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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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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We previously explored the treatment of “leveraged/inverse investment vehicles” under SEC’s reproposal for regulating how funds  use derivatives in compliance with Section 18 of the Investment Company Act of 1940 (proposed Rule 18f-4), and related proposed Rule 15l-2 under the Securities and Exchange Act of 1934 and Rule 211h-1 under the Investment Advisers Act of 1940. In this post we consider the options available to retail investors for leveraged trading and whether a more consistent approach may make sense.
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We are still digesting the SEC’s reproposal for regulating how mutual funds, ETFs, closed-end funds and BDCs (“funds”) may use derivatives in compliance with Section 18 of the Investment Company Act of 1940 (proposed Rule 18f-4), but one surprising aspect is proposed Rule 15l-2 under the Securities Exchange Act of 1934. As explained more fully below, Rule 15l-2 would increase the due diligence required before a broker/dealer permits a customer to trade in “leveraged/inverse investment vehicles.” Including this rule in the proposal required the cooperation of both the Trading and Markets and Investment Management Divisions of the SEC. There is even a parallel rule proposed for investment advisers (proposed Rule 211h‑1). This shows that the SEC is taking a more comprehensive view of the SEC’s authority over the use of leverage in securities trading.

Although we find this non-compartmentalized approach heartening, we think that more could be done to fully deploy the SEC’s powers in this area. We even dare to suggest that, having avoided silos within itself, the SEC might try to work with the Fed to better rationalize regulation of leverage in the financial system.


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 In an earlier post, I noted that Release No. IC-10666 was issued before interest rate swaps were invented. This may have been unfortunate, because swaps present unique challenges to Release 10666’s approach to asset segregation. I believe that difficulty with applying Release 10666 to swaps has contributed to inconsistency in the segregation requirements for different derivatives.

Swaps: The Revenge of Middle School Algebra
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I’ve been discussing comments on the SEC’s proposed Rule 18f-4 in light of the SEC’s initial regulation of derivatives in Release No. IC-10666 (“Release 10666”). As explained in my first post, the objectives of the proposed rule include limiting the “speculative character” of funds that use derivatives and assuring they have sufficient assets to cover their obligations. Release 10666 used one means, asset segregation, to achieve both ends. Several comment letters appear to question whether this approach is still tenable.
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Release No. IC-10666 (“Release 10666”), issued in 1979 under the direction of my partner Marty Lybecker, was the starting point for the SEC’s regulation of derivatives under Section 18 of the Investment Company Act. This release would provide the basis for proposed Rule 18f‑4’s regulation of “financial commitment transactions.” Many of the comment letters on the proposed rule refer to Release 10666, and many of these assert that subsequent no-action letters extended Release 10666 to derivatives. Their assertion underestimates the original scope of Release 10666, which extended to all derivative contracts commonly used at the time.
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This post continues my consideration of some conceptual questions underlying the SEC’s proposed Rule 18f-4. The following comment on the proposal caught my attention:

Congress is stating [in Section 1(b) of the Investment Company Act] that there is a problem when leverage unduly increases the “speculative character” (what we now call risk) of the investments. This was particularly a problem back in the 1930s … [when the] combination of opaque products, complex capital structures, pyramiding, bad corporate governance, and leverage created a toxic brew that resulted in serious losses for unwary investors.

Although this wasn’t the commenter’s point, it struck me that derivatives have the potential to present today all of the problems that senior securities presented in the 1930.
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A CLE presentation gave me an excuse to read many of the comment letters regarding the SEC’s proposed Rule 18f-4, which would regulate the amount of “senior security transactions” in which an investment company could engage. I filed a personal comment letter responding to the SEC’s initial concept release in 2011. The proposed rule and most of the comments have moved well beyond the “conceptual” stage and my understanding of quantitative risk management. But several comments reveal some conceptual confusion that a thoughtful review of the law might dispel.
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