June 3, 2015
As Prepared For Delivery
Thank you for inviting me today, and I thank Rich for that kind introduction. It’s a pleasure to be here.
Next month, we will observe the fifth anniversary of the passage of the Dodd-Frank Act. As you know, this law made dramatic changes to our regulatory system in response to the worst financial crisis since the Great Depression. In particular, it aimed to bring transparency and oversight to the over-the-counter swaps market, and gave the CFTC primary responsibility to accomplish that task.
The timing of this speech is significant to me in another way, as it was exactly one year ago today that I was confirmed by the Senate as chairman of the CFTC. So in light of those two anniversaries, it seems like a good time to take stock. Where are we in implementing these reforms? Is the new regulatory framework achieving the goals envisioned in Dodd-Frank? And what have we done over the last year in particular to advance those objectives? What are our priorities going forward?
All of you appreciate the important role that the derivatives markets play in our economy. In 2008, however, we saw how the build-up of excessive risk in the over-the-counter swaps market made a very bad crisis even worse. There were many causes of the crisis, but particularly because of that excessive swap risk, our government was required to commit $182 billion just to prevent the collapse of a single company – AIG – because its failure at that time, in those circumstances, could have caused our economy to fall into another Great Depression. Our country lost eight million jobs as a result of the crisis. I spent five years at Treasury helping our nation recover from that crisis – including getting all that money back from AIG. I also had a long career working as a corporate lawyer, which included helping to draft the original ISDA master agreements and advising businesses on all sorts of transactions, including derivatives. So I appreciate both the need for reform and the importance of implementing these reforms in a way that ensures that these markets can continue to thrive and contribute to our economy.
The Dodd-Frank Act enacted the four basic reforms agreed to by the leaders of the G-20 nations to bring transparency and oversight to this market: central clearing of standardized swaps, oversight of the largest market participants, regular reporting, and transparent trading on regulated platforms.
Today that framework is largely in place. The vast majority of transactions are centrally cleared. Trading on regulated platforms is a reality. Transaction data is being reported and publicly available. And we have developed a program for the oversight of major market participants.
There is more work to do in all these areas, as I will discuss in a moment. But as I see it, there are a lot of parallels between where we are today with swaps market reform and what happened with securities market reform in the 1930s and 40s. Coming out of the Great Depression, we created a framework for securities regulation and trading which proved tremendously successful. Many of its mandates were revolutionary at the time and therefore quite controversial. When the Securities Exchange Act was passed and required periodic reporting by public companies, the President of the New York Stock Exchange said it was “a menace to national recovery.” History has proved otherwise. Today, the concept of periodic reporting by public companies is about as controversial as seat belts. Indeed, the basic framework created in the 1930s of disclosure, transparency, periodic reporting and trading on regulated exchanges has been the foundation for the growth of our securities markets.
I believe the swaps market reforms we have put in place are similar. I believe the basic framework is one that will benefit our markets and the economy as a whole for decades to come. Is that framework perfect? No. Is there more to do? Yes. So let’s look at where we are.
Congress required that the rules be written within a year of passage of Dodd-Frank, and the agency worked incredibly hard to meet that goal. Now we are in a phase of making necessary minor adjustments to the rules, which is to be expected with any change as significant as this. And so a priority of mine over the last year has been to do just that: to look at how well the new rules are working and to make adjustments where necessary.
So let me give you a quick big picture view of where we are on each of the four key reforms of the OTC swaps market, as well as what I see as the next steps in each of those areas, and then discuss in more detail a couple of key priorities for the months ahead.
First is the goal of requiring central clearing of transactions. This is a critical means to monitor and mitigate risk. Here we have accomplished a great deal. Our rules require clearing through central counterparties for most interest rate and credit default swaps, and the percentage of transactions that are centrally cleared in the swaps markets we oversee has gone from about 15 percent in December 2007 to about 75 percent today. That’s a dramatic change.
Importantly, our rules do not impose this requirement on commercial end-users. Nor do we impose the trading mandate on commercial end-users. And an important priority for me over the last year has been to make sure this new framework as a whole does not impose unintended burdens on commercial end-users. They were not the cause of the crisis or the focus of the reforms. And we want to make sure that they can still use these markets to hedge commercial risk effectively.
What are the next steps when it comes to clearing? First, we must recognize that for all its merits, central clearing does not eliminate risk, and therefore we must make sure clearinghouses are strong and resilient. The CFTC has already done a lot of work in this area. Over the last few years, we overhauled our supervisory framework and we increased our oversight. But there is more to do, and there will be significant efforts taking place, including through international organizations.
We will be looking at stress testing of clearinghouses, and whether there should be international standards for stress testing that give us some basis to compare the resiliency of different clearinghouses. And while we hope never to have to use these tools, we will be looking further at recovery and resolution planning.
You may also know that we are engaged in discussions with Europe on cross-border recognition of clearinghouses. While this issue is taking longer to resolve than I expected, I believe we have narrowed the issues and are making good progress. For those interested, I recently gave a speech to a committee of the European Parliament that describes the issues we are discussing in more detail. I believe my counterpart in these discussions, Lord Jonathan Hill of the European Commission, wants to resolve this soon, as I do, and we are working in good faith toward that end. I also believe we can resolve this without disruptions to the market, and I am pleased that the EC has again postponed capital charges toward that end.
Oversight of Swap Dealers
Let me turn to the second reform area, general oversight of major market players. We have made great progress here as well, as we have in place a regulatory framework for supervision of swap dealers. They are now required to observe strong risk management practices, and they will be subject to regular examinations to assess risk and compliance with rules designed to mitigate excessive risk.
Next steps in this area include looking at the swap dealer de minimis threshold. Under the swap dealer rules adopted in 2012, the threshold for determining who is a swap dealer will decline from $8 billion to $3 billion in December of 2017 unless the Commission takes action. I believe it is vital that our actions be data-driven, and so we have started work on a comprehensive report to analyze this issue. We will make a preliminary version available for public comment, and seek comment not only on the methodology and data, but also on the policy questions as to what the threshold should be, and why. I want us to complete this process well in advance of the December 2017 date so that the Commission has some data, analysis, and public input with which to decide what to do.
Another priority for us over the next few months in the area of general oversight is to finalize our proposal on margin requirements for uncleared swaps. This is one of the most important Dodd-Frank requirements that remains to be finalized, and one of the most important overall. There will always be a large part of the swaps market that is not and should not be centrally cleared, and therefore margin is key to minimizing the risk to our system that can come from uncleared bilateral trades. The proposal applies to swap dealers, in their transactions with one another and their transactions with financial institutions that exceed certain thresholds. As with the clearing and trading mandates, commercial firms are exempted.
We are working closely with the bank regulators on this rule. They have the responsibility to issue rules that apply to swap dealers that are banking entities under their respective jurisdictions, and our rule will apply to other swap dealers. It is vitally important that these rules be as consistent as possible, and we are making good progress in this regard. We are also working to have our U.S. rules be similar to rules being considered by Europe and Japan. I expect that they will be consistent on many major issues.
With regard to reporting, the public and regulators are benefiting from a new level of market transparency – transparency that did not exist before. All swap transactions, whether cleared or uncleared, must be reported to registered swap data repositories (SDRs), a new type of entity responsible for collecting and maintaining this information. You can now go to public websites and see the price and volume for individual swap transactions. And the CFTC publishes the Weekly Swaps Report that gives the public a snapshot of the swaps market. This means more efficient price discovery for all market participants. Equally important, this reporting enables regulatory authorities to engage in meaningful oversight, and when necessary, enforcement actions.
While we have much better data today than in 2008, we have a lot more work to do to get to where we want to be. One step is revising our rules to bring further clarity to reporting obligations. Later this summer I expect that we will propose some initial changes to the swap reporting rules for cleared swaps designed to clarify reporting obligations and, at the same time, improve the quality and usability of the data in the SDRs. And we are looking at other possible changes as well to improve the data reporting process and usefulness of the information.
This is also an international effort. There are around two dozen data repositories globally. And there are participants around the world who must report. We and the European Central Bank currently co-chair a global task force that is seeking to standardize data standards internationally. While much of this work is highly technical, it is vitally important to international cooperation and transparency.
We will also make sure participants are taking their obligations seriously to provide us good data in the first place. We have taken, and will continue to take, enforcement action against those who do not.
Let me turn to the last reform area, which is trading. Today, trading swaps on regulated platforms is a reality. We have nearly two dozen SEFs registered. Each registered exchange is required to operate in accordance with certain statutory core principles. These core principles provide a framework that includes obligations to establish and enforce rules, as well as policies and procedures that enable transparent and efficient trading. SEFs must make trading information publicly available, put into place system safeguards, and maintain financial, operational, and managerial resources necessary to discharge their responsibilities.
So we are making progress, but here too, there is more work to do. We have been looking at ways to improve the framework, focusing on some operational issues where we believe adjustments can improve trading. We have taken action in a number of areas, including steps to make it easier to execute package trades and correct error trades, and steps to simplify trade confirmations and reporting obligations. We are looking at additional issues pertaining to SEF trading as well. For example, we are planning to hold a public roundtable later this year on the made-available-for-trade determination process, where many industry participants have suggested that the agency play a greater role in determining which products should be mandated for trading and when.
We have also been working to harmonize our trading rules with the rules of other jurisdictions where possible. CFTC staff worked with Australian swap platforms to clarify how they can permit U.S. participation under our trading rules. One platform, Yieldbroker, confirmed that it intends to apply for relief and achieve compliance by this fall. This is an important step and we are open to working with other jurisdictions and platforms.
Responding to Changes in the Market
I began by saying that the approaching five year anniversary of Dodd-Frank was a good time to take stock of what has been accomplished in terms of implementing the reforms required by the law. Equally important to consider is: How have the markets changed over the last five years? How does that impact what we are doing? After all, there is always the danger that as regulators, we focus on fighting the last war.
It is beyond the scope of my speech today to discuss all the significant changes to markets over the last few years, or how regulatory actions may be affecting market dynamics and costs. These are important, complex subjects, but they are well beyond the time I have today to explore. Today, however, I’d like to take a few minutes more to just note one major way in which our markets are changing, and how that is affecting our work.
That change has to do with the increased use of electronic and automated trading. Some speak of “high frequency trading” or HFT, a classification that is hard to define precisely. I will focus on automated or algorithmic trading. Over the last decade, automated trading has increased from about 25 percent to well over 50 percent of trading in U.S. financial markets. Looking specifically at the futures markets, almost all trading is electronic in some form, and automated trading accounts for more than 70 percent of trading over the last few years.
I commend to you a recent paper by our Chief Economist office which gives some interesting data on our markets. This looked at over 1.5 billion transactions across over 800 products on CME over a two year period. It found that the percentage of automated trading in financial futures – such as those based on interest rates, currencies or equity indices – was 60 to 80 percent. But even among many physical commodities, there was a high degree of automated trading, such as 40 to 50 percent for many energy and metals products. The paper also provides a lot of rich detail on what types of trades are more likely to be automated.
The increase in electronic, and particularly automated, trading has changed what we do, and how we do it. Let me say at the outset that the increased use of electronic trading has brought many benefits, such as more efficient execution and lower spreads. But it also raises issues. These are somewhat different in the futures markets than in the cash equity markets where they have received the most attention, in part because typically in the futures market, trading of a given product occurs on only one exchange. Nevertheless, the increased use of automated, algorithmic trading poses challenges for how we execute our responsibilities, and it raises important policy questions. For example, it creates profound changes in how we conduct surveillance. The days when market surveillance could be conducted by observing traders in floor pits are long gone. Today, successful market surveillance activities require us to have the ability to continually receive, load, and analyze large volumes of data. We already receive a complete transactions tape, but effective surveillance requires looking at the much larger sets of message data—the bids, offers, cancelations which far outnumber consummated transactions.
And consider that we oversee the markets in a wide range of financial futures products based on interest rates, currencies and equities, as well as over 40 physical commodity categories, each of which has very different characteristics.
Surveillance today requires a massive information technology investment and sophisticated analytical tools that we must develop for these unique environments. And we must have experienced personnel who understand the markets we oversee, who can discern anomalies and patterns and who have the experience, judgment, and skills to know when to investigate further.
The increased use of high speed and electronic trading has impacted our enforcement activity as well. We have recently brought several spoofing cases, where market participants used complex algorithmic strategies to generate and then cancel massive numbers of bids or offers without the intention of actually consummating those transactions in order to affect price. Some have asked, does that mean I cannot cancel a trade without fear of enforcement coming after me? Hardly. Intent is a key element that we must prove. There is a difference between changing your mind in response to changed market conditions and canceling an order you previously entered, and entering an order that you know, at the time, you have no intention of consummating.
The Commission is also looking at automated trading and specifically the use of algorithmic trading strategies from a policy perspective. We have adopted rules requiring certain registrants to automatically screen orders for compliance with risk limits if they are automatically executed. The Commission has also adopted rules to ensure that trading programs, such as algorithms, are regularly tested. In addition, the Commission issued a Concept Release on Risk Controls and System Safeguards for Automated Trading Environments. We received substantial public comment, and we are currently considering what further actions may be appropriate.
Although we have not made any decisions yet, let me note a few areas we are thinking about. Traditionally, our regulatory framework has required registration by intermediaries handling customer orders and customer funds. In addition, proprietary traders who were physically present on the floor of the exchange and active in the pits had to register as floor traders. Today, the pits are gone, and physical presence on the floor of an exchange is no longer a relevant concept. We are considering whether the successors to those floor traders – proprietary traders with direct electronic access to a trading venue – should be subject to a registration requirement if they engage in algorithmic trading.
We are considering the adequacy of risk controls, and in particular pre-trade controls, with respect to algorithmic trading. The exchanges, and many participants themselves, have put controls in place. The question is whether our rule framework should set some general principles to require measures such as message and execution throttles, kill switches, and controls designed to prevent erroneous orders. We also may consider standards on the development and monitoring of algorithmic trading systems.
We are also considering who should have the responsibility to implement controls. This may include persons using algorithmic trading strategies as well as the exchanges. But what about the role of clearing members who do not see the orders of customers using direct electronic access? Today, our rules require exchanges that permit direct electronic access to have systems to facilitate the clearing member’s management of the financial risk of their direct access customers. Should there be a similar requirement for the exchanges to facilitate the management by clearing members of risks related to those customers’ use of algorithmic trading?
We are looking self-trading – that is, when orders from distinct trading desks or algos from the same firm transact – and its potential implications and effects on the markets. In addition, we are looking at the adequacy of disclosure by exchanges of market maker and incentive programs.
I said at the outset that where we are today in the implementation of reforms of the swaps market has many parallels to the reforms of the securities market after the Great Depression. The framework created then – including public disclosure and regular reporting, and trading on regulated platforms – was controversial at the time. But it has proven to not only be effective, it has provided a vital foundation on which our securities markets grew to become the most dynamic in the world. I believe we can achieve the same result with the derivatives market. We must always be attentive to how the market is changing, and adapt core principles to those changes. I look forward to working with you to achieve that goal.
Last Updated: June 4, 2015