Securities Law Prof Blog

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

Thursday, November 17, 2016

Shelby on Hedge Funds

Cary Martin Shelby has posted Closing the Hedge Fund Loophole: The SEC as the Primary Regulator of Systemic Risk on SSRN with the following abstract:

The 2008 financial crisis sparked a flurry of regulatory activity and enforcement in an attempt to reign in activity by banks, but other institutions have also been identified as potentially threatening to the stability of the financial markets. In particular, several empirical studies have revealed that systemic risk can be created and transmitted by hedge funds, which are private investment funds that have historically evaded regulation under the federal securities laws. In response to the risk created by hedge funds, Congress granted the Financial Stability Oversight Council (“FSOC”) authority under the Dodd-Frank Act of 2010 to designate hedge funds as Systemically Important Financial Institutions (“SIFIs”). Such a designation would automatically result in stringent capital constraints and limitations on liquidity risk on these nonbank institutions. However, in the over six years since FSOC has been granted this authority, it has failed to identify even one hedge fund as a SIFI. The council has encountered a variety of challenges such as criticisms to systemic risk studies sanctioned by FSOC, and massive resistance to the SIFI designation process by numerous industry participants. If this designation were applied to hedge funds it would severely limit the abilities of hedge fund advisers to pursue certain strategies. For these reasons, it is highly unlikely that FSOC will designate a hedge fund as a SIFI.

The inability of FSOC to regulate systemically harmful funds is particularly troubling because several post-financial crisis studies have revealed that systemic risk can still be created and transmitted by hedge funds. Given FSOC’s inability to close this hedge fund loophole, this Article argues that Congress should explore appointing the SEC as the primary regulator of systemically harmful funds because; (1) the transparency framework inherent in the federal securities laws can supply a more effective means for mitigating systemic risk than the prudential framework currently mandated for SIFIs, and (2) appointing the SEC in this regard would reduce the fragmentation of our current regulatory structure which has been extended and complicated by the creation of FSOC. While the federal securities laws are typically used to promote investor protection, this Article posits that enhancing transparency to hedge fund counterparties and investors can decrease systemic risk by empowering such market participants to better protect themselves against risk. Enhancing protection in this manner could in-turn weed out systemically harmful funds from the marketplace, without imposing the severe capital constraints that would be mandated under FSOC’s model. With respect to reducing the fragmentation of our current regulatory structure, this Article argues that lawmakers should dedicate resources to reforming our existing agencies instead of creating additional layers of ineffective regulation that could lead to repeated failures, undue complexities, and wasted resources.

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