Transactions that reduce regulatory capital requirements for banks have recently come under media and regulatory scrutiny. The New York Times characterized them as a “trading sleight of hand.” The Basel Committee on Banking Supervision has proposed limiting the ways in which capital requirements can be reduced by such transactions. This post discusses the new Basel proposals in light of prior guidance published by Basel and the Federal Reserve. As banks seek ways to meet heightened capital requirements and surcharges that are being implemented, they may find greater difficulties in reducing their exposures.
Archive for the ‘Financial Regulation’ Category
Chairman McHenry, Ranking Member Green, and members of the Subcommittee, thank you for the opportunity to testify on behalf of the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC) on Sections 165 and 121 of the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act (Dodd-Frank Act). Our testimony will focus on the FDIC’s role and progress in implementing Section 165, including the resolution plan requirements and the requirements for stress testing by certain financial institutions.
Section 165 of the Dodd-Frank Act
Under the Dodd-Frank Act, bankruptcy is the preferred resolution framework in the event of a systemic financial company’s failure. To make this prospect achievable, Title I of the Dodd-Frank Act requires that all large, systemic financial companies prepare resolution plans, or “living wills”, to demonstrate how the company would be resolved in a rapid and orderly manner under the Bankruptcy Code in the event of the company’s material financial distress or failure. This requirement enables both the firm and the firm’s regulators to understand and address the parts of the business that could create systemic consequences in a bankruptcy.
The FDIC intends to make the living will process under Title I of the Dodd-Frank Act both timely and meaningful. The living will process is a necessary and significant tool in ensuring that large financial institutions can be resolved through the bankruptcy system.
During the past four years, the Commodity Futures Trading Commission (“CFTC” or the “Commission”) has substantially expanded its regulatory reach and flexed stronger enforcement muscles. Since 2010, the CFTC has dramatically increased its annual enforcement action totals, and has imposed record high financial penalties on significant market participants. In 2011 and 2012, the CFTC filed at least 201 enforcement actions, almost as many as the past five years combined, and has already recovered approximately $1.8 billion in total sanctions. As CFTC Chairman Gary Gensler has stated, “Dodd-Frank expands the CFTC’s arsenal of enforcement tools. We will use these tools to be a more effective cop on the beat, to promote market integrity, and to protect market participants.” Notwithstanding budgetary constraints, the next four years are likely to show continued emphasis on expanded enforcement efforts as the agency implements its new rules. This post focuses on the CFTC’s new rulemakings and how Title VII has increased the CFTC’s power to create and police the derivatives markets.
I. Expanding the CFTC’s Enforcement Actions
Over the past two years, the agency has hit record levels of enforcement actions and civil penalties imposed. Figure 1 below details the types of enforcement actions that the CFTC has brought from 2006 through 2012, as well as the total amounts of monetary penalties it recovered during each fiscal year.
Treasury officials have recently suggested that the Financial Stability Oversight Council (FSOC) may soon designate the first round of systemically significant nonbank financial companies (Nonbank SIFIs). In March, Under Secretary for Domestic Finance Miller and Deputy Assistant Secretary for the FSOC Gerety stated that designations could occur “in the next few months.”
Moreover, the Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System (Federal Reserve) recently finalized its rule on determining when a company is “predominantly engaged in financial activities,” thus making the company potentially subject to FSOC designation. The final rule is notable for stating that an investment firm that does not comply with the Merchant Banking Rule’s investment holding periods and routine management and operation limitations may nonetheless be determined, on a case- by-case basis, to be engaging in “financial activities.” In addition, the final rule rejected the argument that mutual funds — including money market mutual funds — are “not engaged in a financial activity” and therefore not capable of designation.
Title VII of the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act (“Dodd-Frank”) enacted a new regime of substantive regulation of over-the-counter (“OTC”) derivatives under U.S. securities and commodities laws. Over the course of 2013, many key provisions of Dodd-Frank are being implemented by the Commodity Futures Trading Commission (the “CFTC”) with respect to “swaps.” While many of the regime’s requirements focus on “swap dealers” (“SDs”) and “major swap participants” (“MSPs”), commercial entities that enter into OTC derivatives transactions to hedge or mitigate risk, referred to as “end users,” will also become subject to a wide range of substantive requirements.
In particular, end users will need to:
The Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation has issued a proposed regulation intended to address an emerging issue in international banking: how to grant non-US branch deposits equal treatment with US deposits in the event of the bank’s insolvency. Below are both big-picture and technical issues that need to be addressed in order to make the proposal effective.
The proposed regulation would effectively grant deposit status at non-US branches of US insured banks to deposits booked there for purposes of the depositor preference provisions of Federal law.  Its purpose is to provide the benefits of depositor preference status to deposits in branches in other countries. Depositor preference simply means that, in the liquidation of the bank, deposits will be paid ahead of non-deposit unsecured creditors, thereby increasing significantly the likelihood of full or almost-full repayment. This issue has been spotlighted by the United Kingdom, which has proposed to require that UK branches of foreign banks be entitled to depositor preference under their home country insolvency rules or provide clear disclosure of its absence to their depositors. This requirement, if implemented, might create an incentive for US banks to take such steps as making their US offices liable for repayment of such deposits; these would be so-called “dual-office” deposits, in which both a US and a non-US office would be liable for repayment.
Mammoth bank holding companies (BHCs) have contributed to the 2008 crisis. Their “contribution” may stem from their structure.
Most BHCs are not banks but “financial malls,” of “shops” serving as brokers-dealers, underwriters, advisers (to mutual funds, trust funds, and wealthy individuals), banks proper, insurance, lending, “securitizers,” guarantors and traders for the BHCs’ own account, and more. A BHC owns the mall’s financial shops, collects their revenues, and raises funds from investors. Its management finances the shops and rewards shop managers. Managing the variety of shops that closely reflect the entire financial system is difficult. Not surprisingly, BHCs periodically produce enormous profits and bear enormous losses.
Compare BHCs structure to other malls: In business malls, mall owners serve all the shops’ needs. But these shops (pharmacies or restaurants) have different owners, customers, and regulators. Mutual fund “malls” are serviced by one adviser but owned by investors. Displeased investors can decimate their funds by redeeming their shares. Under the structure of Vanguard, the largest in the United States today, the shops—the funds (their investors) own the mall, and pay for its services. As to performance, each fund “sits on its own bottom,” judged by its shareholders, rather than by a management or a holding company’s shareholders. Yet, a fund’s failure does not shake the economy and taxpayers do not bear the cost.
The BHC structural model raises serious disadvantages for their investors, and for the financial system, against which current regulation does not effectively protect:
On March 26, the Basel Committee on Banking Supervision (“Basel Committee”) published a Consultative Document in which it proposes a revised supervisory framework for measuring and controlling large counterparty exposures (“Proposal,” or “Exposure Framework”) of systemically important financial institutions (“SIFIs”). Comments on the Proposal are due by June 28, 2013.
On April 3, the Federal Reserve Board (“Board”) published a final rule (“Rule”) specifying when a financial company that may be made subject to systemic regulation under Title I of the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Accountability and Consumer Protection Act (“Dodd-Frank Act”) is “predominantly engaged in financial activities” for purposes of being designated for systemic regulation under the Dodd-Frank Act. The Rule is effective on May 6, 2013.
As discussed below, the net effect of the Rule would be to expand the types of activities that might qualify as financial activities for purposes of applying the “predominantly engaged” test, and thus broaden the population of large nonbank firms that might be designated as systemically important financial firms, under the Dodd-Frank Act. Accordingly, large nonbank financial firms should pay close attention to the Rule’s requirements and its potential impact on them.
On March 22, 2013, the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency (OCC), the Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System (FRB), and the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC) (collectively, the “bank regulators”) released their final guidance on leveraged lending activities.  The final guidance does not deviate significantly from the proposed guidance released last year on March 26, 2012, but does attempt to provide clarity in response to the many comment letters relating to the proposed guidance received by the bank regulators. The final guidance is the latest revision and update to the interagency leveraged finance guidance first issued in April 2001.