Commodity Exchange Act

CFTC Delays Reduction in Swap Dealer De Minimis Exception Threshold

 

On October 13, 2016, the Commodity Futures Trading Commission (the “CFTC”) approved an Order delaying for one year the reduction of the threshold for determining whether an entity constitutes a “swap dealer” for purposes of the U.S. Commodity Exchange Act.[1]  Currently, persons are not considered to be swap dealers unless their swap dealing activity in aggregate gross notional amount measured over the prior 12-month period exceeds a de minimis threshold of $8 billion.  This threshold had been scheduled to automatically decline to $3 billion on December 31, 2017, but the Order extended that date to December 31, 2018, absent further action from the CFTC. READ MORE

CFTC Expands Swap Clearing Requirement

 

On September 28, 2016, the Commodity Futures Trading Commission (the “CFTC”) unanimously approved the expansion of currencies of interest rate swaps subject to mandatory clearing under the U.S. Commodity Exchange Act (the “Act”).[1]  Subjecting standardized swaps to central clearing is intended to decrease risk in the financial system and has been a primary goal of global regulators for several years.

Section 2(h) of the Act makes it unlawful for any person to engage in a swap that is required to be centrally cleared unless that swap is submitted to a derivatives clearing organization (a “DCO”) that is either registered under the Act or exempt from registration under the Act.[2]  This same section of the Act sets forth the process through which the CFTC is to make determinations of whether a swap, or group, category, type or class of swaps should be subject to mandatory clearing.[3] READ MORE

Trade Options: Recent End-User Developments

On March 16, 2016, the Commodity Futures Trading Commission (“CFTC”) approved a final rule (“Final Rule”) eliminating certain reporting and recordkeeping requirements for “trade option”[1] counterparties that are neither “swap dealers” nor “major swap participants” (“Non-SD/MSPs”).[2]  The Final Rule is briefly summarized below.

Commodity options are included in the definition of “swap” under the Commodity Exchange Act, as amended by the Dodd-Frank Act (“CEA”),[3] and, as such, absent an exemption, are subject to the various requirements thereunder applicable to swaps.  However, a CFTC interim final rule issued in April 2012 (the “2012 Trade Option Exemption”) exempts a commodity option transaction from certain swap requirements if the following conditions are satisfied: (i) the offeror of the option is either an “eligible contract participant” as defined in section 1a(18) of the CEA or a commercial participant (a producer, processor, commercial user of, or merchant handling, the underlying physical commodity and be entering into the option solely related to its business as such); (ii) the offeree of the option is a commercial participant; and (iii) the parties intend to physically settle the option so that, if exercised, the option would result in the sale of a nonfinancial commodity for immediate (i.e., spot) or deferred (i.e., forward) shipment or delivery.[4]

The 2012 Trade Option Exemption did not exempt a qualifying commodity option (a “trade option”) from all swap requirements; rather, reporting, recordkeeping, position limits, and certain other requirements generally remained applicable.  In fact, these requirements continued to exist even for qualifying trade options between Non-SD/MSPs.  However, No-Action Letter No. 13-08, which was issued after the 2012 Trade Option Exemption, provided the following relief with respect to a trade option between Non-SD/MSPs:

  1. In lieu of the reporting requirements that would otherwise apply, a counterparty may report the trade option transaction on Form TO by March 1 following the calendar year in which the trade option was entered into.
  2. As a condition for the foregoing reporting relief, the counterparty must notify the CFTC, through an email to [email protected], no later than 30 days after entering into trade options having an aggregate notional value in excess of $1 billion during any calendar year.[5]
  3. Each counterparty may comply with the recordkeeping requirements by keeping basic business records (i.e., “full, complete and systematic records, together with all pertinent data and memoranda, with respect to each swap in which they are a counterparty”).

The Final Rule eliminates various requirements from the 2012 Trade Option Exemption and withdraws No-Action Letter No. 13-08 in its entirety. Specifically, pursuant to the Final Rule, a Non-SD/MSP counterparty entering into a trade option is no longer required to: (i) report the trade option on Form TO; (ii) notify the CFTC after entering into trade options exceeding $1 billion in aggregate notional value; or (iii) comply with any recordkeeping requirements (other than obtaining and providing a legal entity identifier to any SD or MSP counterparty).  Additionally, the Final Rule eliminates the requirement that trade options are subject to position limits.  The Final Rule became effective upon its March 21, 2016 publication in the Federal Register.


[1] A “trade option” is defined in the CFTC’s glossary as “[a] commodity option transaction in which the purchaser is reasonably believed by the writer to be engaged in business involving use of that commodity or a related commodity.” CFTC Glossary (available at http://www.cftc.gov/ConsumerProtection/EducationCenter/CFTCGlossary/glossary_t).

[2] Trade Options, 81 Fed. Reg. 14,966 (March 21, 2016).

[3] CEA, § 1a(47).

[4] Commodity Options, 77 Fed. Reg. 25,320 (April 27, 2012).

[5] CFTC Letter No. 13-08 (April 5, 2013).

Natural Gas and Electric Power Contracts: Recent End-User Developments

On April 4, 2016, the Securities and Exchange Commission (“SEC”) and the Commodity Futures Trading Commission (“CFTC”) jointly issued guidance (“Proposed Guidance”) preliminarily concluding that certain electric power capacity contracts and certain natural gas supply contracts (each as described below) constitute “customary commercial arrangements”[1] and, as such, should not be considered “swaps” under the Commodity Exchange Act, as amended by the Dodd-Frank Act (“CEA”).  The Proposed Guidance generally describes these two types of qualifying contracts as follows:

  • Certain electric power capacity contracts: Capacity contracts in electric power markets that are used in situations where regulatory requirements from a state public utility commission obligate load serving entities and load serving electric utilities in that state to purchase ‘‘capacity’’ (sometimes referred to as ‘‘resource adequacy’’) from suppliers to secure grid management and on-demand deliverability of power to consumers.
  • Certain natural gas supply contracts: Peaking supply contracts that enable an electric utility to purchase natural gas from another natural gas provider on those days when its local natural gas distribution companies curtail its natural gas transportation service.

The Proposed Guidance does not supersede or affect the CFTC’s earlier exclusion from the swap definition for capacity contracts and peaking supply contracts that qualify as forward contracts with “embedded volumetric optionality.”[2]  The comment period for the Proposed Guidance ends on May 9, 2016.


[1] See Further Definition of “Swap,” “Security-Based Swap,” and “Security-Based Swap Agreement”; Mixed Swaps; Security-Based Swap Agreement Recordkeeping, 77 Fed. Reg. 48,208, 48,246 (August 13, 2012) (the “Product Definition Rule”).  Among other things, the Product Definition Rule established an exemption to the definition of swaps for “commercial transactions.”  The purpose of this exemption is to “allow commercial . . . entities to continue to operate their businesses and operations without significant disruption and provide that the swap . . . definitions are not read to include commercial . . . operations that historically have not been considered to involve swaps.” Id. at 48,247.  In determining whether an agreement entered into by commercial entities would be entitled to the exemption, the CFTC and SEC stated that they intended to consider the characteristics and factors common to the examples it gave in the publication, namely: (i) the agreement does not contain payment obligations, whether or not contingent, that are severable from the agreement, contract, or transaction; (ii) the agreement is not traded on an organized market or over-the-counter; and (iii) the agreement is entered into by commercial or non-profit entities as principals (or by their agents) to serve an independent commercial, business, or non-profit purpose, and other than for speculative, hedging, or investment purposes. Id.

[2] The forward contract exclusion from the “swap” definition is intended for a contract that satisfies the following factors: (i) the agreement provides for physical settlement and thereby provides for the transfer of the ownership of the product rather than solely its price risk; (ii) the parties intend that the transactions be physically settled; and (iii) both parties are commercial parties and regularly make or take delivery of the product in the ordinary course of business. See Product Definition Rule, at 48,227-28.  In turn, a forward contract with “embedded volumetric optionality” is excluded from the swap definition by satisfying the following test:

  1. The embedded optionality does not undermine the overall nature of the agreement, contract, or transaction as a forward contract;
  2. The predominant feature of the agreement, contract, or transaction is actual delivery;
  3. The embedded optionality cannot be severed and marketed separately from the overall agreement, contract, or transaction in which it is embedded;
  4. The seller of a nonfinancial commodity underlying the agreement, contract, or transaction with embedded volumetric optionality intends, at the time it enters into the agreement, contract, or transaction to deliver the underlying nonfinancial commodity if the embedded volumetric optionality is exercised;
  5. The buyer of a nonfinancial commodity underlying the agreement, contract or transaction with embedded volumetric optionality intends, at the time it enters into the agreement, contract, or transaction, to take delivery of the underlying nonfinancial commodity if the embedded volumetric optionality is exercised;
  6. Both parties are commercial parties; and
  7. The embedded volumetric optionality is primarily intended, at the time that the parties enter into the agreement, contract, or transaction, to address physical factors or regulatory requirements that reasonably influence demand for, or supply of, the nonfinancial commodity.

See Forward Contracts With Embedded Volumetric Optionality 80 Fed. Reg. 28,239, 28,241 (May 18, 2015).