On the (broken) record…

Last Monday, ISDA submitted its response to the second BIS/IOSCO consultation on “Margin requirements for non-centrally cleared derivatives”. The second consultation asked market participants to comment on two specific areas: the treatment of physically-settled FX transactions, and the question of re-hypothecation. At the same time, it asked for comments on the newly proposed phase-in of initial margin (IM) requirements, and the accuracy and applicability of the results from the Quantitative Impact Study (QIS) conducted as part of the first consultation.

Here are some of the broad themes that emerge from the second consultation:

First, the regulators’ stance towards IM requirements remains unchanged. The IM proposals contained in the second consultation are in line with those of the first consultation, calling for imposing a universal two-way initial margin (IM) requirement on all covered entities (all OTC derivatives participants except for sovereigns, supranationals, central banks and non-systemically important corporates). However, the second consultation excludes entities with aggregate notional amounts of less than €8 billion notional outstanding during the last three months of the preceding year.

Second, while the regulators seem to acknowledge the potential impact of the IM requirements on liquidity, they attempt to mitigate these negative effects by:

  • Phasing in and gradually applying the requirements starting in 2015 with the largest entities (those with more than €3 trillion notional during the last three months of the preceding year), and gradually capturing all covered entities by 2018;
  • Allowing limited netting to be used in connection with the standardized table method;
  • Contemplating (and asking participants about) the possibility of some form of re-hypothecation.

Third, the published QIS results confirm ISDA’s estimates as to the quantum of the proposed IM requirements. If nothing else, the QIS results indicate even higher quantities of required collateral to meet the IM obligations (from $1.7 to roughly $2.2 trillion, if all covered entities use internal models – and from $0.8 to $0.9 trillion – and a potentially higher number, depending on how the €50 million threshold is applied1).

Indeed, reflecting the regulators’ anxiety as to the quantum of the IM proposals, there are some encouraging morsels in the stew, such as the effort to exempt a number of smaller entities. Unfortunately, even in this case, the metric used is notional amounts. Since that is not risk sensitive, it is inconsistent with the overall objective of reducing systemic risk. It would make more sense if the metric used was risk sensitive and, as we suggest in our response, took into account the hedging activities of the entity.

Most importantly, if one takes all of the above into account, the thrust of the consultation and the industry’s response remain more or less unchanged. If the proposed IM requirements go ahead as proposed, the sheer quantum of them is likely to cause irreparable damage to market liquidity and to the general economy. We have repeatedly listed these arguments before in various shapes and forms; in our March paper Non-Cleared OTC Derivatives: Their Importance to the Global Economy; in last November’s presentation Initial Margin For Non-Centrally Cleared Swaps: Understanding the Systemic Implications; and also in a shorter take in a media.comment post from January.

Moreover, as our research in the collateral space expands, so does our anxiety as to the potential effects of the IM proposals to the general economy. Collateral serves a fundamental function in the secured financing market and is a source of liquidity as it is a substitute for money/credit. Removing trillions from the collateral market, however phased-in such requirements are, undoubtedly will have a negative effect on the economy.

And if those adverse effects are not enough, there’s another factor to consider: the IM requirements are highly pro-cyclical, hitting participants at the worst possible time when everyone is on a quest for liquidity. In an effort to enhance systemic resiliency by reducing counterparty risk, we may be introducing other risks, such as liquidity and economic risk, that may make it harder to achieve a more resilient system.

So, for the record, that’s where ISDA stands on the IM issue. If the record sounds a little broken because we have been playing it a lot recently, that’s because we have. These are important issues and it’s clear that their impact needs to be fully assessed before they are finalized and implemented.

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1 The new consultation seeks to apply the €50 million threshold on a consolidated basis, potentially neutralizing the benefit this exemption, as the threshold gets divided by the number of entities belonging in the consolidated group.

All Quiet on the Clearing Front

A milestone week for OTC derivative clearing has come – and almost gone. Unless you are immersed in Dodd-Frank (like we are) you probably didn’t even notice.

And that’s a good thing.

Starting this past Monday, swap dealers and active funds* in the United States have been required to clear various interest rate swaps and CDX credit trades. No one would guarantee beforehand that things would go smoothly, but at this point we can say that everything went pretty much according to plan.

At the end of the first day of clearing we reached out to our members to hear about their experiences, particularly any significant issues they may have had. As the adage goes, silence is golden. No issues of any particular concern were raised and three more days of smooth sailing on the clearing front only reinforces that view.

Deadlines always help to focus attention and we know from our members – buy side, sell side and CCPs – that they were working hard through the past weekend to get systems and documentation up to snuff for Day 1 of Clearing. Perhaps a few even listened to our urgings from a month ago. All that hard work paid off.

One reason this first wave of clearing went smoothly is that much of the clearing to which the mandate applied was already underway. Dealer-to-dealer trades in the affected product types have been cleared for quite some time. At least some of the active traders had tested the waters on clearing. This reflects the industry’s commitment to the key tenets of regulatory reform that reduce systemic risk, including the reduction of counterparty credit risk through clearing.

With one deadline successfully met, market participants are looking ahead to several new ones. External Business Conduct Rules (EBCR) become effective on May 1. The next two waves of clearing occur on June 10 (for commodity pool operators, private funds and non-dealer financial entities) and on September 9 (for everyone else, other than commercial end-users).

For the May 1 deadline, we will be rolling out our next Dodd-Frank Act protocol shortly and will be holding an EBCR webinar on Thursday, March 21 (click here to register). For the next waves of clearing we will continue to work with our members and the broader market to assist them however we can to prepare for those important dates. Those next categories of market participants facing the clearing mandate are a bigger universe than the active funds, making the education process even more of a challenge.

Future efforts will be buoyed by the experience of the first day of clearing. When it comes to the many challenges of regulatory implementation, we firmly believe that success breeds success.


* The clearing mandate also applies to major swap participants, but at this point only two firms have registered as such and neither is engaged in new trading.

Why Limit Customer Choice on SEFs?

Last week we published the results of a survey of buy-side firms on proposals to mandate how many quotes must be requested when utilizing a swap execution facility (SEF). The CFTC proposal would require a minimum of five quotes and the entire industry has been waiting to see what the final rules will say on this point.

The survey, which we conducted with the Asset Manager Group of SIFMA with additional input from the Managed Funds Association, indicates overwhelmingly that the five quote minimum requirement will mean higher transaction costs, wider spreads, constrained liquidity, exposing of investment strategies, migration to different markets and use of alternative products that are not traded on SEFs.

Is this what regulatory reform was intended to achieve?

The fact is, the creation of SEFs was intended to provide a third way of trading derivatives, fitting along a spectrum that included the traditional means of OTC derivative trade execution on the one hand and the exchange traded world on the other. Sitting in the middle of that spectrum would allow SEFs to blend the best of both worlds. If SEFs are not sufficiently different from the former or too much like the latter, we would fall short of one of the goals of the G20 and the Dodd-Frank Act.

Dictating, and in the process limiting, customer choice does not seem to us to be a good way to achieve those goals. A minimum quote requirement takes the decision out of the hands of the users of the products with no clear demonstration that better pricing, lower costs or greater liquidity would result.

And who is more able to opine on such matters than the participating firms in the survey? Asset managers, hedge funds, insurance companies, pensions, foundations, endowments, corporates and others, together holding nearly $18 trillion in assets responded to the survey. Does someone other than those institutions know better than they what suits the needs of their accounts and investors?

SEFs can and should flourish, if we get the regulatory structure right. Many firms are eagerly awaiting the final rules from the CFTC so that they can begin final preparations to register as SEFs and launch their offerings. Rigid requirements with no demonstration of benefits, such as minimum quote requirements, will only weigh down these innovative offerings.

Let’s not burden SEFs and their many potential customers before they even get up and running.

The Ides of EMIR

We recently wrote about the first deadline for clearing in the United States, which applies to swap dealers, major swap participants and active funds. We now have official confirmation of the deadline for a number of requirements under the European Market Infrastructure Regulation (EMIR). With the publication this past Monday of the regulatory technical standards under EMIR, that date is now confirmed as March 15 ‒ less than two weeks away.

Under the CFTC rules in the US, non-financial end users will not be subject to the clearing mandate. That is not the case in Europe, where non-financial end users (called non-financial corporations, or NFCs), depending on their level of activity, may be required to clear transactions if their derivatives activity exceeds thresholds of €1-3 billion (after hedging), depending on asset class.

But the immediate focus under EMIR is not clearing, but several other requirements.

In order to assist end users in navigating the EMIR rules to determine which provisions they need to comply with, we held a webinar this week. Our public policy team was joined by end user representatives who have been at the forefront of derivatives regulatory developments (you can access the slides from the webinar here).

The webinar focused primarily on the compliance needs of European NFCs. Of particular interest were the challenges faced by smaller firms who may not have the resources to keep up with the rapidly changing regulatory landscape, nor with the new obligations EMIR creates for them. As such, a key objective of the webinar was to increase awareness of the obligations and promote compliance.

Equally important to convey was that even if NFCs do not face a clearing requirement from EMIR, they will face other requirements under this Regulation, some applying as soon as March 15. And of course, their counterparties ‒ the providers of OTC derivatives ‒ will be subject to all the new EMIR rules, which will affect the pricing and availability of OTC derivative products for everyone.

On March 15 the confirmations obligation kicks in for all entities in scope under EMIR (financial corporations (FCs) and NFCs alike), and EMIR requires that all such entities have procedures and arrangements in place to confirm transactions. For subgroups of FCs and for those NFCs that are likely to exceed the above-mentioned clearing threshold (sometimes referred to as NFC+s), there are additional obligations in the form of required daily mark-to-market and mark-to-model valuations.

That fast-approaching Friday, March 15, is also the date by which potential NFC+s are required to declare to their competent authority if they exceed the clearing threshold. Such thresholds are set by asset class (again, €1-3 billion exclusive of “hedging” transactions), and breaching a threshold in any asset class creates the obligation to clear all asset classes.

Later in the year (around Q3), all entities face obligations that address portfolio reconciliation, portfolio compression, and dispute resolutions. Reporting to trade repositories begins for interest rates and credit derivatives, effective 90 days after a trade repository has registered. Other asset class reporting will be phased in beginning in 2014. Finally, mandatory clearing will start some time in the summer of 2014, assuming all goes well with the CCP authorization process.

Clearly, a lot lies ahead. ISDA is committed to work closely with the regulatory community and will continue – through the Regulatory Implementation Committees (RICs) that have been set up for this purpose – to interpret the new obligations, and to assist members with compliance.