FINRA and the CFTC each issued recent advisories on commodity-linked exchange traded products. Directed at retail investors and broker-dealers, the advisories each highlighted certain issues unique to commodity-linked exchange traded products that were recently demonstrated by market reactions to fluctuating oil prices caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. The advisories provided guidance on relevant considerations in

In the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, the financial markets have experienced significant volatility. During the course of this volatility, exchanges have halted trading multiple times after declines in trading trigged circuit breakers. In addition, trading floors are transitioning to electronic trading in efforts to prevent the transmission of COVID-19 on physical trading floors. With

On March 9, 2020, FINRA released Regulatory Notice 20-08 (the “Regulatory Notice”) providing guidance and limited relief to its member broker-dealers during the COVID-19 pandemic. In particular, the Regulatory Notice requests that broker-dealers evaluate their compliance with FINRA Rule 4370, which requires broker-dealers to create, maintain, and update upon any material change, BCPs (Business Continuity Plans) identifying procedures relating to emergency or significant business disruption.
Continue Reading FINRA Issues Notice Regarding Business Continuity Planning During COVID-19 Outbreak

On May 23, 2019, the Office of Compliance Inspections and Examinations (“OCIE”) of the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (“SEC”) issued a Risk Alert to summarize frequent mistakes and effective practices by broker-dealers and investment advisers relating to the storage of clients’ data. In particular, OCIE warned that issues relating to cloud storage arose even when firms had cybersecurity measures for their data storage because firms did not utilize the available security features.
Continue Reading OCIE Issues Risk Alert on Data and Cloud Storage Practices

On December 21, 2018, the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (“SEC”) announced enforcement actions against two robo-advisers, Wealthfront Advisors LLC (“Wealthfront”) and Hedgeable Inc. (“Hedgeable”), for making false statements about investment products and publishing misleading advertising. “Robo-advisers” are investment advisers that provide automated, software-based portfolio management services. In a press release related to these actions,

On the heels of remarks by his U.S. Commodity Futures Trading Commission (“CFTC”) counterpart, U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (“SEC”) Chairman Jay Clayton recently commented on ongoing benchmark reform and the transition to the Secured Overnight Financing Rate (“SOFR”).  As we noted earlier this week, Chairman J. Christopher Giancarlo of the CFTC recently advocated for the adoption of SOFR as the appropriate replacement for LIBOR and added that the CFTC is already working on the transition.  He implored market participants and firms to immediately begin transacting in SOFR derivatives for the health of the transition.

In remarks on December 6, 2018, Chairman Clayton mentioned the transition away from LIBOR as a market risk that the SEC is currently monitoring.  For Chairman Clayton, the key risk stems from the fact that there are approximately $200 trillion in notional transactions referencing the U.S. Dollar LIBOR and that more than $35 trillion will not mature by the end of 2021, when banks currently reporting information used to set LIBOR are scheduled to stop doing so.  Listing potential issues with a transition away from LIBOR, Chairman Clayton raised questions such as what happens to the interest rates of the instruments that will not mature before 2021 but reference LIBOR?  Does an instrument’s documentation include any fallback language?  If not, will consents be required to amend the documentation?
Continue Reading SEC Chairman Weighs in on the Transition to SOFR

On November 29, 2018, in remarks before the 2018 Financial Stability Conference in Washington, D.C., Chairman J. Christopher Giancarlo of the U.S. Commodity Futures Trading Commission (“CFTC”) supported the adoption of the Secured Overnight Financing Rate (“SOFR”) as the new benchmark for short-term unsecured interest rates.  SOFR is currently produced by the Federal Reserve Bank of New York (“New York Fed”) and is based on transactions in the repurchase agreement transaction (“repo”) markets.  Chairman Giancarlo’s statements and support of SOFR come on the heels of a series of market and regulatory developments relating to benchmark reform.

Since 2017, regulators and financial market industry leaders have been working to design alternative interest rate benchmarks.  Significantly, in June 2017, the Alternative Reference Rates Committee (“ARRC”), an organization convened by the Federal Reserve Board (“FRB”) and the New York Fed, selected a broad repo rate as its preferred alternative reference rate.  In choosing a broad repo rate, ARRC considered factors including the depth of the underlying market and its likely robustness over time; the rate’s usefulness to market participants; and whether the rate’s construction, governance, and accountability would be consistent with the IOSCO Principles for Financial Benchmarks.
Continue Reading CFTC Chairman and Market Participants Weigh in on the Transition to SOFR

On November 6, 2018, the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (“SEC”) brought an enforcement action against a (formerly) registered investment adviser (“Adviser”), for failing to meet its diligence and compliance responsibilities under the Investment Advisers Act (“IAA”) relating to certain repurchase agreement (“repos”) facilities it offered to

For those of you who have been following along thus far, the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (“SEC”) and the SEC’s Division of Trading and Markets (“SEC Staff”) have been wrestling since December 2017 with whether to approve or disapprove exchange-traded funds (“ETFs”) that invest in bitcoin futures contracts.  On August 22, 2018, the SEC Staff decided to reject three proposals that included a total of nine bitcoin futures ETFs, possibly.  Just one day later, the SEC issued stays of all three rejections and elected to review the SEC Staff’s decisions.  With no clear decision, it is worth looking at the reasons for the SEC Staff’s rejection of the three proposals, particularly in light of the SEC’s recent split decision on the rejection of a bitcoin ETF (the “Bitcoin ETF”).

The three rejection orders came against two proposals by NYSE Arca, Inc. (“NYSE Arca”) and one by Cboe BZX Exchange, Inc. (“Cboe BZX”).  The ETFs themselves would predominantly hold bitcoin futures contracts in lieu of holding “physical” bitcoin.  The result would create exposure to the price fluctuations of bitcoin, but the futures-based ETFs would seek to invest in a more “traditional” asset (i.e., a futures contract) that is traded on established futures markets such as the Chicago Mercantile Exchange (“CME”) and Cboe Options Exchange, Inc. (“Cboe”).
Continue Reading SEC Staff Rejects Bitcoin Futures Based ETFs – Commission Stays Rejections Pending Its Review

Last month, on July 10, 2018, the Office of Financial Research (“OFR”), an agency of the U.S. Department of the Treasury, proposed a new rule that would require collection of data with respect to centrally cleared repurchase agreement transactions (“repos”) (the “Proposed Rule”).  The proposal stems from a multi-year effort by the Financial Stability Oversight Council (“FSOC”) to expand and make permanent the collection of repo data.

The Proposed Rule seeks to enhance the ability of FSOC and OFR to identify and monitor risks to financial stability, as well as support the calculation of certain reference rates for repos.  Particularly for the calculation of certain reference rates, OFR asserted that the new data from the Proposed Rule would support and enhance the calculation of both the Secured Overnight Financing Rate (“SOFR”) and the Broad General Collateral Rate (“BGCR”).
Continue Reading Treasury Department Proposes a New Rule for Data Collection of Centrally Cleared Repo Transactions