Tag Archives: leverage

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.

Hedge Funds and Counterparties: Report by GAO

This article is part of a series examining the statements in a report issued by the Government Accountability Office (GAO) in February 2008.  The items in this report are important because they provide insight into how the government views the hedge fund industry and how that might influence the future regulatory environment for hedge funds. The excerpt below is part of a larger report issued by the GAO; a PDF of the entire report can be found here.

I found this section reprinted below to be especially informative on the issues involved when hedge funds utilize credit.  The section provides a history on hedge funds and counterparty risk management and has concluded that the counterparty risk management procedures have tightened from the late 1990’s when we saw the crash of Long Term Capital Management.  It is likely that in this current environment that even stricter risk management procedures will become common and that due diligence by counterparties (banks and brokerage firms) will also increase.

If a manager has any questions on receiving credit or leverage, the manager should talk with the fund’s broker and/or banker well before any credit or leverage is needed – as always, managers are urged to give themselves plenty of time when negotiating credit and leverage terms.  Please feel free to contact us if you would like to discuss anything discussed herein.

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Creditors and Counterparties Can Impose Some Market Discipline on Hedge Fund Advisers as Part of Credit Extension, but the Complexity of Counterparty Credit Risk Management Poses Ongoing Challenges for Financial Institutions:

By evaluating hedge fund management, the fund’s business activities, and its internal and risk management controls, creditors and counterparties exert discipline on hedge fund advisers. According to market participants, entering into contracts with hedge funds as creditors or counterparties is the primary mechanism by which financial institutions’ credit exposures to hedge funds arise, and exercising counterparty risk management is the primary mechanism by which financial institutions impose market discipline on hedge funds. According to the staff of the member agencies of the PWG [the President’s Working Group on Financial Markets, please see this article for more information], the credit risk exposures between hedge funds and their creditors and counterparties arise primarily from trading and lending relationships, including various types of derivatives and securities transactions.[1] As part of the credit extension process, creditors and counterparties typically require hedge funds to post collateral that can be sold in the event of default. According to market participants we interviewed, collateral most often takes the form of cash or high-quality, highly liquid securities (e.g., government securities), but it can also include lower-rated securities (e.g., BBB rated bonds) and less liquid assets (e.g., CDOs). They told us they take steps to ensure that they have clear control over collateral that is pledged, which according to some creditors and counterparties we interviewed, that was not the case with LTCM. Creditors and counterparties generally require hedge funds to post collateral to cover current credit exposures (this generally occurs daily) and, with some exceptions, require additional collateral, or initial margin, to cover potential exposures that could arise if markets moved sharply.[2] Creditors to hedge funds said that they measure a fund’s current and potential risk exposure on a daily basis to evaluate counterparty positions and collateral.

To control their risk exposures, creditors and counterparties to generally large hedge funds told us that, unlike in the late 1990s, they now conduct more extensive due diligence and ongoing monitoring of a hedge fund client. According to OCC, banks also conduct “abbreviated” underwriting procedures for small hedge funds in which they do not conduct much due diligence. OCC officials also told us that losses due to the extension of credit to hedge funds were rare. Creditors and counterparties of large hedge funds use their own internal rating and credit or counterparty risk management process and may require additional collateral from hedge funds as a buffer against increased risk exposure. They said that as part of their due diligence, they typically request information that includes hedge fund managers’ background and track record; risk measures; periodic net asset valuation calculations; side pockets and side letters; fees and redemption policy; liquidity, valuations, capital measures, and net changes to capital; and annual audited statements. According to industry and regulatory officials familiar with the LTCM episode, this was not necessarily the case in the 1990s. At that time, creditors and counterparties had not asked enough questions about the risks that were being taken to generate the high returns. Creditors and counterparties told us they currently establish credit terms partly based on the scope and depth of information that hedge funds are willing to provide, the willingness of the fund managers to answer questions during on-site visits, and the assessment of the hedge fund’s risk exposure and capacity to manage risk. If approved, the hedge fund receives a credit rating and a line of credit. Several prime brokers told us that losses from hedge fund clients were extremely rare due to the asset-based lending they provided such funds. Also, one prime broker noted that during the course of its monitoring the risk profile of a hedge fund client, it noticed that the hedge fund manager was taking what the broker considered to be excessive risk, and requested additional information on the fund’s activity. The client did not comply with the prime broker’s request for additional information, and the prime broker terminated the relationship with the client.

Through continuous monitoring of counterparty credit exposure to hedge funds, creditors and counterparties can further impose market discipline on hedge fund advisers. Some creditors and counterparties also told us that they measure counterparty credit exposure on an ongoing basis through a credit system that is updated each day to determine current and potential exposures. Credit officers at one bank said that they receive monthly investor summaries from many of their hedge fund clients. The summaries provide information for monitoring the activities and performance of hedge funds. Officials at another bank told us that they generally monitor their hedge fund clients on a quarterly basis and may alter credit terms or terminate a relationship if it is determined that the fund is not dealing with risk adequately or if it does not disclose requested information.

Some creditors also said that they may provide better credit terms to hedge funds that consolidate all trade executions and settlements at their firm than to hedge funds that use several prime brokers because they would know more about the fund’s exposure. However, large hedge funds may limit the information they provide to banks and prime brokers for various reasons. Unlike small hedge funds that generally depend on a single prime broker for a large number of services ranging from capital introductions to the generation of customized accounting reports, many large hedge funds are less dependent on the services of any single prime broker and, according to several market participants, use multiple prime brokers as a means to protect proprietary trading positions and strategies, and to diversify their credit and operational risks.

Despite improvements in disclosure and counterparty credit risk management, regulators noted that the effectiveness of market discipline may be limited or market discipline may not be exercised properly for several reasons. First, because large hedge funds use several prime brokers as creditors and counterparties, no single prime broker may be able to assess the total amount of leverage used by a large hedge fund client. The stress tests and other tools that prime brokers use to monitor a given counterparty’s risk profile can incorporate only those positions known to a trading partner. Second, the increasing complexity of structured financial instruments has raised concerns that counterparties lack the capacity (in terms of risk models and resources) to keep pace with and assess actual risk, illustrating a possible failure to exercise market discipline properly. More specifically, despite improvements in risk modeling and risk management, the Federal Reserve believes that further progress is needed in the procedures global banks use to manage exposures to highly leveraged counterparties such as hedge funds, in part because of the increasing complexity of products such as structured credit products and CDOs in which hedge funds are active participants. The complexity of structured credit products can add to the already complex task of measuring and managing counterparty credit risk. For example, another Federal Reserve official has noted that the measurement of counterparty credit risk requires complex computer simulations and that “the management of counterparty risk is also complicated further by hedge funds’ complicated organizational structures, legal rights, collateral arrangements, and frequent trading. It is important that banks develop the systems capability to regularly gather and analyze data across diverse internal systems to manage their counterparty credit risk to hedge funds.” One regulatory official further noted the challenges faced by institutions in finding, developing and retaining individuals with the expertise required to analyze the adequacy of these increasingly complex models. The lack of talented staff can affect counterparty credit risk monitoring and the ability to impose market discipline on hedge fund risk taking activities. Third, some regulators have expressed concerns that some creditors and counterparties may have relaxed their counterparty credit risk management practices for hedge funds, which could weaken the effectiveness of market discipline as a tool to limit the exposure of hedge fund managers. They noted that competition for hedge fund clients may have led some to reduce the initial margin in collateral agreements, reducing the amount of collateral to cover potential credit exposure.

[1] A derivative is a financial instrument, such as an option or futures contract, the value of which depends on the performance of an underlying security or asset. Securities financing transactions include repurchase agreements, securities lending transactions, and other types of borrowing transactions that, in economic substance, utilize securities as collateral for the extension of credit. A repurchase agreement is a financial transaction in which a dealer borrows money by selling securities and simultaneously agreeing to buy them back at a later date.

[2] According to the literature, (1) current exposure represents the current replacement cost of financial instrument transactions, i.e., their current market value; (2) potential exposure is an estimate of the future replacement cost of financial instrument transactions; and (3) an initial margin is the good-faith deposit that protects the counterparty against a loss from adverse market movements in the interval between periodic marking-to-market.

Other related HFLB articles:

Hedge Fund IRA Investments

Individual retirement account (IRA) investments into hedge funds are increasing rapidly.  Below are some common questions hedge fund managers have about potential investments by IRAs.

Can an IRA invest in a hedge fund?

Generally yes, however the IRA and the hedge fund must make sure to follow certain regulations which a manager should discuss with a hedge fund attorney.    A manager should not accept IRA investments into the hedge fund without first discussing this with his lawyer.

How does an IRA actually make the investment into the hedge fund?

Each IRA investment into the hedge fund needs to be made by the custodian of the IRA.  That is, the beneficial owner of the IRA cannot simply take the money out of his IRA account and then place the money in the hedge fund – this would be deemed to be a withdrawal from the IRA and would be subject to very negative tax consequences.

In order to avoid these negative tax consequences the custodian needs to directly transfer the IRA assets to the hedge fund.  Typically this is done through a self directed IRA account at a brokerage firm.  Many brokerage firms do not have these self directed programs in place.  If the brokerage firm does not have such a program in place the beneficial owner of the IRA would need to transfer the IRA to another custodian which does.  Our law firm has worked with many custodians who have these programs and we can make recommendations.

Each custodian has different requirements for an investment into a hedge fund from an IRA.  Typically the hedge fund manager is going to need to fill out a few pages of paperwork with the custodian and provide custodian with the fund’s offering documents.  After the custodian’s compliance department has reviewed the paperwork, the custodian will be able to make the investment into the fund on behalf of the IRA.  During this process the hedge fund manager is going to be spending time talking with the custodian and the compliance department.  Additionally the law firm may need to be involved with the process as well; however, this is usually to a much lesser extent.

Are there any other issues with IRA investments into hedge funds?

Yes.  There are many issues which a hedge fund manager should be aware of which include the following:

1.  The manager should be sure that the hedge fund and the management company do not engage in any prohibited transactions with respect to the fund and the IRA.  [More on this in a later article.]

2.  The manager should make sure that if it uses any sort of leverage that such activities are clearly discussed in the fund’s offering documents.  In certain circumstances where there is leverage, an IRA could be subject to tax on its unrelated business taxable income or UBTI.

3.  The manager should make sure that the fund does not stray from its investment program.  IRA are not allowed to make certain investments like investments in life insurance policies (life settlements).
As noted in an earlier article on hedge funds and ERISA, while IRAs are not specifically ERISA assets, they do count towards the 25% threshold and thus the manager needs to be aware of the amount of IRA and other ERISA assets in the hedge fund.

HFLB Note

Because of the gravity of the tax consequences to potential IRA investors, please contact your hedge fund attorney or accountant if you have specific questions about IRA investments into your fund.  Additionally, savvy hedge fund investors will usually want to make sure that their own tax advisors have reviewed the hedge fund offering documents before investing in the fund.

Please contact us if you have any questions on the above.  Also, please read our disclaimer with regard to discussions about tax items.