Registered Investment Companies

On March 26, 2020, the Securities and Exchange Commission (“SEC”), announced two agency actions providing additional relief to market participants in response to the impacts of COVID-19 on the markets. First, the SEC adopted an interim final rule providing relief related to (a) market participants needing to gain access to make filings on the EDGAR system and (b) certain company filing obligations under Regulation A and Regulation Crowdfunding. Second, the SEC published a temporary conditional exemptive order providing relief from certain filing requirements for municipal advisors.

This blog post summarizes the SEC relief and conditions to the relief.
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In our previous post, we reviewed how the financial markets’ reaction to the COVID-19 pandemic requires mutual funds to review, and possibly reclassify, the liquidity of their investments. As liquidity and valuation are often two sides of the same coin, factors that may lead to reclassifying a security’s liquidity may also raise questions concerning how to value the security for purposes of calculating a mutual fund’s net asset value (“NAV”). This post discusses when this may be the case.
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During a recent webinar, Steve explained that the market and trading conditions caused by the COVID-19 pandemic might be “reasonably expected to materially affect one or more of [a mutual fund’s] investments’ classifications” for purposes of the fund’s liquidity risk management program (its “LRM Program”). In this circumstance, Rule 22e-4 under the Investment Company Act of 1940 requires more frequent review of these classifications. This post describes how a rough market may require a mutual fund (other than a money market fund or in-kind exchange traded fund) to reclassify an investment’s liquidity classification.
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In the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, the financial markets have experienced significant volatility. During the course of this volatility, exchanges have halted trading multiple times after declines in trading trigged circuit breakers. In addition, trading floors are transitioning to electronic trading in efforts to prevent the transmission of COVID-19 on physical trading floors. With the recent turmoil, this post provides a high-level summary of the various types of circuit breakers and what can be expected.
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I. DERIVATIVES ISSUES

1. Inventory “relationship level” considerations in legal documentation that governs your derivatives trading relationships (ISDA Master Agreements, Futures Customer Agreements, Master Securities Forward Transaction Agreements, etc.)

a. Example: Decline in Net Asset Value Provisions (Common in ISDAs)

i. Identify the trigger decline levels and time frames at which transactions under the agreement can be terminated (25% over a 1-month period – is that measured on a rolling basis or by reference to the prior month’s end?)

ii. Confirm whether all or only some transactions can be terminated (typically, it is all transactions)

iii. Identify the notice requirements that apply when a threshold is crossed

iv. Identify whether the agreement includes a “fish or cut bait clause” that restricts the ability of the other party to designate the termination of the transactions under the trading agreement


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On two separate days last week and again this morning, markets hit critical circuit breaker levels triggering U.S. exchanges to halt trading. Such large market declines remind us of the prospect of an early close if the S&P 500 falls more than 20% from the previous day’s close. If such an event occurs, open-end investment companies (“mutual funds”) will need to either (1) calculate their net asset values (“NAVs”) at the time of the early close or (2) find alternative pricing sources for calculating their NAVs as of 4:00 pm (ET). The options available will depend in part on the mutual fund’s prospectus disclosure.
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The publication of the SEC’s re-proposed rules for regulating the use of derivatives by investment companies in the Federal Register provides an opportunity to continue our consideration of this proposal. The publication fixes the deadline for comments at March 24, 2020. The proposed classifications of how funds may use derivatives, the taxonomy of these funds if you will, provides a useful starting place for organizing our consideration of re-proposed Rule 18f-4.
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On January 27, 2020, the Office of Compliance Inspections and Examinations (“OCIE”) of the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (“SEC”) released observations on cybersecurity and resiliency (the “Observations”). In them, OCIE presented several key cybersecurity issues that industry participants should seek to address such as the construction and implementation of a comprehensive cybersecurity program, the prevention of unauthorized access to systems, the theft of information, responding to cyber incidents, and vendor management. In doing so, OCIE highlighted elements of successful cybersecurity efforts.

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In my initial post on the SEC’s reproposed rules for regulating the use of derivatives by investment companies (“funds”), I noted favorably that the regulations would extend beyond funds to registered broker/dealers and investment advisers. I think this reflects a more comprehensive, less piecemeal, approach to these proposed rules. I also appreciate the coordination of the Divisions of Investment Management and Trading and Markets in drafting the proposed rules.

There are other praiseworthy aspects of the general approach taken in developing the revised proposals. Chief among these is the SEC’s willingness to take a fresh look at the means of regulating the risks of derivatives usage. Historically, the SEC’s principal means for regulating these risks was to require funds to “segregate” liquid assets to cover a fund’s potential obligations for derivative transactions. The revised proposals would eliminate asset segregation in favor of more direct limits on potential volatility resulting from derivative transactions. Risks posed by payment or delivery obligations would represent just one, no longer paramount, component of a comprehensive risk management program.


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