Press Releases

Financial Services Committee Approves Legislation to Regulate Derivatives

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Washington, DC, October 15, 2009 | comments

The House Financial Services Committee today approved legislation that would, for the first time ever, require the comprehensive regulation of the over-the-counter (OTC) derivatives marketplace. Today’s bill, which was approved by a vote of 43-26, represents a key part of a broader effort by Congress and President Obama to modernize America’s financial regulatory system in response to last year’s financial crisis.

Under the bill, all standardized swap transactions between dealers and large market participants, referred to as “major swap participants,” would have to be cleared and must be traded on an exchange or electronic platform. A major swap participant is defined as anyone that maintains a substantial net position in swaps, exclusive of hedging for commercial risk, or whose positions creates such significant exposure to others that it requires monitoring. OTC derivatives include swaps, which are contracts that call for an exchange of cash between two counterparties based on an underlying rate, index, credit event or the performance of an asset.

The legislation then sets out parallel regulatory frameworks for the regulation of swap markets, dealers, and major swap participants.  Rulemaking authority is held jointly by the Commodity Futures Trading Commission (CFTC), which has jurisdiction over swaps, and the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC), which has jurisdiction over security-based swaps.   The Treasury Department is given the authority to issue final rules if the CFTC and SEC cannot decide on a joint approach within 180 days. Subsequent interpretations of rules must be agreed to jointly by the Commissions.

Description of the Over-the-Counter Derivatives Markets Act of 2009

Clearing

The legislation provides a mechanism to determine which swap transactions are sufficiently standardized that they must be submitted to a clearinghouse. For transactions that are clearable, clearing is a requirement when both counterparties are either dealers or major swap participants.  Clearing organizations must seek approval from the appropriate regulator—either the CFTC or the SEC—before a swap or class of swaps can be accepted for clearing. 

Transactions in standardized swaps that involve end-users are not required to be cleared. Such customized transactions must, however, be reported to a trade repository.

Mandatory Trading on Exchange or Swap Execution Facility

A standardized and cleared swap transaction where both counterparties are either dealers or major swap participants must either be executed on a board of trade, a national securities exchange or a “swap execution facility”—as defined in the legislation.  If none of these venues makes a clearable swap available for trading, the trading requirement would not apply.  Counterparties would, however, have to comply with transaction reporting requirements established by the appropriate regulator.  The legislation also directs the regulators to eliminate unnecessary obstacles to trading on a board of trade or a national securities exchange.

Registration and Regulation of Swap Dealers and Major Swap Participants

Swap dealers and major swap participants must register with the appropriate Commission and dual registration is required in applicable cases.  Capital requirements for swap dealers' and major swap participants' positions in cleared swaps must be set at greater than zero.  Capital for non-cleared transaction must be set higher than for cleared transactions.  The prudential regulators will set capital for banks, while the Commissions will set capital for non-banks at a level that is “as strict or stricter” than that set by the prudential regulators.

The regulators are directed to set margin levels for counterparties in transactions that are not cleared.   The regulators are not required to set margin in transaction where one of the counterparties is not a dealer or major swap participant.  In cases where an end user is a counterparty to a transaction, any margin requirements must permit the use of non-cash collateral.

Reporting and Public Disclosure of Swap Transactions 

Reporting and recordkeeping is required for all over-the-counter derivative transactions.  Clearing organizations must provide transaction information to the relevant Commission and a designated trade repository.   Swap transactions that are not cleared and for which no trade repository exists, must be reported directly to the relevant Commission.   The legislation also provides for public disclosure of aggregate data on swap trading volumes and positions—in a manner that does not disclose the business transactions or market position of any person.  Large positions in swaps must also be reported directly to regulators.

Swap Execution Facilities

Swap execution facilities, or facility for the trading of swaps that are not Boards of Trade or National Securities Exchanges, must register with the relevant regulator as a swap execution facility (SEF).  SEFs must also adhere to core regulatory principles relating to enforcement, anti-manipulation, monitoring, information collection and conflicts of interest, among others. The CFTC and SEC are required to prescribe joint rules governing the regulation of swap execution facilities.  A Commission may exempt a SEF from registration if it is subject to comparable, comprehensive supervision and regulation by another regulator.

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