FRB Proposes Changes to Volcker Rule

The Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System (“FRB”) issued a proposal aimed at simplifying and tailoring compliance with the Volcker Rule. It is the first major overhaul of the Volcker Rule since regulations were adopted in late 2013.

The proposal, which remains subject to public comment, was developed in coordination with the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency, the FDIC, the SEC and the CFTC. In a statement, FRB Vice Chair for Supervision Randal K. Quarles called the proposal a “best first effort at simplifying and tailoring the Volcker rule,” noting that it does not represent the “completion of [the FRB’s] work.”

A detailed analysis of the proposal will be available shortly.

NY Fed President Calls for “Aggressive Action” for LIBOR Transition

Federal Reserve Bank of New York President William C. Dudley argued that “aggressive action” is needed across the financial industry to address market-wide issues concerning the global market transition away from LIBOR.

In his remarks at Bank of England’s Markets Forum, Mr. Dudley expressed concern over “the great uncertainty over LIBOR’s future and the risks to financial stability that would likely accompany a disorderly transition to alternative reference rates.” He stated, “we need aggressive action to move to a more durable and resilient benchmark regime.”

Mr. Dudley recounted the history and other factors that led to the need for the global markets to transition away from LIBOR. He emphasized that this transition represents a significant risk for firms “of all sizes,” which should actively manage the risks in a way that is commensurate with their exposures.

Mr. Dudley emphasized the important role of the official sector, including the Federal Reserve and the Financial Stability Board, in the development of reference rate principles, convening private sector participation and supplying robust alternative reference rates. He recognized the progress made by market participants acting through the Alternative Reference Rates Committee to identify a more robust U.S. dollar reference rate and to develop a plan for an orderly transition, including best practices in contract design. Mr. Dudley opined that “LIBOR is likely to go away – and it should,” but noted that there are those with a direct interest in LIBOR, “such as its administrator,” who support the “status quo.”

OCC Highlights Key Banking Risks

In its Semiannual Risk Perspective for Spring 2018 (the “Report”), the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency reiterated several key risks facing the federal banking system and expressed concern over the impact of rising interest rates.

In the Report, the OCC described improved financial performance of banks year over year and “incremental improvement in banks’ overall risk management practices.” The OCC noted that risks have not changed greatly since its previous report from Fall 2017. As stated, those risks are associated with:

  • incremental easing in commercial credit underwriting practices;
  • bank risk management of cybersecurity threats;
  • third-party concentration risk for certain products and services;
  • complex money-laundering and terrorism-financing methods that pose challenges in complying with the Bank Secrecy Act; and
  • weaknesses in compliance programs for consumer protection.

In the Report, the OCC added to its list certain risks associated with the “potential effects of rising interest rates, increasing competition for retail and commercial deposits, and post-crisis liquidity regulations for banks with total assets of $250 billion or more, on the mix and cost of deposits.”

In addition, concerns over integrated mortgage disclosure contained in the previous report were downgraded from comprising a key risk to an issue that should be monitored.

The OCC also stated that it is monitoring emerging risks including those associated with:

  • concentrations of commercial real estate;
  • low or declining prices for grain, livestock, and dairy that result in lower cash flow and increased farm carryover debt for agricultural borrowers; and
  • challenges to compliance management systems as banks address changes to consumer compliance requirements.

The Report is based on data collected as of March 31, 2018.

House Passes Bill to Ease Banking Regulations

By a vote of 258-159, the House of Representatives passed the “Economic Growth, Regulatory Relief, and Consumer Protection Act.” The bill would make changes to banking regulations implemented following the financial crisis of 2008. In March, the Senate voted 67 to 31 in favor of the bill. The legislation, which awaits President Trump’s signature, is the first major rollback of the Dodd-Frank Act.

The legislation provides relief to roughly two dozen regional banks and other institutions. It raises the threshold for enhanced prudential standards under Section 165 of Dodd-Frank from $50 billion to $250 billion. Currently, bank holding companies with total consolidated assets of $50 billion or more are subject to requirements addressing capital, liquidity management, resolution planning, credit exposure and other areas. In addition, the legislation raises the trigger point for having a risk committee and conducting company-run stress testing from $10 billion to $50 billion and $250 billion, respectively.

Relief for smaller banking organizations is a significant focus of the legislation. It provides capital-related relief for “qualifying community banks” that have less than $10 billion in assets and also meet a new leverage ratio to be designed by the federal banking regulators. The legislation also provides a limited exemption from the Volcker Rule for insured depository institutions that have less than $10 billion in assets and little or no trading book activity.

In addition, the legislation makes changes in a miscellaneous set of areas. It modifies the capital treatment of certain real estate loans by introducing a new, more limited concept known as an HVCRE ADC loan. It also requires the CFPB to promulgate ability-to-repay rules applicable to Property Assessed Clean Energy (PACE) transactions. Further, the legislation offers relief relating to certain mortgage products, including those relating to veterans as well as private student loans.
President Trump is expected to sign the legislation.

President Trump Imposes Additional Sanctions on Venezuela

President Donald J. Trump issued an Executive Order (“E.O”) prohibiting certain financial transactions with the government of Venezuela. President Trump cited the Maduro regime’s recent activities, which include “attempts to undermine democratic order by holding snap elections that are neither free nor fair” – a reference to the presidential elections held on May 20.

The transactions prohibited by the E.O. include, among others, any dealings in the United States or by U.S. persons related to:

  • the purchase of debt owed to the Government of Venezuela, including accounts receivable;
  • debt owed to the Government of Venezuela that, after the effective date of the E.O., is pledged as collateral, including accounts receivable; and
  • the sale, transfer, assignment or pledging as collateral by the Government of Venezuela of any equity interest in which the Government of Venezuela has 50 percent or greater ownership interest.

As with previous Venezuela-related Orders, including E.O. 13692, E.O. 13808 and E.O. 13827, the “Government of Venezuela” is defined broadly to cover not only political subdivisions and agencies, but also companies and other entities – including the state-owned oil company Petroleos de Venezuela S.A. (“PdVSA”) – that are owned or controlled by, or acting for or on behalf of, the Government of Venezuela.

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.

SEC Commissioner Explains Approach to Enforcement Actions

SEC Commissioner Hester M. Peirce explained her reasoning for often voting against enforcement recommendations, arguing that although enforcement is an important tool for the SEC, it should not act as an enforcement agency.

In remarks at the 50th Annual Rocky Mountain Securities Conference, Ms. Peirce outlined three considerations guiding her approach to enforcement actions. First, Ms. Peirce asserted that the SEC should use the other tools at its disposal before using enforcement resources, especially in cases of minor violations. According to Ms. Peirce, the “broken-windows approach,” in which minor violations are vigorously pursued, does not serve the SEC’s goals or purpose. She argued that the Office of Compliance Inspections and Examination (“OCIE”) should prioritize keeping an open, productive relationship with private parties, and avoid using enforcement to settle matters. According to Ms. Peirce, the “broken-windows approach” causes negative effects, such as:

  • diverting the SEC’s limited resources away from high-priority issues;
  • discouraging regulated entities from contacting the SEC for help concerning compliance;
  • rewarding SEC staff for the number of cases brought rather than the quality of the cases;
  • increasing an unhealthy capital formation environment by dissuading companies from considering an IPO; and
  • imposing “unwarranted costs on companies and individuals.”

Ms. Peirce advocated the use of other resources including the OCIE, investor education and advocacy, the PAUSE program, guidance and rulemaking instead of enforcement.

Second, Ms. Peirce stated that due process considerations should inform the SEC’s enforcement approach. Ms. Peirce said she witnessed: (i) attempts to bypass the Administrative Procedure Act by using the enforcement process to make policy, (ii) rushed settlements that set legal precedents, (iii) unnecessarily extended investigations and (iv) attempts to encourage people to waive attorney-client privilege.

Third, Ms. Peirce warned against the unintended consequences of enforcement actions, particularly as they relate to the work of chief compliance officers (“CCOs”). According to Ms. Peirce, imposing liability on CCOs dissuades people from taking on those roles and places unnecessary blame on them. Additionally, Ms. Peirce criticized the use of civil penalties against corporations, which are often paid by the company’s shareholders instead of by responsible actors.

Lofchie Comment: SEC Commissioner Peirce’s remarks should be the starting point for a real dialogue about the future of the SEC.

Section 2(b) of the Securities Act provides, “Whenever . . . the Commission is engaged in rulemaking and is required to consider or determine whether an action is necessary or appropriate in the public interest, the Commission shall also consider, in addition to the protection of investors, whether the action will promote efficiency, competition, and capital formation.”

The SEC ought to be considering whether its rules, and the way that it enforces those rules, make for a good economy. Too often it seems that the SEC’s only measures of success are the dollar amount of the fines that it collects and the number of sanctioned entities. This is not to disparage the importance of enforcement, but if the SEC’s only measure of effectiveness is enforcement, then Congress should create a new regulator to focus on capital formation and the economy. (In this way, Commissioner Peirce’s remarks have relevance well beyond the bounds of the SEC.)

Ms. Peirce pushes us to consider fundamental questions about the purpose of the Commission, and how far afield it has strayed from that purpose. It’s about time.

FRB Vice Chair Urges Reconsideration of Capital and Liquidity Requirements for Foreign Banks Operating in U.S.

Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System Vice Chair for Supervision Randal K. Quarles encouraged regulators to reconsider the capital and liquidity requirements for foreign banks operating in the United States. He also proposed a return to the pre-financial crisis regulatory goal of maximizing the flow of capital worldwide.

In an address at Harvard Law School, Mr. Quarles stated that the current U.S. approach to foreign banks, which prioritizes increasing the resiliency of their U.S. operations, should be reconsidered. He argued that the events of the last financial crisis, when foreign banks recovered through the combined efforts of the United States and their home country governments, created the current U.S. approach, which prioritizes ensuring that the United States has sufficient resources to address another such event. He stated that while most regulators seem to believe that intermediate holding company (“IHC”) and attendant requirements are appropriate, the regulation of the IHC could be modified without harming financial stability. He suggested that if the United States recalibrated its requirements, other jurisdictions would, too. This outcome, he argued, would increase the flow of capital, which should be the goal of regulators.

CFPB Reviews Spring 2018 Rulemaking Agenda

The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (“CFPB”) listed “the regulatory matters that the Bureau reasonably anticipates having under consideration during the period from May 1, 2018, to April 30, 2019.” This agenda is part of the Spring 2018 Unified Agenda of Federal Regulatory and Deregulatory Actions. The notice outlined Acting CFPB Director Mick Mulvaney’s leadership priorities.

In a blog post, the CFPB explained that it intends to reopen rulemaking regarding two prior regulations: (i) the implementation of the Home Mortgage Disclosure Act, regarding, among other aspects, the “institutional and transactional coverage tests and the rule’s discretionary data points” and (ii) the Payday, Vehicle Title, and Certain High-Cost Installment Loans rule before their compliance dates in August 2019. The CFPB plans to maintain certain other rulemakings that were previously implemented.

The CFPB also set out its agenda for proposed rules and guidance. Among other things, the agency noted that it would attempt to reduce any “unwarranted regulatory burden.” The CFPB intends to:

  • propose a rule to improve communication practices and consumer disclosures of collectors under the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act;
  • require financial institutions “to collect, report and make public certain information concerning credit applications made by women-owned, minority-owned, and small businesses”; and
  • open rulemaking to address mortgage requirement issues under the Dodd-Frank Act.

The CFPB also listed its potential long-term actions (beyond the next 12-month period) and reclassified certain rulemakings as “inactive.” Regulation Z subparts B and G, which concern the extension of credit under the Truth in Lending Act, will be moved to the long-term actions list.

Lofchie Comment: Mr. Mulvaney’s rethinking of Mr. Cordray’s policies illustrates the potential benefits of reconstituting the CFPB from being a bureau led by a single partisan individual to a commission with representatives of both major political parties. With a five-person commission, if the chair of the commission attempts to obtain unanimous votes on new rules, it is far more likely that those rules will reflect a consensus that is likely to survive elections.

House of Representatives Repeals CFPB Auto-Loan Financing Regulatory Guidance

The House of Representatives voted to withdraw the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (“CFPB”) regulatory guidance on auto-loan financing using Congressional Review Act (“CRA”) authority. The Joint Resolution passed the House by a vote of 234 to 175 and was sent to the President for his signature.

As previously covered, this guidance, although not a formal rule, allowed the CFPB to pursue legal claims against car dealerships that allegedly charged minority consumers higher interest rates on their auto loans. The CFPB avoided the Administrative Procedures Act’s rulemaking process and related requirements by enforcing this regulatory guidance rather than developing a rule.

In remarks before the House of Representatives, House Financial Services Committee Chairman Jeb Hensarling (R-TX) supported the repeal, alleging that the CFPB’s application of the guidance violated (i) Dodd-Frank Section 1029, which prohibits the CFPB from regulating auto dealers, and (ii) the Administrative Procedures Act, by issuing guidance rather than adhering to the designated rulemaking process.

Representative Maxine Waters (D-CA) argued against the repeal and asserted that the guidance (i) served its intended purpose by providing “clarity to indirect auto lenders,” and (ii) regulated auto lenders, not dealers. Ms. Waters further claimed that using the CRA to repeal this guidance is a “clear overreach,” and that the CRA was not designed to serve this purpose.

Lofchie Comment: Notwithstanding Rep. Waters’ dramatic statement, if the guidance is less than a rule, then use of the CRA to withdraw the guidance should be less impactful than use of it to withdraw a rule. The power to do the greater implies the power to do the lesser.