CFTC History in the 2020s
March 13, 2020—In light of the COVID-19 (coronavirus) pandemic, the CFTC continues to achieve its regulatory mission as almost all CFTC staff begin an extended period of maximum telework.
March 17, 2020—The CFTC announces that its staff has issued a number of no-action letters providing temporary, targeted relief to futures commission merchants, introducing brokers, swap dealers, and other market participants as well as swap execution facilities and designated contract markets, in response to the COVID-19 (coronavirus) pandemic. The spread of coronavirus has caused compliance with certain CFTC requirements to be particularly challenging or impossible because of displacement of registrant personnel from their normal business sites due to social distancing and other measures. (CFTC Press Release 8132-20, and CFTC Press Release 8133-20March 17, 2020). CFTC staff provides further relief on April 23 and 24. (CFTC Press Release 8156-20April 23, 2020 and CFTC Press Release 8158-20April 24, 2020).
March 18, 2020—The CFTC issues a Customer Advisory informing the public to be on alert for frauds seeking to profit from recent market volatility related to the COVID-19 (coronavirus) pandemic. (CFTC Press Release 8134-20March 18, 2020).
in accordance with the agency’s implementation of social distancing due to the COVID-19 (coronavirus) pandemicon recent developments in, and the operation of, the financial markets, with a focus on the energy derivatives markets. CFTC Press Release 8137-20March 20, 2020).(
April 6, 2020—The CFTC issues a customer advisory to be on alert for frauds seeking to profit from recent job losses due to the COVID-19 (coronavirus) pandemic. (CFTC Press Release 8144-20, April 7, 2020).
April 14, 2020—The CFTC holds the first of many open meetings via conference call in accordance with the agency’s implementation of social distancing due to the COVID-19 (coronavirus) pandemic, where, among other things, it proposes amendments to part 190 bankruptcy regulations. (CFTC Press Release 8145-20April 7, 2020).
April 20, 2020—West Texas Intermediate crude oil futures trade at negative prices for the first time in history, with a settlement price in the nearby May 2020 contract of negative $37.63. (CFTC Press Release 8155-20April 21, 2020).
April 21, 2020—The CFTC announces its inaugural competition under the Science Prize Competition Act of 2015, called Project Streetlamp. Administered by LabCFTC, Project Streetlamp challenges innovators to leverage artificial intelligence (AI) and other technologies to identify unregistered foreign entities potentially engaging in illegal activity subject to the CFTC’s jurisdiction. On November 17, 2020, the CFTC announces that the winner is Nakamoto Terminal (NTerminal), a data platform developer based in Washington, D.C. (CFTC Press Releases 8154-20April 21, 2020 and 8311-20, November 17, 2020).
May 7, 2020—The CFTC announces the filing of a multi-million dollar fraud action in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Florida, charging three individuals and three companies with fraudulently soliciting tens of millions of customers and prospective customers to open and fund off-exchange binary options and digital asset trading accounts. These accounts traded foreign exchange currency pairs, metals, and digital assets through websites operated by unregistered binary options and digital asset brokers. (CFTC Press Release 8162-20May 7, 2020).
May 22, 2020—The CFTC issues a customer advisory informing the public about the unique risks associated with certain trading vehicles such as exchange traded products that use futures contracts or other commodity interests as they make investment decisions during the COVID-19 (coronavirus) pandemic. (CFTC Press Release 8167-20May 22, 2020).
June 9, 2020—The CFTC announces an award of more than $6 million to a whistleblower who voluntarily provided original information that led the CFTC to bring a successful enforcement action. The CFTC opened its investigation upon receiving the whistleblower’s information, which was specific, credible and timely. With this award, the CFTC has now granted over $110 million in whistleblower awards since issuing its first award in 2014. (CFTC Press Release 8175-20June 9, 2020).
June 25, 2020— Five federal regulatory agencies, including the CFTC, finalize a rule modifying regulations implementing the Volcker Rule’s prohibition on banking entities investing in or sponsoring hedge funds or private equity funds — known as covered funds. The Volcker Rule generally prohibits banking entities from engaging in proprietary trading and from acquiring or retaining ownership interests in, sponsoring, or having certain relationships with a hedge fund or private equity fund. The final rule modifies three areas of the rule by: (1) Streamlining the covered funds portion of the rule; (2) Addressing the extraterritorial treatment of certain foreign funds; and (3) Permitting banking entities to offer financial services and engage in other permissible activities that do not raise concerns that the Volcker Rule was intended to address. (CFTC Press Release 8187-20June 25, 2020).
July 22, 2020—The CFTC approves a final rule regarding new capital and financial reporting requirements for swap dealers (SDs) and major swap participants (MSPs). Adoption of this rule marks the completion of the CFTC’s required rulemakings under Section 731 of the Dodd-Frank Act, which was enacted almost exactly 10 years earlier on July 21, 2010. (CFTC Press Release 8210-20July 22, 2020).
August 19, 2020—The CFTC issues three orders filing and settling various charges against The Bank of Nova Scotia (BNS), a provisionally registered swap dealer. Two of the orders require BNS to pay a total of $77.4 million in penalties and equitable relief, including a record-setting $17 million for making false and misleading statements to CFTC staff and $60.4 million for thousands of occasions of attempted manipulation and spoofing in gold and silver futures contracts over a period of more than eight years. The third order requires BNS to pay a $50 million civil monetary penalty for swap dealer compliance failures, failing to supervise its swap dealer activities diligently, and making false or misleading statements to CFTC staff. (CFTC Press Releases 8221-20and 8222-20August 19, 2020).
September 17, 2020—The CFTC unanimously approves three final rules to revise CFTC regulations regarding swap data reporting, dissemination, and public reporting requirements for market participants. All three measures are part of the CFTC’s efforts to improve the quality, accuracy, and completeness of the data reported to the agency and streamline CFTC regulations. (CFTC Press Release 8247-20September 17, 2020).
October 15, 2020—By a 3-2 vote, the CFTC approves a final rule amending regulations of speculative position limits completing the CFTC’s major rulemakings related to implementation of the Dodd-Frank Act of 2010. Among other things, the CFTC adopts new and amended federal spot month position limits for derivatives contracts associated with 25 physical commodities, and amended single-month and all-months-combined federal limits for most of the nine agricultural contracts previously subject to federal position limits. Under the final rule, federal non-spot month position limits are not extended to the sixteen new physical commodities. (October 15, 2020).
October 22, 2020— At their first joint open meeting, the CFTC and the Securities and Exchange Commission approve: (1) a joint final rule to harmonize the minimum margin level for security futures held in a futures account with the minimum margin level for security futures held in a securities portfolio margin account, and (2) the issuance of a joint request for comment on the portfolio margining of uncleared swaps and non-cleared security-based swaps. (October 22, 2020).
December 3, 2020—The CFTC orders Vitol Inc., an energy and commodities trading firm in Houston, Texas, to pay more than $95 million in civil monetary penalties and disgorgement for manipulative and deceptive conduct. The conduct, which spanned from 2005 to early 2020, involved foreign corruption and physical and derivatives trading in the U.S. and global oil markets, including attempted manipulation of two S&P Global Platts physical oil benchmarks. This is the first action brought by the CFTC involving foreign corruption. (December 3, 2020).
March 19, 2021—The CFTC issues an order requiring digital asset exchange operator Coinbase Inc. to pay a civil monetary penalty of $6.5 million for reckless false, misleading, or inaccurate transaction reporting as well as wash trading by a former employee on Coinbase’s GDAX platform. (CFTC Press Release 8369-21March 19, 2021).
April 6, 2021—The CFTC’s Market Participants Division issues a Customer Advisory strongly encouraging the public to research and understand the commodity futures markets, physical markets, and securities markets before trading based on information on social media. The advisory also warns of the risks associated with futures trading or buying physical commodities, such as precious metals. (CFTC Press Release 8373-21April 6, 2021).
July 13, 2021—The CFTC’s Market Risk Advisory Committee recommends adoption of a market best practice known as SOFR First. SOFR First is a phased initiative for switching trading conventions from LIBOR to the Secured Overnight Financing Rate (SOFR) for U.S. Dollar (USD) linear interest rate swaps, cross currency swaps, non-linear derivatives and exchange traded derivatives. (CFTC Press Release 8409-21July 13, 2021).
August 10, 2021—The CFTCCFTC Press Release 8412-21August 10, 2021).announces that the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York has entered a consent order against five companies charged with operating the BitMEX cryptocurrency derivatives trading platform. The order requires the BitMEX entities to pay a $100 million civil monetary penalty for operating the BitMEX platform while conducting significant aspects of BitMEX’s business from the U.S. and unlawfully accepting orders and funds from U.S. customers to trade cryptocurrencies, including derivatives on bitcoin, ether, and litecoin. The order stems from a CFTC action filed on October 1, 2020 against the BitMEX entities and their three individual founders, Arthur Hayes, Benjamin Delo, and Samuel Reed. (
September 28, 2021—The CFTC imposes a $1.25 million penalty against unregistered digital asset exchange Kraken for illegally offering margined retail commodity transactions in digital assets, including bitcoin and failing to register as required. (CFTC Press Release 8433-21September 28, 2021).
October 15, 2021—The CFTC issues an order simultaneously filing and settling charges against various entities doing business as Tether for making untrue or misleading statements and omissions of material fact in connection with the U.S. dollar tether token (USDT) stablecoin. The order finds that from at least June 1, 2016 to February 25, 2019, Tether misrepresented to customers and the market that Tether maintained sufficient U.S. dollar reserves to back every USDT in circulation with the “equivalent amount of corresponding fiat currency” held by Tether and “safely deposited” in Tether’s bank accounts. In fact Tether reserves were not “fully-backed” the majority of the time. The order requires Tether to pay a civil monetary penalty of $41 million. (CFTC Press Release 8450-21October 15, 2021).
October 15, 2021—The CFTC issued a separate order simultaneously filing and settling charges against the operators of of the Bitfinex cryptocurrency trading platform and imposes a $1.5 million civil monetary penalty. The order finds Bitfinex engaged in illegal, off-exchange retail commodity transactions in digital assets with U.S persons on the Bitfinex trading platform and operated as a futures commission merchant (FCM) without registering as required. (CFTC Press Release 8450-21October 15, 2021).
October 15, 2021—Following approval by the SEC, the ProShares Bitcoin Strategy ETF, an exchange-traded fund that invests in CME bitcoin futures, launches and quickly becomes the second-most traded such fund on record. Other futures-based ETFs follow.
October 21, 2021—The CFTC announces the largest award so far to a single whistleblower, $200 million for specific, credible, and timely original information that significantly contributed to an already open investigation and led to a successful enforcement action, as well as to the success of two related actions, by a U.S. federal regulator and a foreign regulator. (CFTC Press Release 8453-21October 21, 2021).
Interest Rate Benchmark Reform Subcommittee, a subcommittee of the CFTC’s Market Risk Advisory Committee (MRAC), issues a user guide for the transition of newly-executed exchange-traded derivatives from LIBOR to the Secured Overnight Financing Rate (SOFR) pursuant to the MRAC’s approval of the SOFR First Initiative at its July 13, 2021 meeting. (CFTC Press Release 8469-21December 16, 2021).