Registered Investment Companies

In part one of our four-part series, we discussed the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) ESG-related initiatives from 2019 to 2022 that preceded the burst of ESG-related enforcement and rulemaking activity in the first half of 2022. In this second part of the series, we explore this recent enforcement activity.

In the first half of 2022, we saw significant U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) enforcement and rulemaking activity around ESG investing, and the SEC’s intense focus in this area shows no signs of abating as we move through the third quarter. In this four-post series we:

  • Summarize the 2019-2021 ESG-related initiatives at the SEC;
  • Review the SEC’s ESG-related enforcement activity in the asset management industry;
  • Outline the SEC’s May 2022 ESG-related rule proposals for funds and advisers; and
  • Suggest factors that mutual fund boards should consider in their oversight of ESG funds and adviser ESG initiatives.

This post will bring to a close, for now, our survey of the requirements of new Rule 18f-4, which investment companies must comply with by August 19, 2022. This post considers whether a Chief Compliance or Risk Officer should seek to treat some or all of their funds as Limited Derivatives Users and how that choice, in turn, relates to the decision about whether to treat reverse repurchase agreements as derivatives transactions. But first, we review the compliance procedures required by Rule 18f-4 for (nearly) every fund. We also provide links to compliance checklists provided in earlier posts.

As with Fund-of-Funds, the release adopting Rule 18f-4 (the “Adopting Release”) devotes a section to sub-advised funds. We again consider three types of funds:

  • VaR Funds in which a sub-adviser manages their entire portfolio (“Single Sub-Adviser Funds”);
  • VaR Funds in which one or more sub-advisers manage a portion or “sleeve” of their portfolio (“Sleeve Funds”); and
  • Sub-advised funds that seek to qualify as Limited Derivatives Users.

The Adopting Release discusses the first two circumstances but is silent on the third.

The release adopting Rule 18f-4 (the “Adopting Release”) devotes an entire section to discussing how “a fund that invests in other registered investment companies (‘underlying funds’)” should comply with the value-at-risk (“VaR”) requirements of the rule. This post considers three circumstances in which a fund investing in underlying funds:

  1. Does not invest in any derivatives transactions (a “Non-User Fund-of-Funds”);
  2. Allows its derivatives exposure to exceed 10% of its net assets (a “VaR Fund-of-Funds”) ; and
  3. Limits its derivatives exposure to 10% of its net assets (a “Limited Derivatives User Fund-of-Funds”).

We use the term “Fund-of-Funds” for convenience, meaning to include funds that hold both direct investments and underlying funds in compliance with Rule 12d1-4 or other exemptions.

In our extensive examination of the requirements for Limited Derivatives Users under Rule 18f‑4(c)(4) we have tried to be conscientious in pointing out matters open to interpretation. While we have not been shy about arguing for interpretations that would reduce a fund’s derivatives exposure and thus ease compliance with these requirements, we acknowledge that these are just our informed opinions. Absent guidance from the SEC staff, chief compliance officers and counsel to fund directors and trustees will need to consider these matters and reach their own conclusions.

This post wraps up our examination of the Limited Derivatives User requirements with a list of these interpretive questions. While we are sure it is incomplete, at least it provides a starting point for consideration.

Our last post explained why the Limited Derivatives User provisions of Rule 18f‑4(c)(4) may not “provide [the] objective standard to identify funds that use derivatives in a limited manner” anticipated by the SEC. Inconsistencies in methods of determining the notional amounts of derivatives transactions may cause funds that use such transactions in the same manner and to the same extent to be treated differently under the rule. The previous post also questioned whether requiring Limited Derivatives Users to perform the complex calculations required to determine their derivatives exposure each day might “incur costs and bear compliance burdens that may be disproportionate to the resulting benefits.”

This post points out some alternatives that would address our concerns, although it may be too late to implement one of them.