August 7, 2022

Still Writing, Regulators Delay Rules

The Securities and Exchange Commission said on Wednesday that market participants would not have to comply with many aspects of derivatives reform scheduled to take effect in mid-July. It declined to specify how long the delay would be in the equity derivatives it oversees.

The announcement follows a similar statement on Tuesday from the Commodity Futures Trading Commission, although that agency imposed a year-end deadline for many of the changes in the derivatives it oversees.

The idea of changing the deadline had been divisive at the commodities commission. The two Republicans on the five-commissioner board had wanted to create an extension without a deadline. The Democrats, however, wanted a specific date to keep some pressure on the group to complete the rule writing, according to three participants in the meeting.

The commissioners ultimately agreed unanimously on the extension, but the dispute illustrates the political divide that has been brewing in Washington for months as regulators work to roll out hundreds of rules required by the Dodd-Frank financial reform legislation of last summer.

Though the Dodd-Frank measure was passed with bipartisan support, it has come under fierce criticism from many Republicans as well as some Democrats with financial constituents, who have urged regulators to slow the rule writing. Republicans are also trying to shave financing from agencies like the Securities and Exchange Commission and the Commodity Futures Trading Commission, which now have a larger workload in writing and enforcing scores of new rules.

Gary Gensler, the Democratic chairman of the trading commission, testified in Congress on Wednesday about the agency’s limited resources. In an interview, he pointed out that the derivatives market is seven times the size of the futures market, which his agency has long overseen.

“This agency has been asked to take on a very expanded mission,” he said. The decision this week to push back the derivatives deadline, he added, “was not about delay. It was just giving the market the certainty while we’re completing the rules.”

Regulators have missed more than two dozen deadlines for new Dodd-Frank rules, which cover a swath of topics, be it consumer protections in mortgage lending, bank responsibilities for dealing with city governments, or future resolution powers for troubled financial institutions. The legislation was the government’s main response to the financial crisis, and it is supposed to rein in Wall Street and reduce the kind of risk that led to the market implosion three years ago.

Observers say that the two delays this week make sense: with regulators so behind schedule, putting some of the rules into effect could be problematic. Still, regulatory experts warned that delays could be dangerous.

“Sounds like common sense to me,” said James J. Angel, a professor at the McDonough School of Business at Georgetown. “The regulators have this tsunami of work dumped on them, and it’s important to get it right.”

Still, he said, it is unclear whether the banks calling for a slowdown have legitimate concerns.

“You don’t know whether they’re just whining because they’re trying to get a few more pennies or if this is really Armageddon to them,” he said.

At hearings, bank officials have urged regulators to move slowly, saying that the rules will be better if created with greater care and consideration. The industry also has warned against what its officials call the “big bang” approach, under which many rules would take effect at once.

One difficulty is that many rules are related, and some rules drive others. Nowhere is this more true than in the derivatives market, where financial insurance contracts are written to protect against many different risks.

For instance, the rules to impose position limits in some commodities derivatives, like oil contracts, may depend in part on how much money financial players hold in different investments. But the commodities commission has been unable to demand all the data on these holdings — and the banks have not been volunteering — until it has written certain other rules and passed the one-year mark on the law.

The law specified that some derivatives rules would go into effect next month, no matter the status of rule writing, and those are what both financial commissions voted to delay this week.

At the commodities commission, Democrats and Republicans agreed that the July deadline for many rules was untenable because its staffers had not even finished defining terms like “swaps dealer” — an entity that buys and sells a type of derivative.

Jill Sommers, one of the Republican commissioners at the commodities regulator, said in an interview that she absolutely wants the rules to go into effect. But the commission needs to take its time, she said. “We didn’t want a date,” Ms. Sommers said. “We’re trying to makes sure we don’t miss anything. I think we need to be very deliberate.”

One of her opponents in the meeting was Bart Chilton, a Democrat. He said in an e-mail on Wednesday that he worried that having no deadline would take away much needed urgency. “We should be putting the hammer down and making up for lost time,” he wrote. “That means doing what the agency has done: given us a time certain — the end of the year — in which to complete our work.”

The commission has three Democrats, but one, Michael Dunn, has his term expiring this summer. He can stay on beyond that date, but if he chooses to leave, a successor is sure to face fierce confirmation questions in the Senate, where lawmakers are heavily divided on the new rules.

Edward Wyatt contributed reporting.

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