Securities Law Prof Blog

Editor: Eric C. Chaffee
Univ. of Toledo College of Law

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Thursday, October 15, 2009

House Committee Approves Legislation to Regulate OTC Derivatives

The House Financial Services Committee today approved legislation that would, for the first time ever, require the comprehensive regulation of the over-the-counter (OTC) derivatives marketplace. Today’s bill, which was approved by a vote of 43-26, represents a key part of a broader effort by Congress and President Obama to modernize America’s financial regulatory system in response to last year’s financial crisis.

Under the bill, all standardized swap transactions between dealers and large market participants, referred to as “major swap participants,” would have to be cleared and must be traded on an exchange or electronic platform. A major swap participant is defined as anyone that maintains a substantial net position in swaps, exclusive of hedging for commercial risk, or whose positions creates such significant exposure to others that it requires monitoring. OTC derivatives include swaps, which are contracts that call for an exchange of cash between two counterparties based on an underlying rate, index, credit event or the performance of an asset.

The legislation then sets out parallel regulatory frameworks for the regulation of swap markets, dealers, and major swap participants.  Rulemaking authority is held jointly by the Commodity Futures Trading Commission (CFTC), which has jurisdiction over swaps, and the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC), which has jurisdiction over security-based swaps.   The Treasury Department is given the authority to issue final rules if the CFTC and SEC cannot decide on a joint approach within 180 days. Subsequent interpretations of rules must be agreed to jointly by the Commissions.

Here's SIFMA's press release on the legislation:

“Bringing greater regulatory transparency and oversight to derivatives markets and products is a key component of reforming our financial system. That oversight must also recognize the important role these risk management tools play for countless companies across the country and for our broader economy. Mandating particular transaction modes, as this bill does, could raise transaction costs while not necessarily reducing risk in a commensurate amount—results that we believe are contrary to our shared reform goals. As the legislative process continues we look forward to working with the Congress toward a bill that strikes a balance between the need for transparency and risk management efficiency.”

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