June 25, 2024

DealBook: Derivatives Market Faces New Capital Rules

Gary Gensler, chairman of the Commodity Futures Trading Commission.Evan Vucci/Associated Press Gary Gensler, the C.F.T.C.’s chairman, is worried that the proposed capital rules are too lenient on the industry.

7:51 p.m. | Updated

The $600 trillion derivatives market, long known for its freewheeling ways, is slowly being tamed.

The Commodity Futures Trading Commission proposed rules on Wednesday that would force hedge funds and other firms that trade the opaque products to bolster their capital cushion, the latest effort by regulators to curb risky behavior that fed the financial crisis.

The commission also issued a long-awaited clarification about what types of derivatives contracts will face new regulations.

The new capital rules are largely aimed at some 200 swap dealers — brokerage firms, large energy trading shops and Wall Street affiliates that arrange the deals. The commission’s plan also would apply to hedge funds and other companies that have huge positions in swaps, the derivative contracts tied to the value of commodities, interest rates or mortgage securities.

Gary Gensler, the commission’s chairman, said the capital rules would “help protect” companies and other market participants. But he also questioned the rigor of the requirements, saying at the commission’s public meeting on Wednesday that “my worry” is that the proposal is too lenient on the industry.

That concern was echoed on Wednesday by advocates of financial reform.

Despite the controversy, the agency’s commissioners voted 4 to 1 in favor of advancing the proposal to a 60-day public comment period. They are expected to vote on a final version of the rules by the fall.

Scott D. O’Malia, one of the agency’s two Republican commissioners, voted against the plan. Some Republicans lawmakers, meanwhile, have introduced measures in Congress to delay or derail the capital requirements and other commission rules.

The proposed rules come out of the Dodd-Frank Act, the financial regulatory law enacted last year. The law mandated an overhaul of swaps trading, an unregulated industry that was at the center of the crisis. The commission over the last year has proposed dozens of new derivatives regulations, including a plan that would require many swap contracts to be traded on regulated exchanges.

But for months, the commission declined to outline which varieties of swaps would be subject to the new rules, much to the consternation of market players who sought clarity on the scope of the overhaul. On Wednesday, the commission said its definition would cover most known swaps while exempting insurance products and consumer transactions, like contracts to buy home heating oil.

The agency unveiled the definition jointly with the Securities and Exchange Commission, which shares oversight of the swaps market. The S.E.C. on Wednesday voted unanimously to propose the definition.

The commodity commission’s separate proposal to build capital cushions in the derivatives industry could help prevent a repeat of the 2008 financial collapse, regulators say.

In the lead-up to the crisis, investors bought billions of dollars’ worth of credit-default swaps as insurance on risky mortgage-backed securities. When the underlying mortgages soured, the American International Group and other companies that sold the swaps lacked the capital to honor their agreements.

Under the commission’s new plan, those firms would have to put aside enough cash to cover unforeseen calamities. Regulators, until recently, had little authority to set any rules for this risky market.

Still, there is no guarantee that enhanced capital levels would avert future disasters. And there is no magic capital number that regulators see as a cure-all; different firms will use different sorts of capital to satisfy the requirements.

Swap dealers and major trading firms that are already registered with the commission as futures brokers would have to hold at least $20 million in so-called adjusted net capital. Another set of firms would have to keep “tangible net equity” equal to $20 million. This standard would allow energy firms, for example, to count oil in the ground as part of their calculation.

Some argue that the requirement is too permissive.

“That insufficiently reduces risk,” said Dennis Kelleher, president of Better Markets. “Instead, the agency should consider a higher standard, such as liquid assets, to prevent another A.I.G. from happening again.”

The commission on Wednesday also voted to reopen or extend for 30 days the public comment period on its earlier rule proposals. The agency plans to complete most Dodd-Frank rules by the fall.

Article source: http://feeds.nytimes.com/click.phdo?i=3308ece8dfd047122a3ff34e2738ee0c

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