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New Forex Regulations: Overview of Public Comments

Leverage, Inaccessibility for Smaller Traders, and Offshore Threat are Focus of Public Comments

As we’ve discussed in related posts, the CFTC has proposed rules regulating the off-exchange spot forex industry (see Retail FOREX Registration Regulations Proposed).  The CFTC has requested comments from the public and there are currently about 100 public comments on CFTC’s website written in response to the new rule. The comments mainly focus on:

  • Leverage reduction rule (approx. 75/100 comments)
  • Forex industry becoming inaccessible to smaller traders (approx. 35/100 comments)
  • Threat of investors moving their money to offshore firms (approx. 25/100 comments)
  • Opposition to government interference/regulation (approx. 20/100 comments)

[Note: over the weekend the CFTC published some of the backlog of comments it received.  Much of this article was written prior to review of these extra comments (which total approximately 3,663).  We will provide an update on such comments in the future.]

To view all of the comments, click here.

The following is our summary of the comments which have been made thus far.

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Leverage Reduction

Approximately 75 of the 100 comments mention a strong or very strong opposition to the new leverage proposal of 10:1. The issue with a reduction of leverage to 10:1 is that investors will have to invest much more money in order to trade what they can currently trade with less capital. Comments regarding leverage include phrases like “strongly object”, “terrible idea”, “unintelligent”, and “strongly oppose”.  The majority opinion is that people should have the freedom and the choice to trade with a higher amount of leverage, and that the federal government’s attempts to lower leverage to 10:1 are “unnecessary” and “intrusive”. John Yeatman Jr. writes,

Please DO NOT reduce leverage in US Forex trading to 10:1…THIS WOULD HAVE A MAJOR IMPACT ON TENS OF THOUSANDS OF TRADERS AND THEIR FAMILIES WHO RELY ON 100:1 LEVERAGE AVAILABILITY TO SUPPORT THEIR FAMILY AND THIS ECONOMY. Please do your part in helping to keep this country great and it’s [sic] freedoms true BY NOT ALLOWING ANYTHING LESS THAN 100:1.

Other comments regarding the leverage proposal include:

  • … strongly objects to new leverage of 10:1
  • … proposed reduction not consistent with futures, which allow a significantly higher leverage
  • … virtually no flexibility trading at 10:1 leverage unless trader has gigantic account balance
  • …reduction in leverage not fair to public…bad for America
  • … new leverage line “out of line with general idea of protecting consumers”
  • …limiting leverage to 10:1 is “a bad idea”
  • …current leverage limit is “more than enough”
  • … CFTC is “unintelligent” to change leverage to 10:1
  • … terrible idea to lower leverage
  • … leverage change is “perversion of the free markets”
  • …leverage restriction “grave injustice” for many who work to secure the American dream of prosperity for themselves and families
  • …leverage limits would delay achievement of financial independence
  • …leverage not dangerous; misuse is
  • …leverage decrease will kill forex business and worsen economic situation in states and worldwide
  • …amount of leverage needs to be at discretion of investors

Smaller Traders

Another argument is that lower leverage will making trading inaccessible for smaller traders but leave the door wide open for larger institutions, since lower leverage requires higher margin (meaning that more money needed to be invested in order to trade). Comments regarding this proposed rules potential affect on smaller traders include:

  • …will stamp out small-time investor
  • …drive smaller guys out of market or offshore
  • …anything lower would be insane for small-time traders
  • …gets rid of investors with small capital so rich can stay rich and poor can stay poor
  • …pushes out small-time investor
  • …denies small trader opportunity
  • …disparate and unintended impact on small traders with lower capital
  • …leave the small, independent traders alone
  • …small businesses are heart of US economy
  • …all small-scale actors will be stifled
  • …10:1 leverage will have unintended consequence of locking out hundreds or thousands of small traders
  • …quit treating the small guy like an idiot
  • …are you trying to allow only rich to trade forex?

Government Interference/Regulation

Many of the comments suggest anger with the government for interfering too much with the forex industry. Michael Thomas writes,

I do not live here in this “free” society to have someone from the government babysitting me. The message that your proposed rules send is that 1) we are not free to make our own choices. 2) The federal government believes that we the general public are too stupid to make decisions for ourselves….I don’t need you, or do I want you getting in the way of my being able to trade as I wish in the United States of America.

Other comments regarding an opposition to increased government interference include:

  • …don’t add more government
  • …not intention of our ancestors to create government which controlled/regulated all aspects of citizens’ lives
  • …the government has no right to control my ability to make profit
  • …unnecessary for Federal government to regulate against individual’s ability to take risks
  • …don’t need government protection; we’re adult traders
  • …not responsibility of government to take away choice from consumers
  • …”big brother” attempt to protect people from “evil” traders and forex hedge funds
  • …stay out of trying to run my personal life

Offshore Threat

In at least 25 of the comments, the public is arguing that the new rules, specifically lower leverage, will drive traders offshore to overseas brokers who may or may not be regulated. Further, a major argument is that the forex industry in the United States will essentially cease altogether as a result of traders moving their forex activities offshore. Comments regarding this offshore threat include:

  • …will send business to London and unregulated offshore markets
  • …consumers will take accounts offshore
  • …will drive smaller guys out of markets entirely or to offshore, unregulated brokers
  • …when traders move accounts offshore, CFTC and NFA will have no control of clients’ trading
  • …I’ve already moved my account offshore
  • …people will do business with offshore brokers

Government Regulation

In terms of the new regulation proposal as a whole, some people support more industry regulation while others are against the idea entirely. Bradford Smith writes,

I feel that regulation of firms is needed…regulation is needed to help people understand the risks such as risk disclosure. [Regulating] the  retail forex market in a similar fashion to how commodities and futures are regulated is a good idea. Stopping companies from trading against their clients is a high priority issue that needs to be stopped.

John M. Bland, on the other hand, who views the proposal as “unfair”,  writes,

…the CFTC has done a lot in recent years to correct many of the problems in the industry…this decision is unfair and anti-competitive.

Other comments regarding opposition to the proposal and/or government interference include:

  • …new rules will destroy US financial firms business and lead to loss of thousands of jobs during the worst economy in decades
  • …regulation should be aimed at encouraging economic growth and innovation vs. restricting it
  • …against proposal
  • …how did forex regulation get in the Farm Bill?
  • …whoever initiated proposal has no knowledge of forex…this rule is utter nonsense…rules for forex in the USA are already quite strict
  • …you are busybody bureaucrats with intrusive minds…you are interested in only one thing: bureaucratic power and complete control of every microscopic aspect of life…you are monsters
  • …rules will harm people who make an honest living trading currency
  • …important to educate and inform, not regulate and ban
  • …proposal is a disaster-in-warning for traders
  • …if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it
  • …proposal is lunacy-communist-legislation
  • …I do not support the proposal…proposal closes doors for forex investors and will make forex market accessible to financial institutions only
  • …vehemently against new, narrow-sighted legislation

Agreement/Disagreement with Proposal

Many of the comments discuss that education about forex and trading risk is the best solution. On a similar note, many traders expressed the fact that anyone who trades in the forex market is aware of the inherent risks, so people who decide to trade are willing to take these risks. There is a general consensus that it is the individual’s, and not the government’s, responsibility to evaluate the level of risk that s/he is willing to take. Remember, higher leverage will be reflected in both your profits and your losses. Thus, if you have high leverage and profit, you will profit a lot more than if your trading had not been leveraged. But the same goes for losses; if you lose, you will lose a lot more based on the higher leverage.

Conclusions Thus Far

The biggest concern thus far is the proposed reduction in leverage to 10:1. Almost every comment mentioned a strong opposition to this rule. Furthermore, most people seem to be concerned that the new regulations will significantly decrease forex activity in the US—if not kill it off—and drive most investors overseas to offshore firms. We will continue to monitor comments received until the March 22 due date. Please leave us a comment below with your feedback. Should you feel inclined, you may submit your own comment to the CFTC through the methods listed above.

To view CFTC’s proposed rules, click here.

How to Comment

Comments must be received by March 22, 2010 and can be submitted the following ways:

  • Through the Federal eRulemaking Portal: http://www.regulations.gov/search/index.jsp. Follow the instructions for submitting comments.
  • By e-mail: [email protected] Include “Regulation of Retail Forex” in the subject line of the message.
  • By fax: (202) 418-5521.
  • By mail: Send to David Stawick, Secretary, Commodity Futures Trading Commission, 1155 21st Street, NW., Washington, DC 20581.
  • Courier: Same as Mail above.

(Note that all comments received will be posted without change to http://www.cftc.gov, including any personal information provided.)

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Other related CFTC articles include:

Bart Mallon, Esq. of Cole-Frieman & Mallon LLP runs the Hedge Fund Law Blog and provides forex registration services to forex managers. Mr. Mallon also runs the Forex Law Blog.  He can be reached directly at 415-868-5345.

FLOORED Film Peeks Inside Chicago Trading World

Audience Reacts Positively to James Allen Smith’s Documentary on Chicago Floor Trading

On Thursday evening at the Roxie Theatre in San Francisco, the professional women’s organization 100 Women in Hedge Funds sponsored the showing of Floored, a documentary by ex-floor trader James Allen Smith that offers a peek inside the lives, successes, and struggles of former traders of the Chicago trading floor (a.k.a. the “pit”).

Those who showed up to watch the film made for the perfect audience–traders, hedge fund managers, and other financial industry professionals schmoozed over wine and cheese before the showing, during which boos, laughter, applause, and verbal comments erupted each time the audience could relate to traders’ stories or make fun of their often idiosyncratic comments. Upon leaving trading, one notable former trader (and quite the character) Mike Walsh took up the hobby of hunting lions, giraffes, and other wild animals.

Through interviews and live footage of pit trading, the documentary tells the story of the Chicago Board of Trade’s (now the Chicago Mercantile Exchange, CME) humble beginnings–it opened in 1898 as the Chicago Butter and Egg Board because it only traded butter and egg contracts!–to the roller coaster ride experienced by floor traders during the peak of futures and options floor trading in the mid-1990s.

Starting in 1992 and still in use today in the pit is the combination of open outcry, the system of loudly shouting over competitors often associated with floor trading, and GLOBEX, an electronic trading system which works alongside open outcry to make trading more efficient. The idea behind trading revolves around buying a commodity at one price and then trying to sell it for a better price in order to make a profit.  In the film, the traders described this system as a game–one trader stated that when the bell goes off (to initiate the opening of trading hours), he experiences an adrenaline rush as if he were playing a sports game.  Another trader commented, “Trading is not a normal job. When you are in there [the pit] from 8:30 to 3:15, it’s all about money!”

The main issue traders discussed was the shift from floor trading to electronic trading. The majority opinion was that computers changed the dynamic of trading in an unfavorable way and that trading in person helps make the price of commodities more efficient. One trader commented that open outcry was more “honorable”. There is also a generational issue, as older traders who did not grow up using computers had trouble figuring out complicated electronic trading platforms. Essentially, those traders who still had enough money to continue trading and who were able to use the electronic systems continued trading, while those who lost too much money in the pit were forced to leave trading altogether.

According to the CME, the options and futures trading floor remains grounded in floor trading, which accounts for 90% of trades with the remaining 10% occurring electronically. The futures pit, however, has seen the biggest crossover to electronic trading, with approximately 85% of trades taking place on the computer and the remaining ones in the pit.

After the film, Smith, who watched the film alongside his audience, stood at the front of the theatre for a Q&A session. He was asked about his background–he went to art school then found himself doing web design for finance businesses in Chicago, where a friend suggested he make a movie about floor traders. He even dabbled in trading and reached out to his network when casting traders for the film. When asked why former traders were willing to open up about their personal lives on film, he commented that less successful traders are often more likely to talk, while more successful traders remain tighter-lipped. Finally, when asked what impression of traders he wanted to leave with audiences, Smith replied that traders are usually stereotyped as “greedy a**holes”, and he wanted to show that traders are more “dynamic than just that part of their personalities” by offering a “more rounded impression [of traders]” through his film.

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For information about future Floored showings, click here.

Other related Floored and CME articles include:

Bart Mallon, Esq. of Cole-Frieman & Mallon LLP runs the Hedge Fund Law Blog.  He can be reached directly at 415-868-5345.

Eligible Contract Participant (ECP) Definition

The term “eligible contract participant” is important with regard to managers who provide advice on futures and commodities investments (including off-exchange spot foreign currency or “forex”).  In general there are exemptions from various CTA, CPO and IB registration provisions for those managers who only provide advisory services to those clients who fall within the definition of eligible contract participant (ECP).  The definition is also important for those managers who may be subject to the proposed CFTC forex registration regulations.

This post provides a short general description of the definition and also the full definition.

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Short Definition

An Eligible Contract Participant generally  means:

  1. Financial Institutions
  2. Insurance Companies
  3. Mutual Funds
  4. Certain commodity pools with $5 million or more of assets
  5. Certain organizations with, generally, $10 million or more of assets
  6. ERISA plans with $5 million or more of assets
  7. Certain governmental entities
  8. Certain broker-dealers and investment banks
  9. FCMs
  10. Floor brokers
  11. An individual with generally $10 million or more of assets
  12. Certain brokers or investment advisers

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Full Definition

The following definition is found in the Section 1a(12) of the Commodity Exchange Act.

Eligible contract participant

The term “eligible contract participant” means—

(A) acting for its own account—

(i) a financial institution;

(ii) an insurance company that is regulated by a State, or that is regulated by a foreign government and is subject to comparable regulation as determined by the Commission, including a regulated subsidiary or affiliate of such an insurance company;

(iii) an investment company subject to regulation under the Investment Company Act of 1940 (15 U.S.C. 80a–1 et seq.) or a foreign person performing a similar role or function subject as such to foreign regulation (regardless of whether each investor in the investment company or the foreign person is itself an eligible contract participant);

(iv) a commodity pool that—

(I) has total assets exceeding $5,000,000; and

(II) is formed and operated by a person subject to regulation under this chapter or a foreign person performing a similar role or function subject as such to foreign regulation (regardless of whether each investor in the commodity pool or the foreign person is itself an eligible contract participant);

(v) a corporation, partnership, proprietorship, organization, trust, or other entity—

(I) that has total assets exceeding $10,000,000;

(II) the obligations of which under an agreement, contract, or transaction are guaranteed or otherwise supported by a letter of credit or keepwell, support, or other agreement by an entity described in subclause (I), in clause (i), (ii), (iii), (iv), or (vii), or in subparagraph (C); or

(III) that—

(aa) has a net worth exceeding $1,000,000; and

(bb) enters into an agreement, contract, or transaction in connection with the conduct of the entity’s business or to manage the risk associated with an asset or liability owned or incurred or reasonably likely to be owned or incurred by the entity in the conduct of the entity’s business;

(vi) an employee benefit plan subject to the Employee Retirement Income Security Act of 1974 (29 U.S.C. 1001 et seq.), a governmental employee benefit plan, or a foreign person performing a similar role or function subject as such to foreign regulation—

(I) that has total assets exceeding $5,000,000; or

(II) the investment decisions of which are made by—

(aa) an investment adviser or commodity trading advisor subject to regulation under the Investment Advisers Act of 1940 (15U.S.C. 80b–1 et seq.) or this chapter;

(bb) a foreign person performing a similar role or function subject as such to foreign regulation;

(cc) a financial institution; or

(dd) an insurance company described in clause (ii), or a regulated subsidiary or affiliate of such an insurance company;

(vii)

(I) a governmental entity (including the United States, a State, or a foreign government) or political subdivision of a governmental entity;

(II) a multinational or supranational government entity; or

(III) an instrumentality, agency, or department of an entity described in subclause (I) or (II);

except that such term does not include an entity, instrumentality, agency, or department referred to in subclause (I) or (III) of this clause unless (aa) the entity, instrumentality, agency, or department is a person described in clause (i), (ii), or (iii) of paragraph (11)(A) of this section; (bb) the entity, instrumentality, agency, or department owns and invests on a discretionary basis $25,000,000 or more in investments; or (cc) the agreement, contract, or transaction is offered by, and entered into with, an entity that is listed in any of subclauses (I) through (VI) of section 2(c)(2)(B)(ii) of this title;

(viii)

(I) a broker or dealer subject to regulation under the Securities Exchange Act of 1934 (15 U.S.C. 78a et seq.) or a foreign person performing a similar role or function subject as such to foreign regulation, except that, if the broker or dealer or foreign person is a natural person or proprietorship, the broker or dealer or foreign person shall not be considered to be an eligible contract participant unless the broker or dealer or foreign person also meets the requirements of clause (v) or (xi);

(II) an associated person of a registered broker or dealer concerning the financial or securities activities of which the registered person makes and keeps records under section 15C(b) or 17(h) of the Securities Exchange Act of 1934 (15 U.S.C. 78o–5 (b), 78q (h));

(III) an investment bank holding company (as defined in section 17(i) of the Securities Exchange Act of 1934 (15 U.S.C. 78q (i)); [1]

(ix) a futures commission merchant subject to regulation under this chapter or a foreign person performing a similar role or function subject as such to foreign regulation, except that, if the futures commission merchant or foreign person is a natural person or proprietorship, the futures commission merchant or foreign person shall not be considered to be an eligible contract participant unless the futures commission merchant or foreign person also meets the requirements of clause (v) or (xi);

(x) a floor broker or floor trader subject to regulation under this chapter in connection with any transaction that takes place on or through the facilities of a registered entity (other than an electronic trading facility with respect to a significant price discovery contract) or an exempt board of trade, or any affiliate thereof, on which such person regularly trades; or

(xi) an individual who has total assets in an amount in excess of—

(I) $10,000,000; or

(II) $5,000,000 and who enters into the agreement, contract, or transaction in order to manage the risk associated with an asset owned or liability incurred, or reasonably likely to be owned or incurred, by the individual;

(B)

(i) a person described in clause (i), (ii), (iv), (v), (viii), (ix), or (x) of subparagraph (A) or in subparagraph (C), acting as broker or performing an equivalent agency function on behalf of another person described in subparagraph (A) or (C); or

(ii) an investment adviser subject to regulation under the Investment Advisers Act of 1940 [15 U.S.C. 80b–1 et seq.], a commodity trading advisor subject to regulation under this chapter, a foreign person performing a similar role or function subject as such to foreign regulation, or a person described in clause (i), (ii), (iv), (v), (viii), (ix), or (x) of subparagraph (A) or in subparagraph (C), in any such case acting as investment manager or fiduciary (but excluding a person acting as broker or performing an equivalent agency function) for another person described in subparagraph (A) or (C) and who is authorized by such person to commit such person to the transaction; or

(C) any other person that the Commission determines to be eligible in light of the financial or other qualifications of the person.

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Other related FOREX law articles include:

Bart Mallon, Esq. of runs the Hedge Fund Law Blog and provides forex registration service through Cole-Frieman & Mallon LLP. Mr. Mallon also runs the Forex Law Blog.  He can be reached directly at 415-868-5345.

Discussion with CFTC Regarding Forex Registration

[http://www.hedgefundlawblog.com]

No New Information on Forex Regulations

I have been getting more and more questions regarding forex registration and unfortunately I have not had much to say because there has been little information coming from the CFTC.  The NFA has done a good job of anticipating what those rules will generally look like, but the NFA (like us) must wait for the CFTC to propose (and then adopt) regulations requiring the registration of forex managers.  Accordingly any preliminary guidance from the NFA should be taken as that – preliminary guidance.  The fact that the regulations are coming obviously puts pressure on legal professionals and forex managers alike as we all try to figure out what will need to be done, when and how.

For this reason I have been calling the CFTC to try to figure out when we might hear something.  After calling the CFTC daily for over a week now, today I finally received a call back from a representative of the CFTC’s Division of Clearing and Intermediary Oversight.  Unfortunately, the representative was as tight-lipped about the future regulations as the CFTC has been up to this point.

During the conversation, I asked several questions and did not receive any responses other than what you would expect from a government agency.  The gist of the conversation was that the CFTC is working on the regulations and the reason that it is taking so long is that there are many aspects to the regulations which must be thoroughly reviewed be many different members and parts of the CFTC.   It sounded like the regulations could be quite detailed – the representative stated that it is not just simply these managers with this amount of assets must register, that the regulations will be comprehensive.  Another issue which remains unanswered is whether there will be exemptions from the registration provisions, similar to the current CPO exemptions and CTA exemptions from registration.

So with that being said, there is not much new to report.  Forex managers are still in a bit of a limbo until the CFTC promulgates the proposed regulations.  Until that happens it would be wise for forex managers to consider getting ready for registration by discussing the issue with a forex attorney.  Managers may also decide to move forward and begin taking the Series 3 exam and the Series 34 exam.  Managers (especially forex hedge fund managers) are especially encouraged to talk with their attorney about potential registration requirements under their state commodity codes – I will be posting more on this issue tomorrow.

I know this does not tell you very much, but please feel free to contact me if you have any specific questions or if you would like to find out more about forex CPO, CTA or Introducing Broker registration.

For more articles related to forex law and registration, please visit our forex hedge fund articles page.