credible campaign that denied the Conservative Party a parliamentary majority.  The outcome has added to uncertainty about how the newly-formed British Government will negotiate leaving the European Union (EU).
  • By comparison, the political picture in France continues to improve, as Prime Minister Macron’s newly-formed political party posted a decisive victory in the parliamentary elections.  This outcome has boosted hopes that Macron will press forward with plans to overhaul France’s antiquated labor laws.
  • The contrast between the fortunes of the UK and France is striking.  Britain’s economy was among the most dynamic in Europe one year ago, but its future is now clouded by political dysfunction, whereas Macron’s election has raised hopes that France can transform its economy and stabilize the EU.
  • Amid these developments, we continue to favor continental European equities, but are wary of the UK due to political and economic uncertainty.

UK Elections: Another Surprise Outcome

For the second time in twelve months, the electorate in the UK has defied the pollsters, this time by denying Prime Minister Theresa May and the Conservatives a clear parliamentary majority in the British elections.  When May called for an early election two months ago, the initial assessment of pollsters was the outcome would cement the Tory Party’s majority in parliament, thereby strengthening her hand in negotiating Britain’s departure from the EU.

Instead, the opposite happened. The opposition Labor Party, led by Jeremy Corbyn, a staunch left-winger, mounted a credible campaign that attracted younger voters who had abstained from voting on the referendum to leave the EU.  As a result, May is now scrambling to see if the Conservatives can form a coalition government with a splinter party that represents North Ireland.

Investors are now focused on what the change in political fortunes means for Britain’s exit from the EU.  If May and the Conservatives had won decisively, investors were expecting a so-called “hard exit”, in which the UK would sacrifice free trade arrangements with the EU for increased national sovereignty.  Now that the Conservative’s hand has been weakened, other political parties are insisting on participating in the negotiations with the EU, and the outcome could be a “soft exit,” meaning Britain would seek trade and financial concessions from the EU while surrendering some sovereignty to obtain them.

Beyond this is another looming issue – namely, how will the UK be governed when it is deeply divided as a nation?  According to The Economist, Britain’s main political parties appear polar opposite in many respects:  “Jeremy Corbyn has taken Labour to the loony left, proposing the heaviest tax burden since the Second World War. The Conservative Prime Minister, Theresa May, promises a hard exit from the EU.  The Liberal Democrats would prefer a soft version, or even reverse it.”[1]  Yet, The Economist goes on to observe that the Tory and Labour leaders, despite differences in style and core beliefs, have one thing in common: “Both Mrs. May and Mr. Corbyn would each in their own way step back from the ideas that made Britain prosper – its free markets, open borders and internationalism.”[2]

Since the Brexit vote one year ago, the UK economy has held up better than many observers expected, as a 13% – 14% depreciation of sterling versus the dollar and euro have helped cushion the blow on exporters.  However, the latest indications are the economy is slowing, as real wages have stagnated and public funding is stretched. As a result, investors are becoming nervous about the country’s future.

France: More Positive Surprises

Meanwhile the political picture in France continues to improve, as President Macron’s newly-formed political party En Marche scored a decisive win in the French parliamentary elections on Sunday.  With Macron’s party gaining a clear majority in parliament, the 39-year old president is in strong position to enact his pro-reform agenda that includes weakening France’s protective labor laws, changing tax laws, and reducing pension benefits for some workers.  Moreover, whereas a year ago France appeared to be swept up in an anti-European, anti-immigrant wave, the nation has now rallied around a centrist and unabashed globalist, who seeks to strengthen the EU.

The key challenge Macron faces is whether he can make headway in reducing France’s high unemployment rate, which stands at 9.6% – the lowest in five years. For decades French politicians have tried to reform France’s antiquated system, which makes it prohibitively expensive to fire employees, only to back away in response to public protests. While only 8% of French workers belong to a union, 98% are covered by national and industry-wide contracts negotiated by unions.[3]  This arrangement is particularly problematic for smaller businesses that cannot negotiate terms on their behalf.

Macron is attempting to rectify the situation by making it easier to fire employees, capping damages in unfair dismissal cases and decentralizing collective bargaining.  At the same time, he plans to expand worker protections by making those who voluntarily quit their jobs eligible for unemployment benefits.  Macron’s goal of transforming France’s labor laws by the end of summer is considered ambiguous, and it remains to be seen how he will stand up to tumultuous strikes and protests.  That said, this appears to be the best chance to reform the system in decades.  Should Macron persevere, France hopefully would see the benefits of declining unemployment, much as Germany did when it enacted its labor reforms during the past decade.  Note: Germany’s unemployment rate currently is 3.9%, well below other EU members.

Investment Implications

Weighing these considerations, we continue to favor European equities, as political risks in EU have diminished while economic performance has improved. (See Time to Consider Europe, May 23, 2017)  That said, we would underweight UK equities on grounds the political situation has deteriorated and there is considerable uncertainty surrounding Britain’s exit from the EU.

Equity Markets:  France (CAC-40) versus UK (FTSE), January 2016 to Present

Source: Bloomberg. Local currency returns.


[1] The Economist, June 3rd-9th, 2017, p.13.
[2] Ibid., p.13
[3] See Catherine Rampell, “Macron attempts a feat that Trump wouldn’t dare,” The Washington Post, June 8, 2017.

Bitcoin Exchanges Targeted in Cyberattacks

At least two prominent bitcoin exchanges were targeted by cyberattacks that interrupted normal operations and trading.

BTC-e and Bitfinex were targeted by distributed denial-of-service (“DDoS”) attacks, a form of cyberattack which typically uses multiple compromised systems to flood a target with message traffic that exceeds its processing capacity.  The attacks temporarily disrupted service for both exchanges but reportedly did not cause a loss of funds or protected information. According to a CNBC report, service interruptions like those caused by the DDoS attacks could allow traders to “manipulate the bitcoin market.”

Both exchanges have resumed normal service.

Sargen: Time to Consider Europe


  • Emmanuel Macron’s election as President of France has buoyed European markets, as it is the third election this year in which populist candidates have been defeated.  Moreover, with Angela Merkel’s party scoring key wins in regional elections, her chances of being re-elected in the fall are high.
  • In addition to lessened political risks, investors have been attracted by better-than-expected economic performance in the European Union (EU) this year.  Germany’s economy has been the locomotive, and Macron’s election has raised hopes that France will finally embark on much-needed structural reforms and that a renewed Franco-German partnership will revive the EU, as well.
  • Weighing these considerations, this may be a good time to add exposure to European equity markets: Profit growth has surged recently and political risk has lessened, while the discount on European stocks relative to the U.S. is in line with long-term norms.  The main risks are that Macron may not be able to deliver reforms and a populist leader could become Italy’s next President.

Background: EU Political Risks Lessen, while European Economies Improve

At the start of this year, a key issue relating to Europe was the prospect that elections in several countries – notably, Austria, Holland, France, Germany and Italy – could result in populist victories that would threaten the EU’s viability in the wake of last year’s vote in the UK in favor of Brexit.  France’s election was perceived to be the most important, because Marine Le Pen, the far right candidate, advocated that France should leave the EU and the euro.  While the odds of this happening were low, investor concerns heightened leading up to the first round elections, when there was a possibility Le Pen and far-left candidate, Jean-Luc Mélenchon, could be the two finalists.  In the event, Emmanuel Macron, a centrist politician who campaigned as a reformer, emerged as the front runner and went on to defeat Le Pen handily in the run-off.

In the wake of these developments, European equity markets rallied at one point by 5%, led by an 8% advance for the CAC.  The rally not only reflects investor relief that France will remain a core member of the EU, but also that the tide of populism on the continent has been contained:  The French election is the third in a row in which populist candidates were defeated, and recent state elections in Germany indicate that Angela Merkel’s prospects for being re-elected Chancellor appear very good.

At the same time, the EU has experienced better-than-expected economic performance, led by Germany: The 2.5% annualized rise in German GDP in the first quarter was the biggest in four quarters, and was well above potential (1.8% according to European Commission estimates.)  Investment in machinery and equipment also picked up in the quarter, suggesting a broadening of the expansion, which had been led by personal consumption.  German GDP in real terms is now 8.5% above its pre-crisis peak in 1Q 2008, well above other EU members.  Meanwhile, unemployment in Germany has fallen below 4% from a peak of more than 10% during the crisis.

For the EU as a whole, real GDP growth was 2% annualized, the best showing in the past two years. The improvement in growth is linked to the European Central Bank’s policies to keep interest rates near zero while expanding its balance sheet via asset purchases.  In addition, the 10% depreciation of the euro against the dollar in the past three years helped boost exports.

As in the United States, so-called “soft data” such as purchasing managers’ indexes and sentiment readings show a marked pick-up since the latter part of 2016.  Indeed, according to Credit Suisse, the latest PMI readings are consistent with EU growth accelerating to 3% (see Figure 1).  We would note, however, that hard economic data does not yet indicate the improvement in business sentiment.  Nonetheless, the latest EC forecast calls for the EU to grow by 1.7% this year, which is a considerable improvement from the past few years.

Figure 1:  European PMI Surveys Point to Stronger Growth 

Source: Thomson Reuters, Markit, Credit Suisse.

Another positive development is headline CPI has accelerated this year and is approaching the ECB’s 2% target, after running close to zero in 2015-2016.  This suggests the threat of deflation is waning, and the ECB can consider normalizing interest rates if this pattern continues.  That said, we believe the ECB will be very cautious about tightening monetary policy.

Will Macron Transform France and the EU?

To some extent, the boost in European equities since the first round of the French elections can be attributed to a relief rally that Marine Le Pen was not elected.  Beyond this, in the wake of Macron’s very decisive victory, some observers have asked whether the election could represent a turning point for France and the EU: Macron is a reformer who also seeks closer ties between France and Germany, which constitute the core of the euro-zone.

Soon after his election, Macron visited German Chancellor Angela Merkel, and both pledged to work closely to draw up a “road map” of reforms for the EU, including the possibility of implementing treaty changes, if necessary.  Merkel noted that work first needed to be conducted on reforms that are needed before changes in the EU treaty would be implemented.  One of the most important is the need for greater fiscal sharing if the EU is to evolve from a monetary union to a fiscal union. To go down that route, however, Germany wants to be confident France is committed to structural reforms that will make its economy more dynamic.  The reason: Germany undertook a comprehensive set of labor market reforms in the previous decade that are credited for reviving its economy.

For his part, Macron has called for a “revolution” to simplify France’s Labor Code, which is a 3,600 page document that regulates nearly every aspect of employer-employee relations.  This will not be easy to pull off, however, as he will encounter strikers and protesters, as previous French Presidents have.  For example, Francois Hollande, Macron’s processor, backed away from embarking on labor reforms in the face of stiff opposition.  Other reforms being considered include cutting the corporate tax rate from 33% to 25%, and reducing the size of France’s bloated government.  The latter goal, however, is modest, as Macron seeks to slow the expansion of government rather than to reduce its size, which is the largest among the leading industrial countries.

Having formed a new political party, Macron must first build a coalition with existing parties, so that he can gain a legislative majority in the parliamentary elections in June.  Those he has recruited so far lean strongly to the left, with many coming from the reform faction of the Socialist Party.  To appeal to the right, Macron is credited with making a wise choice of Édouard Philippe as Prime Minister.  Still, it appears unlikely Macron will win an outright majority, and he therefore may have to rule with a coalition.  Consequently, it remains unclear how successful he will be in achieving reforms that France desperately needs.

The Case for European Equities

The principal reasons for considering European equities are that (i) earnings prospects have improved with the economic upturn, while (ii) Macron’s election and the rejection of populism in several key European countries have lessened political risk.

The improvement in European corporate profits is shown in Figure 2.  It illustrates how far they lagged the U.S. market when economic growth trailed that in the U.S., and how they have improved recently.  Among developed countries, European stock markets traditionally have been the most levered to economic performance, and this continues to be the case, as earnings growth in Europe has exceeded that in the U.S. recently.  Moreover, the percentage of European companies beating expectations is the highest in a decade.  An additional factor supporting corporate profitability has been the weak euro.  Although it has firmed against the dollar recently, it is still relatively cheap on a purchasing-power basis.

Figure 2:  European Corporate Profits Lag the U.S. Until Recently
12-month trailing EPS, Index, Jan 2006 = 100

Source: Datastream, JPMAM. April 28, 2017.

On the surface, it appears European equities may offer good relative value, as the discount of European multiples to the U.S. is about 15%.  The latter, however, is close to the average of the past decade or so, when one takes into account differences in the sector compositions.  Therefore, we consider European equities to be reasonably valued relative to the U.S.

The other major consideration is that political risk in Europe has diminished considerably with Macron’s election and the likelihood that Angela Merkel will be re-elected Chancellor of Germany.  This has contributed to inflows of funds into European markets recently.  The principal risk for investors is disappointment that Macron may not be able to deliver on his reform agenda.  Another risk is that populism could resurface in the Italian presidential elections that must be held no later than a year from now.

Weighing these considerations, I believe now may be a good time to add to European equities, after years of being cautious about European markets.

Comptroller of the Currency Steps Down, Expresses OCC’s Continuing Commitment to Innovation

Comptroller of the Currency Thomas J. Curry announced that he will step down from his position on May 5, 2017. In a speech at the “Fintech and the Future of Finance Conference,” at the Kellogg School of Management, Northwestern University, Mr. Curry reaffirmed the continuing commitment of the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency (“OCC”) to facilitate innovation. He acknowledged the growing impact of FinTech companies, as well as the potential complications that accompany their continued progress and advancement.

In his remarks, Mr. Curry reviewed the OCC process that led to proposals for granting national bank charters to certain FinTech companies. In response to the rapidly expanding FinTech sector, Mr. Curry explained, the OCC launched a “responsible innovation initiative,” which was intended to ensure cooperation between regulators, traditional bankers, FinTech companies and other relevant entities. The initiative, which explored obstacles to innovation and considered regulatory support measures, eventually devised a solution of granting national bank charters to certain FinTech companies. To that end, the OCC published a draft supplement to the Comptroller’s Licensing Manual on March 15, 2017 that detailed the process of evaluating bank charter applications from FinTech companies. Mr. Curry addressed the opposition to these special purpose charters by advising restraint:

“At the heart of the issue is the fundamental nature of the business of banking – the business of banking is dynamic and I would urge caution to anyone who wants to define banking as a static state. Such a view risks choking off growth and innovation. The federal banking system has served as a common source of strength for communities across the country and for the broader national economy for more than 150 years because it was allowed to adapt to meet the evolving need of consumers, business, and communities.”

Mr. Curry also touted the OCC’s new Office of Innovation, and claimed that it will have an even greater impact on the industry than the FinTech charters, since it will serve to analyze all areas of financial innovation and eventually provide consistent, confidential regulatory advice. He emphasized that the Office of Innovation was put in place to support banks and FinTech companies, and to provide evolving guidance as new opportunities for collaboration and advancement arose.

Mr. Curry – who completed his five-year term as Comptroller on April 9, 2017 – will step down from his position on May 5, 2017. Keith A. Noreika will serve as Acting Comptroller.