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CFTC Gives Tentative Green Light to Volcker Rule
The federal Commodity Futures Trading Commission (CFTC) proposed limiting banks’ proprietary trading and hedge fund investments under the Dodd-Frank Act’s Volcker rule. The CFTC 3-2 vote makes it the last of five regulators to seek public comment on the proposal. This vote opens the measure to 60 days of public comment. The rule, named for former Federal Reserve Chairman Paul Volcker, was included in Dodd-Frank to rein in risky trading at banks that benefit from federal deposit insurance and Fed discount window borrowing privileges.
The CFTC stayed mum when the Fed, Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation, Securities and Exchange Commission and Office of Comptroller of the Currency released their joint proposal last year. The four agencies extended the comment period on their proposal until February 13 after financial-industry groups and lawmakers cited the complexity of the rule and the lack of coordination with the CFTC in requesting an extension.
The CFTC may soften Dodd-Frank a bit, granting Wall Street banks exceptions to rules requiring dealers to sensibly believe their derivatives are suitable for clients and in the best interests of endowments and other so-called special entities. The rules “implement requirements for swap dealers and major swap participants to deal fairly with customers, provide balanced communications, and disclose material risks, conflicts of interest and material incentives before entering into a swap,” CFTC Chairman Gary Gensler said.
Opponents say the CFTC proposal would cause “severe market disruption” by transforming the relationship between swap dealers and clients such as pensions and municipalities, according to Sifma and the International Swaps and Derivatives Association, Inc.. Under the final rule, dealers must disclose material risks and daily mid-market values of contracts to their clients. The CFTC may also complete rules designed to protect swap traders’ collateral that is used to reduce risk in trades. The rule insulates the collateral if the broker defaults, while allowing the customer funds to be pooled before a bankruptcy, according to a CFTC summary of the regulation.
Commissioner Scott O’Malia voted in favor or the rule, but said he did not want to give market participants “a misleading sense of comfort” that it would have prevented the loss of customer money at the brokerage giant. “This rulemaking does not address MF Global,” O’Malia said. “This rulemaking would not have prevented a shortfall in the customer funds of the ranchers and farmers that transact daily in the futures market. Nor would it have expedited the transfer of positions and collateral belonging to such customers in the event of a collapse similar to that of MF Global.”
Commissioner Jill Sommers, who voted against the rule, criticized the rule for doing nothing to protect a futures commission merchant’s futures customers. “Given recent events, we need to re-think this approach so we can provide adequate protections, in a comprehensive and coherent way, to swaps customers and to futures customers,” Sommers said. “I do not favor a piecemeal approach to customer protection.”