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Banking and Finance

The Slow Rulemaking on Swaps and Derivatives

One of the strange splits in US financial regulation is that many swap and derivatives are regulated by the Commodities Futures Trading Commission instead of the Securities and Exchange Commission. I think of the CFTC, I think of Trading Places and with the SEC I think of Wall Street.

The Commodity Futures Trading Commission has delayed its rollout of regulations under the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Protection Act has been pushed back until at least early 2012. This delay is the second time the CFTC has put the brakes on its new rules that will govern the over-the-counter derivatives market. In my view, taking longer to get the rules right is better than pushing through bad rules just to meet some arbitrary deadline. The question will be whether the CFTC will succeed in creating rules that will make the derivatives market one that is more transparent and easier to oversee for lines of trouble.

As for trouble, take a look at Greek bonds as an example. The Credit Default Swaps cost a record $5.8 million upfront and $100,000 annually to insure $10 million of Greece's debt for five years using credit-default swaps. That means the market is saying it's about a 58% chance that Greece will default in the next five years. But how extensive is that exposure in the US? How many people are on the hook for payouts if Greece defaults?

If your firm uses derivatives or swaps for dealing with debt risks or foreign exchange risks, you should pay attention to the CFTC rulemaking. They are likely to change the process and the cost of dealing with these risks.

Gary Gensler, Chairman of the CFTC, says that "until the CFTC completes its rule-writing process and implements and enforces these new rules, the public remains unprotected. That's why the CFTC is working so hard to ensure that swaps-market reforms promote more open and transparent markets, lower costs for companies and their customers, and protect taxpayers."

For additional commentary on developments in compliance and ethics, visit Compliance Building, a blog hosted by Doug Cornelius.

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