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Obama on Financial Reform

President Discusses Future Financial Regulations in Advance of G20

Earlier today President Obama gave a speech in New York discussing the administration’s future plan for greater regulation of the financial markets in the wake of the financial crisis of 2008/2009.  Speaking strongly the President said:

So I want everybody here to hear my words:  We will not go back to the days of reckless behavior and unchecked excess that was at the heart of this crisis, where too many were motivated only by the appetite for quick kills and bloated bonuses.

And we intend to pass regulatory reform through Congress.

Of course no political speech about the financial crisis will fail to take a swipe at the hedge fund industry.  Obama took this opportunity to say that hedge funds “can operate outside of the regulatory system altogether.” Oft-repeated statements like these not only grossly mischaracterize the current regulatory system, but also unjustly serve to cast hedge funds as a progenitors of the financial crisis. [HFLB Note to President Obama – if you give me a call I am happy to give you a brief overview of how hedge funds are currently regulated under the securities laws.]

While there is really nothing new in this speech, it does drive home that increased financial regulation is likely coming soon.  I have reprinted the entire speech below and it can also be found here.



Office of the Press Secretary

For Immediate Release
September 14, 2009


Federal Hall
New York, New York

11:59 A.M. EDT

THE PRESIDENT:  Thank you very much.  It is wonderful to be back in New York after having just been here last week.  It is a beautiful day and we have some extraordinary guests here in the Hall today.  I just want to mention a few.

First of all from my economic team, somebody who I think has done extraordinary work on behalf of all Americans and has helped to strengthen our financial system immeasurably, Secretary Tim Geithner — please give him a big round of applause.  (Applause.)  Somebody who is continually guiding me and keeping me straight on the numbers, the chair of the Council of Economic Advisers, Christina Romer is here.  (Applause.)  We have an extraordinary economic recovery board and as chairman somebody who knows more about the financial markets and the economy generally than just about anybody in this country, Paul Volcker.  Thank you, Paul.  (Applause.)  The outstanding mayor of the city of New York, Mr. Michael Bloomberg.  (Applause.)  We have Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver is here, as well; thank you.  (Applause.)

We have a host of members of Congress, but there’s one that I have to single out because he is going to be helping to shape the agenda going forward to make sure that we have one of the strongest, most dynamic, and most innovative financial markets in the world for many years to come, and that’s my good friend, Barney Frank.  (Applause.)  I also want to thank our hosts from the National Park Service here at Federal Hall and all the other outstanding public officials who are here.

Thanks for being here.  Thank you for your warm welcome.  It’s a privilege to be in historic Federal Hall.  It was here more than two centuries ago that our first Congress served and our first President was inaugurated.  And I just had a chance to glance at the Bible upon which George Washington took his oath.  It was here, in the early days of the Republic, that Hamilton and Jefferson debated how best to administer a young economy and ensure that our nation rewarded the talents and drive of its people.  And two centuries later, we still grapple with these questions — questions made more acute in moments of crisis.

It was one year ago today that we experienced just such a crisis.  As investors and pension-holders watched with dread and dismay, and after a series of emergency meetings often conducted in the dead of the night, several of the world’s largest and oldest financial institutions had fallen, either bankrupt, bought, or bailed out:  Lehman Brothers, Merrill Lynch, AIG, Washington Mutual, Wachovia.  A week before this began, Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac had been taken over by the government.  Other large firms teetered on the brink of insolvency.  Credit markets froze as banks refused to lend not only to families and businesses, but to one another.  Five trillion dollars of Americans’ household wealth evaporated in the span of just three months.  That was just one year ago.

Congress and the previous administration took difficult but necessary action in the days and months that followed.  Nonetheless, when this administration walked through the door in January, the situation remained urgent.  The markets had fallen sharply; credit was not flowing.  It was feared that the largest banks — those that remained standing — had too little capital and far too much exposure to risky loans.  And the consequences had spread far beyond the streets of lower Manhattan.  This was no longer just a financial crisis; it had become a full-blown economic crisis, with home prices sinking and businesses struggling to access affordable credit, and the economy shedding an average of 700,000 jobs every single month.

We could not separate what was happening in the corridors of our financial institutions from what was happening on the factory floors and around the kitchen tables.  Home foreclosures linked those who took out home loans and those who repackaged those loans as securities.  A lack of access to affordable credit threatened the health of large firms and small businesses, as well as all those whose jobs depended on them.  And a weakened financial system weakened the broader economy, which in turn further weakened the financial system.

So the only way to address successfully any of these challenges was to address them together.  And this administration, under the outstanding leadership of Tim Geithner and Christy Romer and Larry Summers and others, moved quickly on all fronts, initializing a financial — a financial stability plan to rescue the system from the crisis and restart lending for all those affected by the crisis.  By opening and examining the books of large financial firms, we helped restore the availability of two things that had been in short supply:  capital and confidence.  By taking aggressive and innovative steps in credit markets, we spurred lending not just to banks, but to folks looking to buy homes or cars, take out student loans, or finance small businesses.  Our home ownership plan has helped responsible homeowners refinance to stem the tide of lost homes and lost home values.

And the recovery plan is providing help to the unemployed and tax relief for working families, all the while spurring consumer spending.  It’s prevented layoffs of tens of thousands of teachers and police officers and other essential public servants.  And thousands of recovery projects are underway all across America, including right here in New York City, putting people to work building wind turbines and solar panels, renovating schools and hospitals, repairing our nation’s roads and bridges.

Eight months later, the work of recovery continues.  And though I will never be satisfied while people are out of work and our financial system is weakened, we can be confident that the storms of the past two years are beginning to break.  In fact, while there continues to be a need for government involvement to stabilize the financial system, that necessity is waning.  After months in which public dollars were flowing into our financial system, we’re finally beginning to see money flowing back to taxpayers.  This doesn’t mean taxpayers will escape the worst financial crisis in decades entirely unscathed.  But banks have repaid more than $70 billion, and in those cases where the government’s stakes have been sold completely, taxpayers have actually earned a 17 percent return on their investment.  Just a few months ago, many experts from across the ideological spectrum feared that ensuring financial stability would require even more tax dollars.  Instead, we’ve been able to eliminate a $250 billion reserve included in our budget because that fear has not been realized.

While full recovery of the financial system will take a great deal more time and work, the growing stability resulting from these interventions means we’re beginning to return to normalcy.  But here’s what I want to emphasize today:  Normalcy cannot lead to complacency.

Unfortunately, there are some in the financial industry who are misreading this moment.  Instead of learning the lessons of Lehman and the crisis from which we’re still recovering, they’re choosing to ignore those lessons.  I’m convinced they do so not just at their own peril, but at our nation’s.  So I want everybody here to hear my words:  We will not go back to the days of reckless behavior and unchecked excess that was at the heart of this crisis, where too many were motivated only by the appetite for quick kills and bloated bonuses.  Those on Wall Street cannot resume taking risks without regard for consequences, and expect that next time, American taxpayers will be there to break their fall.

And that’s why we need strong rules of the road to guard against the kind of systemic risks that we’ve seen.  And we have a responsibility to write and enforce these rules to protect consumers of financial products, to protect taxpayers, and to protect our economy as a whole.  Yes, there must — these rules must be developed in a way that doesn’t stifle innovation and enterprise.  And I want to say very clearly here today, we want to work with the financial industry to achieve that end.  But the old ways that led to this crisis cannot stand.  And to the extent that some have so readily returned to them underscores the need for change and change now.  History cannot be allowed to repeat itself.

So what we’re calling for is for the financial industry to join us in a constructive effort to update the rules and regulatory structure to meet the challenges of this new century.  That is what my administration seeks to do.  We’ve sought ideas and input from industry leaders and policy experts, academics, consumer advocates, and the broader public.  And we’ve worked closely with leaders in the Senate and the House, including not only Barney, but also Senators Chris Dodd and Richard Shelby, and Barney is already working with his counterpart, Sheldon [sic] Bachus.  And we intend to pass regulatory reform through Congress.

And taken together, we’re proposing the most ambitious overhaul of the financial regulatory system since the Great Depression.  But I want to emphasize that these reforms are rooted in a simple principle:  We ought to set clear rules of the road that promote transparency and accountability.  That’s how we’ll make certain that markets foster responsibility, not recklessness.  That’s how we’ll make certain that markets reward those who compete honestly and vigorously within the system, instead of those who are trying to game the system.

So let me outline specifically what we’re talking about.  First, we’re proposing new rules to protect consumers and a new Consumer Financial Protection Agency to enforce those rules.  (Applause.)  This crisis was not just the result of decisions made by the mightiest of financial firms.  It was also the result of decisions made by ordinary Americans to open credit cards and take on mortgages.  And while there were many who took out loans they knew they couldn’t afford, there were also millions of Americans who signed contracts they didn’t fully understand offered by lenders who didn’t always tell the truth.

This is in part because there is no single agency charged with making sure that doesn’t happen.  That’s what we intend to change.  The Consumer Financial Protection Agency will have the power to make certain that consumers get information that is clear and concise, and to prevent the worst kinds of abuses.  Consumers shouldn’t have to worry about loan contracts designed to be unintelligible, hidden fees attached to their mortgage, and financial penalties — whether through a credit card or a debit card — that appear without warning on their statements.  And responsible lenders, including community banks, doing the right thing shouldn’t have to worry about ruinous competition from unregulated competitors.

Now there are those who are suggesting that somehow this will restrict the choices available to consumers.  Nothing could be further from the truth.  The lack of clear rules in the past meant we had the wrong kind of innovation:  The firm that could make its products look the best by doing the best job of hiding the real costs ended up getting the business.  For example, we had “teaser” rates on credit cards and mortgages that lured people in and then surprised them with big rate increases.  By setting ground rules, we’ll increase the kind of competition that actually provides people better and greater choices, as companies compete to offer the best products, not the ones that are most complex or the most confusing.

Second, we’ve got to close the loopholes that were at the heart of the crisis.  Where there were gaps in the rules, regulators lacked the authority to take action.  Where there were overlaps, regulators often lacked accountability for inaction.  These weaknesses in oversight engendered systematic, and systemic, abuse.

Under existing rules, some companies can actually shop for the regulator of their choice — and others, like hedge funds, can operate outside of the regulatory system altogether.  We’ve seen the development of financial instruments — like derivatives and credit default swaps — without anyone examining the risks, or regulating all of the players.  And we’ve seen lenders profit by providing loans to borrowers who they knew would never repay, because the lender offloaded the loan and the consequences to somebody else.  Those who refused to game the system are at a disadvantage.

Now, one of the main reasons this crisis could take place is that many agencies and regulators were responsible for oversight of individual financial firms and their subsidiaries, but no one was responsible for protecting the system as the whole — as a whole.  In other words, regulators were charged with seeing the trees, but not the forest.  And even then, some firms that posed a “systemic risk” were not regulated as strongly as others, exploiting loopholes in the system to take on greater risk with less scrutiny.  As a result, the failure of one firm threatened the viability of many others.  We were facing one of the largest financial crises in history, and those responsible for oversight were caught off guard and without the authority to act.

And that’s why we’ll create clear accountability and responsibility for regulating large financial firms that pose a systemic risk.  While holding the Federal Reserve fully accountable for regulation of the largest, most interconnected firms, we’ll create an oversight council to bring together regulators from across markets to share information, to identify gaps in regulation, and to tackle issues that don’t fit neatly into an organizational chart.  We’ll also require these financial firms to meet stronger capital and liquidity requirements and observe greater constraints on their risky behavior.  That’s one of the lessons of the past year.  The only way to avoid a crisis of this magnitude is to ensure that large firms can’t take risks that threaten our entire financial system, and to make sure that they have the resources to weather even the worst of economic storms.

Even as we’ve proposed safeguards to make the failure of large and interconnected firms less likely, we’ve also created — proposed creating what’s called “resolution authority” in the event that such a failure happens and poses a threat to the stability of the financial system.  This is intended to put an end to the idea that some firms are “too big to fail.”  For a market to function, those who invest and lend in that market must believe that their money is actually at risk.  And the system as a whole isn’t safe until it is safe from the failure of any individual institution.

If a bank approaches insolvency, we have a process through the FDIC that protects depositors and maintains confidence in the banking system.  This process was created during the Great Depression when the failure of one bank led to runs on other banks, which in turn threatened the banking system as a whole.  That system works.  But we don’t have any kind of process in place to contain the failure of a Lehman Brothers or AIG or any of the largest and most interconnected financial firms in our country.

And that’s why, when this crisis began, crucial decisions about what would happen to some of the world’s biggest companies — companies employing tens of thousands of people and holding trillions of dollars of assets — took place in hurried discussions in the middle of the night.  That’s why we’ve had to rely on taxpayer dollars.  The only resolution authority we currently have that would prevent a financial meltdown involved tapping the Federal Reserve or the federal treasury.  With so much at stake, we should not be forced to choose between allowing a company to fail into a rapid and chaotic dissolution that threatens the economy and innocent people, or, alternatively, forcing taxpayers to foot the bill.  So our plan would put the cost of a firm’s failures on those who own its stock and loaned it money.  And if taxpayers ever have to step in again to prevent a second Great Depression, the financial industry will have to pay the taxpayer back — every cent.

Finally, we need to close the gaps that exist not just within this country but among countries.  The United States is leading a coordinated response to promote recovery and to restore prosperity among both the world’s largest economies and the world’s fastest growing economies.  At a summit in London in April, leaders agreed to work together in an unprecedented way to spur global demand but also to address the underlying problems that caused such a deep and lasting global recession.  And this work will continue next week in Pittsburgh when I convene the G20, which has proven to be an effective forum for coordinating policies among key developed and emerging economies and one that I see taking on an important role in the future.

Essential to this effort is reforming what’s broken in the global financial system — a system that links economies and spreads both rewards and risks.  For we know that abuses in financial markets anywhere can have an impact everywhere; and just as gaps in domestic regulation lead to a race to the bottom, so do gaps in regulation around the world.  What we need instead is a global race to the top, including stronger capital standards, as I’ve called for today.  As the United States is aggressively reforming our regulatory system, we’re going to be working to ensure that the rest of the world does the same.  And this is something that Secretary Geithner has already been actively meeting with finance ministers around the world to discuss.

A healthy economy in the 21st century also depends on our ability to buy and sell goods in markets across the globe.  And make no mistake, this administration is committed to pursuing expanded trade and new trade agreements.  It is absolutely essential to our economic future.  And each time that we have met — at the G20 and the G8 — we have reaffirmed the need to fight against protectionism.  But no trading system will work if we fail to enforce our trade agreements, those that have already been signed.  So when — as happened this weekend — we invoke provisions of existing agreements, we do so not to be provocative or to promote self-defeating protectionism, we do so because enforcing trade agreements is part and parcel of maintaining an open and free trading system.

And just as we have to live up to our responsibilities on trade, we have to live up to our responsibilities on financial reform as well.  I have urged leaders in Congress to pass regulatory reform this year and both Congressman Frank and Senator Dodd, who are leading this effort, have made it clear that that’s what they intend to do.  Now there will be those who defend the status quo — there always are.  There will be those who argue we should do less or nothing at all.  There will be those who engage in revisionist history or have selective memories, and don’t seem to recall what we just went through last year.  But to them I’d say only this:  Do you really believe that the absence of sound regulation one year ago was good for the financial system?  Do you believe the resulting decline in markets and wealth and unemployment, the wrenching hardship that families are going through all across the country, was somehow good for our economy?  Was that good for the American people?

I have always been a strong believer in the power of the free market.  I believe that jobs are best created not by government, but by businesses and entrepreneurs willing to take a risk on a good idea.  I believe that the role of the government is not to disparage wealth, but to expand its reach; not to stifle markets, but to provide the ground rules and level playing field that helps to make those markets more vibrant — and that will allow us to better tap the creative and innovative potential of our people.  For we know that it is the dynamism of our people that has been the source of America’s progress and prosperity.

So I promise you, I did not run for President to bail out banks or intervene in capital markets.  But it is important to note that the very absence of common-sense regulations able to keep up with a fast-paced financial sector is what created the need for that extraordinary intervention — not just with our administration, but the previous administration.  The lack of sensible rules of the road, so often opposed by those who claim to speak for the free market, ironically led to a rescue far more intrusive than anything any of us — Democratic or Republican, progressive or conservative — would have ever proposed or predicted.

At the same time, we have to recognize that what’s needed now goes beyond just the reforms that I’ve mentioned.  For what took place one year ago was not merely a failure of regulation or legislation; it wasn’t just a failure of oversight or foresight.  It was also a failure of responsibility — it was fundamentally a failure of responsibility — that allowed Washington to become a place where problems — including structural problems in our financial system — were ignored rather than solved.  It was a failure of responsibility that led homebuyers and derivative traders alike to take reckless risks that they couldn’t afford to take. It was a collective failure of responsibility in Washington, on Wall Street, and across America that led to the near-collapse of our financial system one year ago.

So restoring a willingness to take responsibility — even when it’s hard to do — is at the heart of what we must do.  Here on Wall Street, you have a responsibility.  The reforms I’ve laid out will pass and these changes will become law.  But one of the most important ways to rebuild the system stronger than it was before is to rebuild trust stronger than before — and you don’t have to wait for a new law to do that.  You don’t have to wait to use plain language in your dealings with consumers.  You don’t have to wait for legislation to put the 2009 bonuses of your senior executives up for a shareholder vote.  You don’t have to wait for a law to overhaul your pay system so that folks are rewarded for long-term performance instead of short-term gains.

The fact is, many of the firms that are now returning to prosperity owe a debt to the American people.  They were not the cause of this crisis, and yet American taxpayers, through their government, had to take extraordinary action to stabilize the financial industry.  They shouldered the burden of the bailout and they are still bearing the burden of the fallout — in lost jobs and lost homes and lost opportunities.  It is neither right nor responsible after you’ve recovered with the help of your government to shirk your obligation to the goal of wider recovery, a more stable system, and a more broadly shared prosperity.

So I want to urge you to demonstrate that you take this obligation to heart.  To put greater effort into helping families who need their mortgages modified under my administration’s homeownership plan.  To help small business owners who desperately need loans and who are bearing the brunt of the decline in available credit.  To help communities that would benefit from the financing you could provide, or the community development institutions you could support.  To come up with creative approaches to improve financial education and to bring banking to those who live and work entirely outside of the banking system.  And, of course, to embrace serious financial reform, not resist it.

Just as we are asking the private sector to think about the long term, I recognize that Washington has to do so as well.  When my administration came through the door, we not only faced a financial crisis and costly recession, we also found waiting a trillion dollar deficit.  So yes, we have to take extraordinary action in the wake of an extraordinary economic crisis.  But I am absolutely committed to putting this nation on a sound and secure fiscal footing.  That’s why we’re pushing to restore pay-as-you-go rules in Congress, because I will not go along with the old Washington ways which said it was okay to pass spending bills and tax cuts without a plan to pay for it.  That’s why we’re cutting programs that don’t work or are out of date.  That’s why I’ve insisted that health insurance reform — as important as it is — not add a dime to the deficit, now or in the future.

There are those who would suggest that we must choose between markets unfettered by even the most modest of regulations, and markets weighed down by onerous regulations that suppress the spirit of enterprise and innovation.  If there is one lesson we can learn from last year, it is that this is a false choice.  Common-sense rules of the road don’t hinder the market, they make the market stronger.  Indeed, they are essential to ensuring that our markets function fairly and freely.

One year ago, we saw in stark relief how markets can spin out of control; how a lack of common-sense rules can lead to excess and abuse; how close we can come to the brink.  One year later, it is incumbent upon us to put in place those reforms that will prevent this kind of crisis from ever happening again, reflecting painful but important lessons that we’ve learned, and that will help us move from a period of reckless irresponsibility, a period of crisis, to one of responsibility and prosperity.  That’s what we must do.  And I’m confident that’s what we will do.

Thank you very much, everybody.  (Applause.)

12:29 P.M. EDT


Other hedge fund law articles related to President Obama and increased hedge fund regulation:

Outstanding Congressional Bills increasing financial regulation:

Bart Mallon, Esq. runs hedge fund law blog and has written most all of the articles which appear on this website.  Mr. Mallon’s legal practice is devoted to helping emerging and start up hedge fund managers successfully launch a hedge fund.  If you are a hedge fund manager who is looking to start a hedge fund, please call Mr. Mallon directly at 415-296-8510.

Hedge Funds with $25MM of AUM to Register Under Commissioner Aguilar’s Plan

SEC Commissioner Aguilar Proposes Registration For Funds with as little as $25MM of AUM

Just today I had an opportunity to review the transcript of a speech by SEC Commissioner Aguilar in which he advocates that funds with as little as $25MM of AUM should register with the SEC.  Such a low threshold for registration is troubling in a number of ways.  Most importantly is the impact registration would have on the SEC immediately and in the future.  As we have seen most vividly over the past year, the SEC is overextended and underfunded.  The SEC’s ability to adequately deal with the 9,000 to 12,000 hedge funds which would come under its jurisdicition is suspect.  Registration aside, how will an agency which was not able to sniff out a Bernie Madoff be able to oversee such a large industry without making it cost prohibitive for funds to operate?  The money required to oversee these funds is likely to be substantial and will probably not be coming from Congress which means the cost of such a regulatory and oversight system will likely fall onto the managers themselves and then of course to the investors.

As we talk about regulation of the hedge fund industry, there is also the question of regulatory resources. Any future registration of hedge fund advisers and/or hedge funds will require that the SEC receive increased resources to provide effective oversight. We will need to hire staff and implementing new technology to effectively deal with a large and complex industry. To that end, I have previously called for Congress to pass legislation establishing the SEC as a self-funded agency, similar to the way other financial regulators are funded — such as the Federal Reserve Bank, the FDIC, OTS and OCC. This would help to solve the problem.

To the extent that funds are registering and reporting to the SEC, I encourage Congress to couple the authority increasing the SEC’s jurisdiction with the appropriate self-funding mechanism to allow us to provide effective oversight.

This is not to say I am not against reasonable, reasoned and fiscally responsible oversight and regulation.  I believe that systemic stability is critically important for the long term viability of the hedge fund industry as well as the capital markets.  In this vein, I think that Aguilar’s statement below represents the type of structures which would contribute to increased stability while minimizing regulation where it is not necessary.

Perhaps a tiered approach to registration, based on a fund’s potential to affect the market, would make sense. At the lowest tier would be small funds. These funds could be subject to a simple recordkeeping requirement as to positions and transactions, kept in a standardized format, to permit the SEC to efficiently oversee their activities. As funds grow in size, different standards may be appropriate.

While I do not agree with many of the points regarding regulation the Commissioner discussed in the speech reprinted below, I do believe that the Commissioner does a good job at identifying issues which should be discussed publicly as regulators and industry participants move towards creating a reasonable regulatory regime.

Please feel free to include your comments below.


Speech by SEC Commissioner:
Hedge Fund Regulation on the Horizon — Don’t Shoot the Messenger

Commissioner Luis A. Aguilar

U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission
Spring 2009 Hedgeworld Fund Services Conference
New York, New York

June 18, 2009

Thank you for that kind introduction. I am pleased to be here with you at the Spring 2009 Hedgeworld Fund Services Conference. This conference is timely given the current discussion regarding potential regulation of the hedge fund industry. Let me say at the outset, as is customary, my remarks today are my own and do not necessarily reflect the views of my fellow Commissioners or of the Commission staff.

My experience with the securities industry began in the late 1970’s. After three years with the SEC, I’ve spent the bulk of my 30 years as a lawyer focusing on the capital markets. Most of those years where in private practices in large law firms, although I spent most of the 90’s and the early part of this decade as General Counsel and Head of Compliance of a large global asset manager. While I’ve spent much of my professional career involved in capital formation though public and private offerings, a substantial portion has been spent working in the investment management industry, and I have worked with hedge funds.

As we all know, there has been much speculation about the impact of hedge fund activity on the broader capital markets. For example, there are questions about whether hedge funds may have contributed to the market turmoil and how hedge funds may have contributed to the demise of Bear Stearns, Lehman Brothers and others. Additionally, it is also not clear whether the lack of oversight of the industry resulted in large amounts of risk to the market through the use of short sales and derivatives, such as credit default swaps.

This year’s conference takes place at a key moment in the history of hedge funds. While hedge funds have remained largely unregulated, this seems to be coming to an end. All over the world, legislators, regulators, investor groups, industry representatives and others are loudly calling for the industry to be regulated.

In the United States, the calls for regulation are motivated by concerns that market integrity has been harmed and that systemic risk arose as a result of the exemptions and exclusions from the federal securities laws that permitted a private market to thrive in ways that may have harmed the public markets. In fact, the market turmoil clearly demonstrated that the private fund market does impact the broader capital markets. This does not mean that all fund activity must be equally regulated, but hedge funds, especially large ones, are thought to require greater regulatory oversight.

My goal with my remarks today is to:

  • First, lay out a current state of affairs regarding the hedge fund industry;
  • Second, describe the calls for regulation of the industry; and
  • Third, discuss key considerations that need to be assessed as hedge fund regulation moves forward.

Multiple Voices Calling For Regulation

The hedge fund industry looks very different today than from where it started. Since the first hedge fund was organized by Alfred Jones in 1949 with $100,000, the industry has exponentially grown both in number of funds and in number of assets under management. In recent years, this growth has been fueled in part by institutional investors, such as endowments, foundations, insurance companies, and pension plans. To give you an idea of the growth, it is believed that the industry managed around $38 billion in 1990, $625 billion in 2002, and reached $1.9 trillion at the end of 2007, although that the number decreased to $1.3 trillion at the end of 2008. It is still incredible growth from the $100,000 start.

The industry’s growth, and the concerns over the impact of hedge funds on the marketplace, has created a renewed call for regulation in the U.S. and abroad. For example, the European Commission recently proposed to regulate the managers of hedge funds and all private equity funds with 100 million euros in assets under management. The proposed regulations would require extensive disclosure of risk management procedures and other aspects of fund governance.

In the U. S., a few years ago the SEC unsuccessfully attempted to regulate hedge funds. More recently, in March of this year, Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner testified about his plan to more tightly oversee hedge funds. In addition, there recently have been at least a half-dozen bills introduced in Congress requiring regulation of the hedge fund industry. Just this past Tuesday, Senator Jack Reed introduced a bill that would require that advisers to hedge funds, and to certain other investment pools, to register with the SEC. And yesterday, of course, the Obama Administration released a draft white paper that, among other things, proposes that advisers to large hedge funds register with the SEC, and that very large advisers be subject to additional federal supervision by the Federal Reserve Board.

What are the concerns underlying the call for government oversight? I will tell you what we are hearing. The concerns touch on the classic financial regulatory interests: such as market integrity concerns, systemic risk concerns, and investor protection concerns. This state of affairs is what you would expect when markets are inextricably integrated and the impact of hedge funds is significant, but their actions and their risks are opaque. Simply stated, regulators, legislators and the public have little credible information as to who is out there and what they are doing.

Market Integrity Concerns

Let’s start with the SEC’s responsibility to maintain fair and orderly markets. One of the concerns about hedge funds involves how hedge fund operations impact upon the fairness and the integrity of the broader market. The lack of transparency and oversight over hedge funds gives rise to a number of concerns — for example, market integrity concerns about the nature and extent of counterparty risk, concerns about whether hedge funds engage in insider trading, and questions about how hedge funds drive the demand for derivatives, such as CDSs, as well as how they impact the demand for securitized products.

As a predicate for discussion, let’s be clear about the significant market activity of hedge funds. For example, hedge funds reportedly account for more than 85% of the distressed debt market, and more than 80% of certain derivatives markets. Moreover, although hedge funds represent just 5% of all U.S. assets under management, they account for about 30% of all U.S. equity trading volume. In 2006, there were estimates that hedge funds were responsible for as much as half of the daily trading volume on the New York Stock Exchange.

Because hedge funds are not subject to leverage or diversification requirements, hedge fund managers can more easily take concentrated positions that can impact the market. For example, an entire fund or even multiple funds advised by the same hedge fund manager can be invested in a single position.

In addition, hedge funds are major players in the capital markets for reasons other than trading activity. As this audience knows well, hedge funds have significant business relationships with the largest regulated commercial and investment banks — and act as trading counterparties for a wide range of OTC derivatives and other financing transactions.

Counterparty Risk Concerns

Clearly, for all these reasons and others, hedge funds are significant players in the capital markets. As significant players, hedge funds are one source of counterparty risk, and this risk can be amplified by their leverage and opacity.

Today, commercial banks and prime brokers are called upon to bear and manage the credit and counterparty risks that hedge fund leverage creates. Up until now, it has been assumed that market discipline would effectively prevent hedge funds from detrimentally impacting the capital markets or from posing systemic risk. A January 2008 GAO Report, however, identified several concerns with that theory.[1] For example, the report noted that hedge funds use multiple prime brokers and questioned whether any single prime broker has a complete picture of a hedge fund client’s total leverage. Accordingly, the stress tests and other tools that a prime broker uses to monitor a given counterparty’s risk profile only incorporate the positions known to that particular prime broker. Thus, no single prime broker has the whole picture.

The GAO Report also stated that some counterparties may lack the capacity to assess risk exposures because of the complex financial instruments and secret investment strategies that some hedge funds use.

Unfortunately, the GAO Report also indicates that counterparties facing these structural limitations may have also actively relaxed credit standards in order to attract and retain hedge fund clients in response to fierce competition.

In each of these instances, the risks of hedge funds are being externalized to the regulated market — prime brokers, banks, and their shareholders each were asked to bear the costs of managing hedge fund risks. A concrete example you may remember was when two Bear Stearns-sponsored hedge funds collapsed in 2007. Merrill Lynch, one of the prime brokers, had to absorb an enormous loss because it could only sell the funds’ collateral for a fraction of its purported value.

It’s been obvious that the regulatory oversight of hedge funds has not matched their level of market activity. This difference has led to other concerns affecting market integrity.

Risks of Insider Trading Create Market Wide Concerns

For example, in addition to concerns about counterparty risk, there have also been concerns about hedge funds engaging in insider trading. Clearly, there has been an increase in the number of insider trading cases brought by the Commission that have involved hedge funds. Admittedly, it is incredibly difficult for the Commission to assess the frequency of insider trading because of the opacity of hedge funds and the investments they make, especially in OTC derivatives. Moreover, when you couple this with the fragmented nature of the securities markets and the broad potential for hedge funds to obtain inside information, it is a tough oversight situation indeed. Hedge funds who participate in private placements, talk with trading desks, and maintain connections with the street are, in many cases, in a position to obtain inside information and to use it in a way that traditional surveillance may not detect. This potential for insider trading has been well publicized and public investors are concerned about the possible effects on market fairness and integrity.

Hedge Funds And The Demand For CDS and Securitized Products

Additionally, hedge funds were significant players in the exponential growth in the now much maligned credit default swaps market. As the market to create CDSs grew, there were funds that bought these instruments for reasons that made sense. For example, in 2005 there were hedge funds who noticed that the U.S. housing market was weakening and they bought CDS instruments on the protection buyer side. A logical move.

On the other hand, it is well known that the credit risk reflected by CDSs is equal to multiples of the actual credit risk of the underlying bond market. How did that happen? Many CDSs were heralded as hedging tools — they were supposed to transfer risk to parties that could bear it from parties that could not. Now we see only too clearly that this was not the case. Instead, many CDSs actually created risk, rather than hedged risk. Hedge funds that sought to create profits from leveraged risk may have played a crucial role driving the growth in these products.

Systemic Risks

The concerns about hedge funds and market integrity often go hand in hand with concerns about systemic risk. In their current form, hedge funds pose a systemic risk threat to our financial system in several ways. First, hedge funds have such significant assets under management that some fear that the loss of one or more large firms could potentially reverberate throughout the capital markets. In addition, if a counterparty fails to effectively withstand a hedge fund loss, then the failure of the counterparty could itself threaten market stability.

There is also the issue that can occur when several hedge funds take the same position, whether through coordination or simply through similar trading strategies. These funds can have a large impact on the market when they adjust their positions en masse.

Thus, the concerns that the lack of oversight over the hedge fund industry may present to market integrity and to systemic risks seem to be well founded.

Investor Protection

In addition to concerns about market integrity, the SEC is also responsible for investor protection. Given the increase in complaints from hedge fund investors this has taken on a more immediate importance.

One of the underlying principles behind the idea that hedge funds could operate with little to no regulatory requirements was that interests in the funds were only sold in private offerings to wealthy investors. These investors were thought to be sufficiently “sophisticated” to protect their interests, and to be able to engage in effective arms-length negotiation in order to achieve fair and equitable terms.

I firmly believe that truly sophisticated investors in private deals should be held accountable to the terms that they knowingly negotiate — and if an investment were to go bad, they should bear the loss.

However, with the recent market turmoil and the ongoing economic upheaval that has caused trillions in wealth to vanish, millions of jobs to disappear and the liquidation of over 1,500 hedge funds, serious concerns have been raised about whether these wealthy and sophisticated investors are truly able to protect their interests. There seems to be evidence that these “sophisticated investors” may not have fully appreciated the risks they were taking. Perhaps it may make sense for the definitions of who qualifies as “sophisticated” under our rules to be reconsidered. For example, maybe the criteria for sophistication should focus on more relevant attributes — such as focusing on actual investment experience.

In any case, recent events have challenged the assumption that investors and market discipline can be relied upon to control the risks of hedge funds. And this is not surprising. First, these investors are typically passive and there is no legal obligation for hedge fund investors to monitor hedge fund activity. Second, even if investors wanted to actively monitor the investment, the nature of hedge fund activity and the information available may not currently support such a role.

Valuation and Performance

For example, it may be impossible for an investor to know the actual value of a hedge fund’s portfolio. Hedge funds are not subject to reporting requirements and because many instruments held by a hedge fund are illiquid or opaquely-priced OTC products, any information that is reported could be hard to evaluate.

Related to the concern of how a fund values its assets, is a hedge fund’s performance information — another hard to evaluate metric for investors. Without regulation, the only performance information that hedge funds provide is voluntary.

This quote by Harry Liem, a pension consultant, seems to sum it up when he said “It’s like someone walking into a casino and saying ‘I want everyone to come forward and tell me how much you have won or lost.’ Probably only the winners will come forward . . .”[2]

Not Being Able to Redeem

There is also the issue of investors not being able to redeem their investments from a fund. In recent times, due to the large amount of redemption requests and the current lack of an ability to raise cash, there are hedge fund managers who have put up gates and have restricted investors’ ability to redeem their monies. Although gates can benefit investors by giving the manager more time to sell off portfolio positions, for some investors it appeared to be a surprise.

On top of that, several hedge fund managers froze funds but continued to charge management fees on money that investors cannot access. Orin Kramer, a hedge fund manager, described the situation by stating: “It’s like telling someone at a hotel that they can’t check out and then charging them for the privilege of staying.”[3]

Let me be clear. I’m not saying that these situations are per se illegal. To the extent that sophisticated and qualified investors agreed to provisions providing for gates and the ongoing charge of management fees, one could say that investors walked into these agreements with open eyes.

However, because for the most part hedge funds are not registered with the SEC, we are not able to adequately oversee how they are operating. Moreover, this lack of transparency makes it difficult to assess whether the relationship between an investor and the hedge funds adviser, is functioning in the manner that underlie the presumptions that led to the exemptions.

Some recent reports do tend to show that investors are beginning to take their own initiatives, and give some indication that what investors may be willing to agree to in the future may be different. For example, a recent memo from CalPERS stated that it would no longer partner with managers whose fee structures result in a clear misalignment of interest between managers and investors. Moreover, more investors are now asking that hedge funds run assets in “managed accounts,” where their money is held separately and the holdings are transparent.

As you may expect based on concerns including ones I have mentioned, hedge fund investors have been calling the Commission in unprecedented numbers

Increased Cases Involving Hedge Funds

In fact, the Commission has more investigations involving hedge funds than ever before, and the number of cases actually brought also is increasing. In the first 4 months of 2009, the Commission filed 25 cases related to hedge funds. In contrast, we brought 19 cases in all of 2008, 24 in all of 2007, and 16 in 2006. Our cases cover the waterfront, charging everything from offering fraud and insider trading, to misrepresentations about performance and to misrepresentations about the actual due diligence undertaken. We are also seeing more cases involving conflicts of interest and outright theft of assets

Nature of Regulation

I have just laid out for you some of the concerns that are generally driving the calls for greater regulation and oversight of the hedge fund industry. Maybe even more important, it appears that some of the assumptions justifying the industry’s exclusion from regulation and oversight may be on faulty ground. As a result, it seems certain that regulation of the hedge fund industry is coming. But here is the harder question — what should it look like?

There are a number of questions as to exactly how, and to what extent, hedge funds may have contributed to the economic crisis and how they contributed to the overall systemic risk of the financial markets. To that end, I applaud Congress and President Obama for providing for an independent, bi-partisan Financial Crisis Inquiry Commission. By investigating and analyzing what happened, we can better assess whether the regulatory proposals should move forward.

Since coming to the Commission, I have been a vocal advocate for the Commission’s mission to protect investors, provide for fair and orderly markets, and promote capital formation. All aspects of this mission guide my thoughts as we consider the appropriate framework to regulate hedge funds.

Because of the size, complexity and market-wide impact of the hedge funds industry, potential regulation would need to be both comprehensive and flexible. Something not always easy to achieve.

I believe that the SEC must be an active participant in this process. Please remember that the SEC has been overseeing industry participants — such as, investment companies, investment advisers and broker-dealers — for over 69 years. The Commission staff has unsurpassed expertise in this area. Congress should take advantage of this expertise by providing the Commission with a broad mandate to oversee hedge funds. The Commission could then scale its regulation in a flexible manner to deal with the regulatory concerns of market integrity, investor protection, and, in coordination with other regulators, systemic risk.

Working with hedge fund advisers and with hedge fund investors, I am confident that we can find an appropriate balance.

As you know, there has been a general discussion over whether hedge fund advisers and/or hedge funds should register. In my mind, hedge funds advisers with over $25 million in assets should register with the Commission, but that may not be enough. Many hedge fund advisers are currently registered with the SEC but we still lack a complete picture of what is going on in the industry. Some have suggested that hedge funds should also register. Others have suggested that it may be appropriate to apply limited concepts from within the Investment Company Act of 1940 to hedge funds — what some have called a “40 Act-lite” regime.

Perhaps a tiered approach to registration, based on a fund’s potential to affect the market, would make sense. At the lowest tier would be small funds. These funds could be subject to a simple recordkeeping requirement as to positions and transactions, kept in a standardized format, to permit the SEC to efficiently oversee their activities. As funds grow in size, different standards may be appropriate.

For funds that could significantly affect the market, it may be appropriate to require more than recordkeeping. For example, it may be appropriate to think through whether some of the risk limitation concepts built into the Investment Company Act make sense to apply to these hedge funds — such as imposing limits on leverage.

Of course, these are only a few suggestions. Many others have been made — and others will follow — as the discussion turns from “whether to regulate” to “how to regulate.” The nature of the business of hedge funds is trading, and this necessarily requires interaction with the public marketplace — and the larger the investment fund, the greater the potential impact on the overall capital markets. When the hedge industry has the ability to significantly impact the market or other market participants, the public interest needs to be protected. A lesson of this economic crisis is that the U.S. regulatory interest in hedge funds arises because of the impact of the funds on the financial market, regardless of the sophistication of its investors or the number of investors.

When discussing “how to regulate,” it is clear to me that regulation is more than the bare requirements of registering and reporting — it should also include inspection authority. To have a chance to prevent problems before they occur, the SEC has to be able to inspect all hedge fund advisers, and the funds that they manage, and otherwise engage in oversight through surveillance systems. The public expects nothing less.

Greater Resources to SEC to Provide Effective Oversight

As we talk about regulation of the hedge fund industry, there is also the question of regulatory resources. Any future registration of hedge fund advisers and/or hedge funds will require that the SEC receive increased resources to provide effective oversight. We will need to hire staff and implementing new technology to effectively deal with a large and complex industry. To that end, I have previously called for Congress to pass legislation establishing the SEC as a self-funded agency, similar to the way other financial regulators are funded — such as the Federal Reserve Bank, the FDIC, OTS and OCC. This would help to solve the problem.

To the extent that funds are registering and reporting to the SEC, I encourage Congress to couple the authority increasing the SEC’s jurisdiction with the appropriate self-funding mechanism to allow us to provide effective oversight.


In conclusion, I am confident that regulation of the hedge fund industry can be done right — in a way that balances the needs of the industry with the needs of investors and the needs of the market. And if it is, it will be a good thing for all of us. The Congressional Oversight Panel’s Special Report on Regulatory Reform4 said it best with the following summary:

“By limiting the opportunities for deception and allowing for the necessary trust to develop between interconnected parties, regulation can enhance the vitality of the markets. Historically, new regulation has served that role.
For example, as the money manager Martin Whitman has observed, far from stifling the markets, the new regulations of the Investment Company Act enabled the targeted industry to flourish:

“’Without strict regulation, I doubt that our industry could have grown as it has grown, and also be as prosperous as it is for money managers. Because of the existence of strict regulation, the outside investor knows that money managers can be trusted. Without that trust, the industry likely would not have grown the way it had grown.’”[5]

The lack of transparency, potential imbalance of power between investors and managers, and impact on the entire capital market are driving the calls to regulate the hedge fund industry. The hedge fund industry has a lot to offer in determining how these calls are answered. Addressing these issues in an intelligent and rational manner is important, and ultimately will result in a stronger and more vibrant hedge fund industry. I welcome the ongoing discussion.

Thank you for inviting me here today.


[1] GAO Report: Regulators and Market Participants Are Taking Steps to Strengthen Market Discipline, but Continued Attention is Needed. January 2008. pg 27.

[2] Why people love to hate those risky hedge funds; An investment option that only the super rich can afford, by Naomi Rovnick. South China Morning Post Ltd. March 1, 2009.

[3] Hedge Funds, Unhinged by Louise Story. New York Times. January 18, 2009.

[4] Congressional Oversight Panel’s Special Report on Regulatory Reform: Modernizing the American Financial Regulatory System: Recommendations for Improving Oversight, Protecting Consumers, and Ensuring Stability. January 2009. pgs 18-19

[5] Letter from Third Avenue Funds Chairman of the Board Martin J. Whitman to Sharheolders, at 6 (Oct. 31, 2005) (online at www.thirdavenuefunds.com/ta/documents/sl/shareholderletters-05Q4.pdf).



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Bart Mallon, Esq. runs hedge fund law blog and has written most all of the articles which appear on this website.  Mr. Mallon’s legal practice is devoted to helping emerging and start up hedge fund managers successfully launch a hedge fund.  If you are a hedge fund manager who is looking to start a hedge fund, please call Mr. Mallon directly at 415-296-8510.

Obama’s New Hedge Fund Regulation Plan

Draft Speaks of IA Registration for Hedge Fund Managers

As you have probably heard by now, Obama will be presenting his plan for an overhaul of the financial system later today.  I have reviewed a copy of Obama’s Financial Regulation Proposal Draft and have reprinted some of the important aspects of the proposal below.  In general the most immediate impact for hedge fund managers is that they will be required to register with the SEC as investment advisors.  In addition to hedge fund managers, private equity fund managers and VC fund managers will also need to register.

While we understand that these are just proposals, Congress too is excited to get on the registration bandwagon although I think it unlikely for us to see any regulation passed before the end of this year.  Even so, hedge fund managers may want to start thinking about how they are going to register as investment advisors and what plans they will need to be putting in place (or plan to put in place in the future).


The plan’s main goals are:

  1. Promote robust supervision and regulation of financial firms.
  2. Establish comprehensive supervision and regulation of financial markets.
  3. Propose comprehensive regulation of all OTC derivatives.
  4. Protect customers and investors from financial abuse.
  5. Raise international regulatory standards and improve international cooperation.

Other Points Addressed

Regarding Hedge Funds

All advisers to hedge funds (and other private pools of capital, including private equity funds and venture capital funds) whose assets under management exceed some modest threshold should be required to register with the SEC under the Investment Advisers Act.  The advisers should be required to report financial information on the funds they manageme that is sufficient to assess whether any fund poses a threat to fiancnail stability.

Harmonize Futures and Securities Regulation

The CFTC and the SEC should make recommendations to Congress for changes to statutes and regulations that would harmonize regulation of futures and securities.

Strengthen Investor Protection

The SEC should be given new toold to increase fairness for investors by establishing a fiduciary duty for broker-dealers offering investment advice and harmonizing the regulation of investment advisers and broker-dealers.

Expand the Scope of Regulation

We urge national authorities to implement by the end of 2009 the G-20 commitment to require hedge funds or their managers to register and disclose appropriate information necessary to assess the systemic risk they pose individually or collectively.

Specifical goals with regard to Hedge Funds

  • Data collection
  • SEC should conduct regular, periodic examinations of hedge funds
  • Reporting AUM and other fund metrics to the SEC
  • SEC would have ability to assess whether the fund or fund family is so large, highly leveraged , or interconnected that it poses a threat to fiancial stability


Please contact us if you have any questions or would like to start a hedge fund.  Other related hedge fund law articles include: