Mutual Funds and Investment Advisers

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.
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It was a busy morning at the intersection of derivatives and virtual currencies.  Here is an overview of what happened and some thoughts about what it means for the world of virtual currencies.
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Many buy-side market participants are in the process of grappling with issues related to the amendment of their derivatives trading documentation in order to account for new U.S. margin requirements that will apply to non-cleared swaps beginning on March 1, 2017 (the “Implementation Date”).  But, in our experience, a large number of market participants have not yet begun to consider how they are going to implement the required changes despite the fact that the Implementation Date is only a little over three months away.  In this posting, we offer a few thoughts on a protocol that was recently published by the International Swaps and Derivatives Association (“ISDA”) to facilitate amendments to ISDA Master Agreements and related Credit Support Annexes that account for the new non-cleared swap margin rules recently enacted by U.S. regulators.
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On your list of things for which to be thankful, remember to add “the ability to electronically file a CFTC Form 40 / 40S”.

Here is a very courteous reminder from the CFTC’s Division of Market Oversight that the new era of submitting electronic Form 40 is about to begin.

In case some readers do

The SEC has finalized a rule requiring registered advisers to report certain information related to the use of derivatives and borrowings in separately managed accounts (“SMAs”).  The release can be found here (the “Release”).  This posts seeks to provide advisers with a quick snap shot of the information they will need to collect and disclose.  The compliance date is October 1, 2017.
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In an earlier post, I noted that Release No. IC-10666 was issued before interest rate swaps were invented. This may have been unfortunate, because swaps present unique challenges to Release 10666’s approach to asset segregation. I believe that difficulty with applying Release 10666 to swaps has contributed to inconsistency in the segregation requirements for different derivatives.

Swaps: The Revenge of Middle School Algebra
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I’ve been discussing comments on the SEC’s proposed Rule 18f-4 in light of the SEC’s initial regulation of derivatives in Release No. IC-10666 (“Release 10666”). As explained in my first post, the objectives of the proposed rule include limiting the “speculative character” of funds that use derivatives and assuring they have sufficient assets to cover their obligations. Release 10666 used one means, asset segregation, to achieve both ends. Several comment letters appear to question whether this approach is still tenable.
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[Click here for the obscure title reference.]

Release No. IC-10666 (“Release 10666”), issued in 1979 under the direction of my partner Marty Lybecker, was the starting point for the SEC’s regulation of derivatives under Section 18 of the Investment Company Act. This release would provide the basis for proposed Rule 18f‑4’s regulation of “financial commitment transactions.” Many of the comment letters on the proposed rule refer to Release 10666, and many of these assert that subsequent no-action letters extended Release 10666 to derivatives. Their assertion underestimates the original scope of Release 10666, which extended to all derivative contracts commonly used at the time.
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This post continues my consideration of some conceptual questions underlying the SEC’s proposed Rule 18f-4. The following comment on the proposal caught my attention:

Congress is stating [in Section 1(b) of the Investment Company Act] that there is a problem when leverage unduly increases the “speculative character” (what we now call risk) of the investments. This was particularly a problem back in the 1930s … [when the] combination of opaque products, complex capital structures, pyramiding, bad corporate governance, and leverage created a toxic brew that resulted in serious losses for unwary investors.

Although this wasn’t the commenter’s point, it struck me that derivatives have the potential to present today all of the problems that senior securities presented in the 1930.
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A CLE presentation gave me an excuse to read many of the comment letters regarding the SEC’s proposed Rule 18f-4, which would regulate the amount of “senior security transactions” in which an investment company could engage. I filed a personal comment letter responding to the SEC’s initial concept release in 2011. The proposed rule and most of the comments have moved well beyond the “conceptual” stage and my understanding of quantitative risk management. But several comments reveal some conceptual confusion that a thoughtful review of the law might dispel.
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