On January 19 the Commodity Futures Trading Commission (“CFTC”) and the Securities and Exchange Commission (“SEC”) issued a joint statement warning about potential enforcement actions involving the offering of digital instruments: “When market participants engage in fraud under the guise of offering digital instruments – whether characterized as virtual currencies, coins, tokens, or the like – the SEC and CFTC will look beyond form, examine the substance of the activity and prosecute violations of the federal securities and commodities laws.” In conjunction with this warning, the CFTC brought a number of virtual currency enforcement actions in January, three of which are discussed below. READ MORE
Posts by: Nikiforos Mathews
English Supreme Court Brings an End to Dexia-Prato Swap Dispute
On January 18 the English Supreme Court refused to grant Comune di Prato (“Prato”), an Italian local authority with responsibility for the municipality of Prato in Tuscany, permission to appeal a 2017 decision of the Court of Appeals in favor of Dexia Creditop SpA (“Dexia”), Prato’s swap counterparty. This decision brings to an end a long-standing dispute that was one of many involving swaps entered into by Italian municipalities between 2001 and 2008, when the onset of the financial crisis triggered defaults and brought increased scrutiny to the derivatives market.
The decision of the Court of Appeals, together with the determination by the Supreme Court not to allow further appeal, may provide greater certainty as to the narrow scope of Article 3(3) of the Rome Convention, particularly in respect of derivatives agreements documented under standard documentation that are governed by English law. READ MORE
CFTC Amends Recordkeeping Rules
On August 28, amendments recently adopted by the Commodity Futures Trading Commission (“CFTC”) to recordkeeping obligations under CFTC Rule 1.31 are scheduled to become effective. The CFTC periodically updates this rule to take into account technological advances and modernize requirements for persons subject to recordkeeping obligations under the U.S. Commodity Exchange Act or the CFTC’s rules, known as “records entities.” In proposing these amendments earlier this year, the CFTC acknowledged that recordkeeping has “evolved significantly” since its last overhaul of Rule 1.31 in 1999. READ MORE
LIBOR Discontinuance and the Derivatives Market
On July 27, the Chief Executive of the UK Financial Conduct Authority (“FCA”) announced that, after the end of 2021, the FCA would no longer use its power to persuade or compel panel banks to submit rate information used to determine the London Interbank Offered Rate, known as “LIBOR.” LIBOR serves as a benchmark rate for hundreds of trillions of dollars of securities, loans and transactions, including over-the-counter and exchange-traded derivatives. The total market of financial instruments based on LIBOR is approximately $350 trillion. READ MORE
CME and LCH Amend Rulebooks on Variation Margin
Cleared derivatives are generally characterized as being either “collateralized-to-market” (“CTM”) or “settled-to-market” (“STM”) in connection with the mitigation of counterparty credit risk resulting from movements in mark-to-market value. Under the CTM approach, transfers of variation margin are characterized as daily “collateral” transfers, with the transferring party having a right to reclaim the collateral (a financial asset) and the receiving party having the obligation to return the collateral (a financial liability), as well as a legal right to liquidate the collateral in the event of a close-out.
Under the STM approach, variation margin reflects daily “gain” to the receiving party that is actually settled. Despite the settlement of the gain on a daily basis, the derivative’s underlying economic terms remain the same (in other words, there is no amendment or recouponing of the trade). However, unlike the CTM approach, variation margin transferred is not regarded as pledged collateral securing obligations between the parties. Rather, variation margin is deemed to “settle outstanding exposure” between them (with no right to reclaim or obligation to return the variation margin) and, after that settlement, the mark-to-market between the parties resets to zero. READ MORE
Effective Date for FINRA Rule 4210 Margin Amendments Approaches
Beginning on December 15, 2017, amendments approved by the Securities and Exchange Commission (“SEC”) last year to FINRA Rule 4210 will require U.S. registered broker-dealers to collect (but not post) daily variation margin and, in some cases, initial margin, from their customers on specified transactions.
These new margin requirements apply to “Covered Agency Transactions,” which include: (i) “to-be-announced” (or “TBA”) transactions on mortgage-backed securities (“MBS”) and specified pool transactions for which the settlement date is more than one business day after the trade date; and (ii) U.S. agency collateralized mortgage obligations for which the settlement date is more than three business days after the trade date. TBA transactions account for the vast majority of trading in the sizable agency MBS market. READ MORE
CFTC Extends No-Action Relief to Swap Dealers in Connection with Swaps Subject to EMIR Margin Requirements
On April 18, 2017, the Commodity Futures Trading Commission (“CFTC”) issued a no-action letter extending until November 7, 2017 the relief provided under CFTC Letter No. 17-05 (“Letter 17-05”), which was scheduled to expire on May 8, 2017. Letter 17-05 provides relief from certain CFTC margin requirements to certain swap dealers (“SDs”) in connection with swaps subject to the margin requirements under the European Market Infrastructure Regulation (“EMIR”). READ MORE
CFTC Indicates Willingness to Help Incubate Fintech
J. Christopher Giancarlo, the acting chairman of the CFTC, has diverged from other U.S. federal regulators, signaling he favors “regulatory sandboxes” in which fintech companies may experiment with new ideas. Unlike the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency and the Federal Reserve, Mr. Giancarlo’s approach is to “do no harm” to early-stage technology such as blockchain, and is in line with proposals by regulators in the U.K. and Singapore, among other fintech hubs.
In a recent Bloomberg BNA article, Nikiforos Mathews, partner and global co-head of Derivatives at Orrick, Herrington & Sutcliffe, gives his take on the acting chairman’s position, noting that “I see a focus on trying to understand the technology and its potential benefits and fostering the advancement of the fintech sector in a way that it’s under the watchful eye of the regulators,” and suggesting that the agency may designate technology focused specialists to work with fintech innovators such that there is “breathing room” for growth and experimentation. “At the end of the day, with early regulatory involvement, regulators are going to understand the market better and put out smarter rules,” Mathews said.
Regulation AT – An Update
From the time Regulation AT was initially proposed by the Commodity Futures Trading Commission (“CFTC”) over a year ago, the CFTC has solicited and considered numerous comment letters, held a public roundtable, supplemented the proposed regulation, and, on January 23, 2017, extended the comment period for that supplemental proposal. However, although the substance of the regulation has evolved in certain respects, its future remains uncertain. READ MORE
Recent Blockchain Regulatory Developments
Blockchain and distributed ledger technology (“DLT”) applications outside of the bitcoin context are attracting the attention of financial entities, prompting regulators to become increasingly focused on these possible applications. Recently, for example: (i) potential financial and securities applications of DLT were discussed in depth at a “FinTech Forum” held at the Securities and Exchange Commission (“SEC”); (ii) the Federal Reserve Board published a paper titled “Distributed Ledger Technology in Payments, Clearing, and Settlement”; and (iii) the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority (“FINRA”) published a paper titled “Distributed Ledger Technology: Implications of Blockchain for the Securities Industry.” Each of these recent developments is discussed in turn below. READ MORE