Nearly three years after the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (“SEC”) effectively froze the creation of actively managed and leveraged exchange traded funds (“ETFs”) that utilize options, futures, swaps, and other derivatives as part of their investment strategies, the SEC has lifted the moratorium on the use of derivatives by actively managed funds while continuing to restrict the use of derivatives by leveraged ETFs. The SEC’s decision follows a Concept Release issued last August soliciting comments on the issue from the public. ETFs, which are typically registered as open-ended investment companies under the Investment Company Act of 1940 (the “’40 Act”), usually require exemptive relief from the SEC because certain common features of ETFs do not comport with the strict provisions of the ’40 Act.
On December 6, 2012, in a speech to the American Law Institute’s Conference on Investment Adviser Regulation in New York City, Norm Champ, Director of the Division of Investment Management, announced the SEC has reversed course and “will no longer defer consideration of exemptive requests under the Investment Company Act relating to actively managed ETFs that make use of derivatives.” In his speech, Director Champ made clear the SEC’s decision was subject to two important conditions, each designed to address the concerns by the SEC back in March 2010 when it first imposed the moratorium on derivatives. To that end, issuers seeking to create an actively managed ETF that employs derivatives will be required to represent: “(i) that the ETF’s board periodically will review and approve the ETF’s use of derivatives and how the ETF’s investment adviser assesses and manages risk with respect to the ETF’s use of derivatives; and (ii) that the ETF’s disclosure of its use of derivatives in its offering documents and periodic reports is consistent with relevant Commission and staff guidance.”