Author: Felix Shipkevich

71 New Names Added to the CFTC’s List of Foreign Entities that Illegally Solicit U.S. Residents to Trade Forex and Binary Options

Washington, DC — In keeping with the U.S Commodity Futures Trading Commission’s (CFTC) attempts to safeguard Americans from fraud, 71 new names have been added to the RED list bringing the total number of companies on this list to over 11o.

The “Registration Deficient, ” now known as the red list which as established in September 2015 and supplemented in April 2016 contains the names of unregistered foreign entities that are believed to be soliciting and accepting funds from U.S. residents at a retail level for, among other things, trading in  foreign currency (forex) and binary options. These companies are required to register with the CFTC but are not registered.

The CFTC asserts that registration does not provide guarantee against mismanagement or fraud by an otherwise unethical firm; however, registration does provide the public with an increased level of security and accountability. Registration limits the CFTC to only examine whether firms are in comply with Commodity Exchange Act, for example whether firms meet minimum financial standards as well as disclosure, reporting, and recordkeeping requirements.

Working in conjunction with the CFTC’s SmartCheckSM campaign, the RED list helps investors identify and protect themselves against illegal conduct. To read more, please click here.

The Royal Bank of Scotland to Pay $85 Million Penalty for Attempted Manipulation of U.S. Dollar ISDAFIX Benchmark Swap Rates by the CFTC

Washington, DC – The U.S. Commodity Futures Trading Commission (CFTC) today issued an Order filing and settling charges against The Royal Bank of Scotland plc (RBS) for attempted manipulation of the ISDAFIX benchmark which requires RBS to pay an $85 million civil monetary penalty. The CFTC Order revealed that during a five-year period, commencing in January 2007 and expanding through March 2012 (relevant period), RBS, through actions of multiple traders, tried to manipulate the U.S. Dollar International Swaps and Derivatives Association Fix (USD ISDAFIX), a global benchmark reference in a variety of interest rate products. RBS participated in the unlawful conduct in order to gain advantage of certain derivatives positions it held that were priced or valued off of the USD ISDAFIX indicator.

Measures to identify and deter trading potentially aimed at manipulating swap rates will be implemented by the RBS in an effort to strengthen its internal controls and  and to maintain the integrity of interest-rate swap benchmarks.

“People around the world rely on benchmark rates such as ISDAFIX. This is our fourth enforcement action relating to attempts to manipulate the ISDAFIX. These actions, and the CFTC’s previous cases against those who sought to corrupt the LIBOR and foreign exchange benchmark rates, make clear that the Commission takes very seriously its role in ensuring the integrity of any and all benchmarks used in our markets,” Director of the CFTC’s Division of Enforcementsaid Aitan Goelman.

Specifically, the Order found that during the said time frame, RBS, through some of its traders in Stamford, Connecticut, bid, offered, and executed transactions in specific interest rate products which included both swap spreads and U.S. Treasuries, at the critical time of 11:00 a.m. fixing time with the intent to affect the reference rates and spreads captured by a leading interest rates swaps broker (Swaps Broker) in the “print” sent to submitting banks, and thereby to affect the published USD ISDAFIX.

To read more, please click here.

FIA Sets Forth Five Core Principles in Enhancing CFTC Market Surveillance

In a response to a request by the CFTC’s Technology Advisory Committee for comment on how best to develop a 21st century surveillance system, the Financial Industry Association (FIA) and the FIA Principal Traders Group submitted a comment letter this week setting forth five core principles for modernizing market surveillance. In the comment letter, Walt Lukken, president and CEO of the FIA, urged the CFTC to rely heavily on existing resources moving forward, even as it “leverage[s] the evolving and changing technological landscape and reform[s] its surveillance and oversight mission in a significant and technologically-adept way.”

The FIA suggested that the CFTC approach surveillance modernization in a manner consistent with its longstanding practice of delegating front-line surveillance responsibilities to the exchanges themselves and that the regulatory body avoid building new systems that replicate those built or commissioned by existing exchanges. Even in implementing new enhanced cross-DCM surveillance routines, the FIA contended, the CFTC could utilize existing large trader and daily transaction reports to test and validate these processes. Additionally, the FIA stressed the importance of increasing the technical and analytical expertise of the CFTC staff through training and targeted hiring, and encouraged the CFTC to maintain data privacy as a priority in developing new market surveillance systems.

 

 

Massad Says CFTC Hampered by Budget Constraints

Recently appointed CFTC Chairman Tim Massad announced last week that there were “a lot of things” he would like to do to continue the CFTC’s goal of regulating financial markets, but that he is held back by strict congressional budget constraints. Referring to the CFTC’s role in promulgating regulations under Dodd-Frank, Massad pointed out, “Our budget hasn’t really increased very much, and yet we were given vastly expanded responsibilities in terms of the markets we cover.” Pointing to a shortfall in staff necessary to carry out the CFTC’s mandate, Massad stated that the CFTC was forced to “rely heavily on the [financial] industry to regulate itself.”

The CFTC’s budget woes have been exacerbated by House Republicans, who will not approve funding requests by the agency and by the White House, even while House Democrats claim that their congressional counterparties are trying to scuttle Dodd-Frank. The CFTC’s current budget is $215 and is unlikely to increase in the next fiscal year.

Massad, who had previously overseen the Troubled Asset Relief Program (TARP) assured that he would be able to improve staff morale at the CFTC. Quoting Theodore Roosevelt, Massad said that he tells staff, “We’re going to do what we can with what we have.”

O’Malia Urges Regulators to “Do No Harm”

In a keynote address last week at the Federal Reserve Bank of New York, CFTC Commissioner Scott O’Malia issued a stern warning to financial regulators in the United States and abroad that market fragmentation could have grave consequences on the world financial system. Borrowing a line from the principles that guide medical ethics, O’Malia urged regulators to “Do no harm” in enacting regulations. “Where our rules have proven unworkable” he continued, “it is incumbent upon us to fix them.”

Taking the medical analogy further, O’Malia expressed concern that financial regulations must be harmonized through substituted compliance and mutual recognition of other jurisdictions. “If systemic risk is a cancer of the global financial system,” he warned, “then the whole body must be treated to prevent its spread.” O’Malia, who has announced that that he will be resigning on August 8, pointed to legal, technological, and market abuse protection regimes that must be harmonized among the US and European Union financial systems in order to foster a strong global financial system. O’Malia recognized that such collaboration would require “serious technology investments,” but insisted that uncoordinated regulation of markets would yield an increase in systemic risk.

CFTC Delays Enforcement of Reporting for Cleared Swaps

The CFTC’s Division of Market Oversight this week granted no-action relief from certain requirements applicable to swap dealers and major swap participants regarding the reporting of swap transactions to swap data repositories. The no-action relief, issues June 30, 2014, extends previous no-action relief regarding the reporting of valuation data reporting of cleared swaps.

Under section 2(a)(13)(G) of the Commodity Exchange Act and part 45 of the CFTC’s regulations, reporting counterparties must submit both creation data (primary economic terms of a swap) and continuation data (any changes to the primary economic terms and all valuation data over the life of a swap). In granting the relief requested by the International Swaps and Derivatives Association, the CFTC acknowledged that swap dealers and major swap participants are experiencing difficulties in establishing the connectivity required to report the required valuation data for cleared swaps pursuant to CFTC regulation 45.4(b)(2)(ii). The no-action relief delays the enforcement of this regulation until June 30, 2015, giving covered parties an additional year in which to comply.

Congresswoman Urges Review of Bank Guarantees of Offshore Affiliates

Maxine Waters, ranking member of the House Financial Services Committee, urged the CFTC this week to begin investigating the offshore actions of Wall Street banks in avoiding certain mandates set forth in the Dodd-Frank Act. In a letter to Timothy Massad, the CFTC’s recently-confirmed chairman, Representative Waters criticized the removal by banks of parent guarantees from overseas affiliates, which allows banks to trade in the interdealer market while skirting Dodd-Frank restrictions aimed at increasing price competition and transparency. By cutting off these guarantees, banks are able to trade in the United States through swap execution facilities established under Dodd-Frank, while their non-guaranteed subsidiaries are subject only to local laws of foreign jurisdictions.

Rep. Waters also sent letters to the Federal Reserve, Office of the Comptroller of the Currency, Securities and Exchange Commission, and Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation. In these correspondences, Rep. Waters reiterated that the CFTC should take a more aggressive stance in reviewing changes to the guarantees.

Senate Confirms Three New CFTC Commissioners

The US Senate Monday voted to approve the nomination of three new commissioners to the CFTC, including Timothy Massad, who will replace Gary Gensler as CFTC chairman. Mr. Massad had served from 2011 to October 2013 as the Assistant Secretary for Financial Stability at the Treasury Department and has overseen the Troubled Asset Relief Program created in response to the 2008 US financial crisis.

In addition, the Senate approved the nominations of Sharon Bowen and Christopher Giancarlo to serve as CFTC commissioners. While both Mr. Massad and Mr. Giancarlo were confirmed by voice votes, the Bowen’s confirmation proved more controversial, and she was ultimately confirmed by a 48-46 vote. Criticism of Ms. Bowen came mainly from the of the political spectrum, with Republican senators criticizing her role in overseeing a panel that denied compensation to victims of a $7 billion ponzi scheme.

The three new regulators will join Commissioners Mark Wetjen and Scott O’Malia on to fill out the CFTC’s five-member panel to continue the implementation of Dodd-Frank regulations begun under the oversight of Mr. Gensler.

CFTC Announces First Whistleblower Award

The CFTC announced last week its first award under the whistleblower award program initiated pursuant to the Dodd-Frank Act. Under the program, eligible whistleblowers are entitled to a financial award where original information provided leads to a successful enforcement action and the collection of at least $1 million. Whistleblowers who file successful claims are also entitled to job security and confidentiality.

Though the identity of the awardee remains undisclosed, the CFTC Whistleblower Award Determination Panel deemed the information “sufficiently specific, credible, and timely to cause the Commission to open an investigation.” The unnamed whistleblower received an award of $240,000 for providing the information. Pursuant to CFTC Regulation 165.8, awards granted under the whistleblower program amount to between 10 and 30 percent of the total amount of sanctions collected from the enforcement action.

Prior to finalization of the relevant regulations, the CFTC received over 600 letters arguing that the proposed regulation provided insufficient protection to whistleblowers and instead sought to protect financial entities by limiting the pool of potential whistleblowers. Prior to the issuance of the award last week, the CFTC denied 25 whistleblower claims.

TeraExchange Announces First Bitcoin Derivative

TeraExchange has recently announced that it has created a swap involving the average exchange rate of bitcoin and plans to list it on its Swap Execution Facility.

This bitcoin derivative was created on behalf of two clients as a bilateral swap, and while neither party has acted upon the agreement, they are expected to soon, according to Reuters.

This agreement marks the first time a bitcoin derivative will be traded, and as such, it will be the first time the digital currency will come under regulation from the Commodity Futures Trading Commission.

Bitcoin was created in 2009, with mainstream interest around the digital currency rising sharply over the last year.

A bitcoin derivative should prove to be an interesting swap to watch, as it has become rather notorious for its wild price fluctuations over the past few years. Just this December, Bitcoin’s value shot up to $1,200 and then quickly fell to $450. It is currently priced at around $500 dollars.