Time Ticking on Next Margin Deadlines

Time has a habit of marching relentlessly on, and revised compliance dates for counterparties to make changes to their collateral documents as part of new variation margin requirements are nearly upon us in some cases. Substantial progress has been made over the past few months because the industry isn’t being complacent – yet there’s still more to do, and little time to do it in.

ISDA has been tracking industry progress on a weekly basis since the beginning of the year. The data shows that more than three quarters of outstanding credit support annex (CSA) agreements have now been amended. That represents a big jump from the 30% just before the original variation margin ‘big bang’ implementation date of March 1 – which, in turn, represents thousands of hours of complex bilateral negotiations with counterparties to agree the changes. We have provided this information to regulators across the globe, and they are keenly interested in the progress that has been made.

But with the variation margin forbearance period set to end on September 1 in some jurisdictions, including the US, there’s little time left to make changes to the remaining 20-25% of CSAs. Along with the end of forbearance, other jurisdictions – Australia, Hong Kong, Switzerland and Singapore – are due to require compliance with their variation margin requirements from September 1.

Given the progress made over the past few months, it might seem like there’s time aplenty to complete the job. But the second phase of the initial margin requirements is also due to take effect on September 1 – which means that phase-one and phase-two banks will be finalizing their initial margin documents, and phase-two firms will be implementing the necessary systems changes. It should also be noted that the ISDA SIMM has been updated to include additional risk factors relating to cross-currency swaps, inflation swaptions and collateralized debt obligation tranches. ISDA SIMM 1.3 was undertaken at the request of the Federal Reserve Bank, and we’re also going through the annual recalibration process and the results will be shared with global regulators. All of this means there will be competing demands for limited resources during the coming summer months.

The scale and complexity of the variation margin repapering exercise has been immense. The March 1 deadline captured banks, asset managers, insurance companies and hedge funds across the US, European Union, Japan and Canada. While the vast majority of those entities already posted variation margin on their non-cleared derivatives, the rules required certain specific changes to be made to collateral documents in order to comply with the rules. ISDA estimates more than 150,000 CSAs needed to be amended – and all changes had to be negotiated and agreed by each pair of counterparties.

ISDA has been focused on helping firms with their compliance efforts, and published a protocol that offers a scalable option for amending multiple CSAs to comply with the variation margin requirements. That protocol remains open, and has been extended to include Australia, in addition to the US, Canada, European Union and Japan. We would urge firms to push ahead with their remaining negotiations, and aim to complete the work as soon as possible.

There is a potentially troubling aspect to this, though. There have been questions over whether regulators might require trades entered into from March 1 to be unwound if they are not subject to regulatory compliant variation margin CSAs by September 1. This action is both counterproductive to good risk management and impracticable, as firms lack a contractual mechanism to force their counterparties to unwind the transactions in those circumstances.

Even if achievable, such a requirement would be unlikely to reduce systemic risk in any meaningful way, given ISDA data that shows approximately 90% of relationships that are in-scope for the repapering exercise are already backed by variation margin, just not with the required changes to the underlying documentation to bring them into full alignment with the regulatory mandated terms. Planning a program to unwind transactions would divert key resources away from the main task of completing the variation margin repapering and implementing the phase-two initial margin changes.

Due to the conditions of the available regulatory forbearance, market participants have been careful to engage in activity that does not present significant credit and market risks. Indeed, some trades entered into from March 1 may offset the risks of transactions entered into prior to that date. Forcing firms to unwind trades would therefore lead to significant market disruption, could result in some entities being left unhedged, and would disadvantage firms in a subset of jurisdictions, which could lead to regulatory arbitrage. That’s surely contrary to the intention of regulators.

ISDA will continue to track the industry progress and keep global regulators informed of the overall number of CSAs that have been renegotiated and updated leading up September 1. We are also helping all phase-two banks prepare for the next round of initial margin exchange utilizing SIMM 1.3.

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