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Remarks at the Credit Suisse Global Equity Trading Forum

Speech

Remarks at the Credit Suisse Global Equity Trading Forum

 
 

Commissioner Daniel M. Gallagher

Miami Beach, FL

Feb. 17, 2012

Thank you, John [Anderson], for that very kind introduction. I am pleased to be here today.

Before I continue, I need to provide the standard disclaimer that my comments today are my own, and do not necessarily represent the positions of the Commission or my fellow Commissioners.

The broad topic of this conference is “Seeing Beyond,” and this theme is particularly relevant given the focus of my discussion this morning--Dodd-Frank, with a special emphasis on the Volcker Rule. Indeed, for the financial services industry, not just in the U.S. but worldwide, it is very difficult to “see beyond” Dodd-Frank. The largest financial reform law in 70 years has and will continue to impose massive costs on market participants, and will reconfigure the financial services industry worldwide, but the amount of these costs and the scope of this reconfiguration are still highly uncertain.

18 months on, regulators are still working to implement Dodd-Frank, and most, if not all, of the new regulatory undertakings are very much works in progress. Regulators are therefore in a difficult position, because the markets and the public need regulatory guidance and certainty, but that certainty can and should not come at the cost of hasty and ill-considered regulatory initiatives that will damage the real economy that Dodd-Frank ostensibly is designed to protect.

At the SEC, we face this tension every day. Dodd-Frank requires more than 100 rulemakings and studies from the agency. Among these rulemakings, Dodd-Frank mandates that the agency build regulatory infrastructures from scratch in several areas, including the OTC derivatives market, in conjunction with the CFTC; the registration and oversight of municipal advisors; and the registration and oversight of hedge funds and private equity funds. The sheer breadth of rulemaking for the agency argues for a general approach that is systematic yet incremental: particularly in areas where we are creating new regulatory paradigms, we should strive to build a solid foundation, and develop the regulatory regime over time as the markets and our expertise in those markets develop.

It is also important to remember, as we implement Dodd-Frank, what the law did and didn’t do, particularly as it relates to the SEC. Critically, it did not change the fundamental mission of the agency. Our mission was and still is to protect investors, maintain fair and efficient markets, and promote capital formation. Dodd-Frank did not make us a banking or safety and soundness regulator. We still regulate markets that are risky, and where the taking of risk is critical to capital allocation and the healthy functioning of these markets and the broader economy. Moreover, in terms of the additional responsibilities given to the SEC, both in those areas we traditionally oversee and those that we don’t, Dodd-Frank reinforced Congress’s nearly 80-year commitment to a strong, vibrant, expert and independent equity markets regulator.

Which brings me to the Volcker Rule. I can think of no better topic to address today. It is not only timely--the comment period to the proposal closed this week, to great fanfare in the press--but it may, perhaps more than any other rule regulators are promulgating under Dodd-Frank, have a dramatic impact on world markets and U.S. competitiveness. Moreover, the heart of the Volcker Rule deals with a topic about which the SEC traditionally has--among all the regulators writing rules in this space--the most experience and expertise in regulating. For those reasons--because it is potentially so significant and because it implicates areas of the SEC’s core competence, it is a perfect case study for how to think about approaching Dodd-Frank rulemaking and the SEC’s role in that rulemaking. Indeed, Volcker is especially important to the major U.S. investment banks which until the financial crisis were subject primarily to SEC oversight. Now, as a result of the financial crisis, the survivors are all within bank holding companies.

I want to begin by talking a bit about the statute and the proposed rules. Section 619 of the Dodd-Frank Act,1 commonly known as the “Volcker Rule” even though it is a statutory provision, imposes two significant prohibitions on banking entities and their affiliates. First, the Rule generally prohibits banking entities that benefit from federal insurance on customer deposits or access to the discount window, as well as their affiliates, from engaging in proprietary trading. Second, the Rule prohibits those entities from sponsoring or investing in hedge funds or private equity funds. The Rule identifies certain specified “permitted activities,” including underwriting, market making, and trading in certain government obligations, that are excepted from these prohibitions but also establishes limitations on those excepted activities. The Volcker Rule defines--in expansive terms--key terms such as “proprietary trading” and “trading account” and grants the Federal Reserve Board, the FDIC, the OCC, the SEC, and the CFTC the rulemaking authority to further add to those definitions.

The statute also charges the three Federal banking agencies, the SEC, and the CFTC with adopting rules to carry out the provisions of the Volcker Rule. It requires the Federal banking agencies to issue their rules with respect to insured depositary institutions jointly and mandates that all of the affected agencies, including the Commission, “consult and coordinate” with each other in the rulemaking process. In doing so, the agencies are required to ensure that the regulations are “comparable,” that they “provide for consistent application and implementation” in order to avoid providing advantages or imposing disadvantages to affected companies, and that they protect the “safety and soundness” of banking entities and nonbank financial companies supervised by the Fed.

In October of last year, the Commission jointly proposed with the Federal banking agencies a set of implementing regulations for the Volcker Rule,2 with the CFTC issuing a substantively identical set of proposals last month. The proposed rules, which were issued prior to the beginning of my tenure as a Commissioner, are designed to clarify the scope of the Volcker Rule’s prohibitions as well as certain exceptions and limitations to those exceptions as provided for in the statutory text. The proposing release includes extensive commentary designed to assist entities in distinguishing permitted trading activities from prohibited proprietary trading activities as well as in identifying permitted activities with respect to hedge funds and private equity funds. In addition, the release includes over 1,300 questions on nearly 400 topics--you can see why I and my colleague Commissioner Troy Paredes thought that commenters needed 30 extra days when the comment period extension was granted in December.

The proposed implementing rules are designed to clarify the scope of the Volcker Rule’s prohibitions on proprietary trading and hedge fund or private equity fund ownership and identify transactions and activities excepted from those prohibitions, as well as the limitations on those exceptions. For example, the proposed rules would except from the prohibition on proprietary trading transactions in certain instruments--such as U.S. government obligations--as well as certain activities, such as market making, underwriting, risk-mitigating hedging, or acting as an agent, broker, or custodian for an unaffiliated third party. The proposed rules would also establish a three-pronged definition of “trading accounts” which would include exceptions from that definition such as repurchase and reverse repurchase agreements and securities lending transactions, liquidity management positions, and certain positions of derivatives clearing organizations and clearing agencies.

The proposed rules would require a banking entity to establish an internal compliance program designed to ensure and monitor compliance with the prohibitions and restrictions of the Volcker Rule. The rules would require firms with significant trading operations to report certain quantitative measurements designed to aid regulators and the firms themselves in determining whether an activity constitutes prohibited proprietary trading or falls under an exception to that prohibition, such as the exception for market-making transactions. Finally, the proposed rules would set forth activities exempt from the general prohibition on investments in hedge funds and private equity funds: for example, organizing and offering a hedge fund or private equity fund with investments in such funds limited to a de minimis amount, making risk-mitigating hedging investments, and making investments in certain non-U.S. funds.

As I mentioned earlier, the Volcker Rule comment period ended earlier this week.

Although it would of course be premature to share my thoughts on the proposed rules today, based on just a quick review of many substantial comment letters--more than 100 of which were filed just this week--it appears that many of my fears about the effect of the proposed rules on the proper functioning of global markets and the competitiveness of the U.S. financial industry might be well-founded.

Here are a few lines from comment letters:

  • From a major investment bank: “The list of undesirable consequences is long and troublesome. We share the view, already noted by others, that the Proposal would reduce market liquidity, increase market volatility, impede capital formation, harm U.S. individual investors, pension funds, endowments, asset managers, corporations, governments, and other market participants, impinge on the safety and soundness of the U.S. banking system, and constrain U.S. economic growth and job creation.”3
  • From a major coalition of financial services trade groups: “Many commenters, including customers, buy-side market participants, industrial and manufacturing businesses, treasurers of public companies and foreign regulators--constituencies with different goals and interests--have agreed that the Proposal would significantly harm financial markets. They point to the negative impacts of decreased liquidity, higher costs for issuers, reduced returns on investments and increased risk to corporations wishing to hedge their commercial activities.”4
  • From a Fortune 50 corporation: “Although we appreciate the Agencies' efforts to strike the correct balance in the Proposed Rule, we are concerned that the sweeping effects of the Proposed Rule and the narrowness of the exceptions to it would have a substantial and negative impact not only on banks and the broader financial services industry, but also on industrial and other non-financial businesses, and ultimately the real economy.”5
  • From a large foreign bank: ”We are concerned that certain key aspects of the Proposed Rule are deficient and will lead to a significant negative impact on the efficient functioning of the U.S. and international financial systems, with a particularly disruptive effect on the capital markets.”6

And we have also received very interesting comment from our foreign regulatory counterparts from around the world. In a comment letter filed in December, the Japanese FSA and the Bank of Japan discuss “the importance of taking due account of the cross-border effect of financial regulations and the need to collaborate with the affected countries” and express their concerns over “the potentially serious negative impact on the Japanese markets and associated significant rise in the cost of related transactions for Japanese banks” that they believe would arise from the extraterritorial application of the Volcker Rule. They specifically cite the adverse impact they believe the Rule would have on Japanese Government Bonds, adding, “We could also see the same picture in sovereign bond markets worldwide at this critical juncture.” 7

Last month, British Chancellor of the Exchequer George Osborne wrote to Fed Chairman Bernanke to express his belief that the proposed rules would result in the withdrawal of market making services for non-U.S. debt, making it “more difficult and costlier” for banks to trade non-U.S. sovereign bonds on behalf of clients. Citing the harm that would arise from the potential reduction of liquidity in sovereign markets, he proposed that the U.S. and the U.K. “launch a more active dialogue” on the Rule and its potential impact on markets outside the U.S. 8

Bank of Canada Governor Mark Carney--who was recently named Chairman of the G-20’s Financial Stability Board--has stated that he and other Canadian officials have “obvious concerns” about the proposed rules. He cited the lack of clarity in the proposed rules’ definitions of “market making” versus “proprietary trade,” and the effect the rules would have on non-U.S. government bond markets. In addition, he criticized what he viewed as the Rule’s “presumption” that trades are proprietary, stating that any such presumption “should go in reverse.”9

Lastly, Michel Barnier, the European Commissioner for Internal Markets and Services, has written to Fed Chairman Bernanke and Treasury Secretary Geithner that “[t]here is a real risk that banks impacted by the rule would also significantly reduce their market-making activities, reducing liquidity in many markets both within and outside the United States.”10

To be fair, these are just a few select quotes from commenters who have provided significant and detailed comments on a variety of issues, and there is broad comment generally on the range of issues presented by the rule proposal. However, these comments are very different from the garden variety comments we usually see in our rulemaking. Those usually go something like: “We applaud the Commission’s efforts to do X. . .” I am not hearing any clapping in these quotes. And that’s because the consequences to world markets of getting it wrong are so significant.

This brings me back to thinking about the role of the SEC in this rulemaking, our role generally as a markets regulator, and how, if we at the SEC play our role properly, we can and should ensure that the Volcker Rule meets the aims of Congress without destroying critically important market activity explicitly contemplated by the statute.

In particular, although commenters have raised many concerns about the proposal, including significant issues surrounding extraterritoriality, I want to focus on the skills that the SEC can bring to bear in sorting through the difficult questions posed by distinguishing between permitted trading activities and prohibited proprietary trading activities.

In her Opening Statement introducing the joint rule proposals at an SEC Open Meeting last October, Chairman Schapiro praised the collaborative effort among the five agencies involved in the drafting process, noting that it involved “more than a year of weekly, if not more frequent, interagency staff conference calls, interagency meetings, and shared drafting.”11 It is telling, however, that in his recent testimony before a House Financial Services Subcommittee, CFTC Chairman Gensler, noting his agency’s role as a “supporting member” in the rulemaking process, stated, “The bank regulators have the lead role.”12

I think, however, that both the statute and our expertise compel the SEC to play a strong and vigorous role in the rulemaking. The Volcker Rule applies to “banking entities” and their affiliates, affecting a wide range of financial institutions regulated by the five different agencies. Regardless of the nature of the regulated activities, however, the Rule addresses a set of activities--the trading and investment practices of those entities--that fall within the core competencies of the SEC. Indeed, the Rule expressly envisions that quintessential market-making activity continue within these firms.

By taking a leadership role, the SEC can also ensure that the final rule is consistent with our core mission of protecting investors, maintaining fair and efficient markets and promoting capital formation. These considerations, coupled with the expertise that the SEC brings to the table, should ensure that the bank regulators’ focus on safety and soundness and Dodd-Frank’s overarching focus on managing systemic risk (although many have argued whether the statute will in the end reduce such risk), are balanced by legitimate considerations of investor protection and the maintenance of robust markets.

Senator Jeff Merkley, cosponsor of the Volcker Rule, wrote this week: “Put simply, the Volcker rule takes deposit-taking, loan-making banks out of the business of high-risk, conflict-ridden trading.” 13 In essence, a main goal of the Volcker Rule is a return to the Glass-Steagall division between commercial and investment banking. But, it bears mentioning that the major investment banks that became part of bank holding companies during the 2008 crisis don’t meet this profile: they are not buying lottery tickets with their depositors’ money, because their business models are not premised on taking deposits. They provide services to clients and the objective should be for them to provide the services that they have traditionally provided, that market participants count on, while fulfilling the statutory imperative to ban proprietary trading.

I want to turn to another point I made at the beginning of my remarks, but which I think is an appropriate guiding principle as we undertake not only our consideration of the Volcker Rule but also other significant rulemaking mandated under Dodd-Frank. The aggregate impact of the rulemakings we and our fellow regulators are promulgating is massive, the costs are enormous, and we are doing so at a time when our economy is still hopefully limping towards recovery. These factors all argue for an approach that is careful, systematic, but most importantly regulatorily incremental. It is important to remember that regulators’ authority and oversight responsibilities do not end when final rules are promulgated, and that continued oversight will ensure that regulators can refine and improve the rules as markets organize and develop in response to the rules we write. Importantly, we can and should recalibrate the rules as markets develop and regulators learn more and gather and analyze relevant data. We must avoid regulatory hubris and should not regulate--particularly where the changes are so novel or comprehensive--with the belief that we completely understand the consequences of the regulations we may impose. In many of these areas, including Volcker, missing the mark could have dire and perhaps irreversibly negative consequences.

Before I end, I also wanted to touch on one last regulatory issue, which is surprisingly not a Dodd-Frank rulemaking but which has received quite a bit of attention recently, and that is the possibility of a new proposal to regulate money market funds.

I say “surprisingly not in Dodd-Frank” because, in a 2350-page law ostensibly devoted to solving for systemic risk, Congress did not address money market funds and they are, according to various speeches and news articles, considered a continuing systemic risk notwithstanding significant money market reforms approved by the SEC in 2010.

Any effort to reconsider the SEC’s oversight of money market funds should be guided by the same principles outlined above. First, we should ensure that any prospective reforms in this are consistent with the core missions of the agency to protect investors, maintain fair and efficient markets and promote capital formation. Second, we should consider such proposals carefully, but ultimately we need to let empiricism and not guesswork guide our decision-making.

Last year I posed two questions: “First, for what specific problems or risks are we trying to solve? And second, do we have the necessary data that will allow us to regulate in a meaningful and effective way?” Indeed, I have further refined these simple queries to be even more straightforward: What data do we have that clearly demonstrates the need for reform above and beyond that imposed in 2010? This question has yet to be answered for me, although I understand the Staff is working on it. I anticipate working closely with the economists in the Division of Risk, Strategy and Financial Innovation as they analyze the available data. Only by continuing such a data-driven analysis can we determine if money market fund investors are exposed to unnecessary risk. We also, of course, need to fully understand the impact of any action we could take on the capital formation process and the fair and the efficient functioning of the markets.

Thank you for your patience and for having me here today. I would be happy to answer any questions you may have.

1 Pub. L. No. 111-203, 124 Stat. 1376 (July 21, 2010).

2 Prohibitions and Restrictions on Proprietary Trading and Certain Interests in, and Relationships With, Hedge Funds and Private Equity Funds, Exchange Act Release No. 65545 (October 12, 2011), 76 FR 68846 (November 7, 2011).

3 Comment letter dated February 13, 2012 from Morgan Stanley.

4 Comment letter dated February 13, 2012 from the Securities Industry and Financial Markets Association, American Bankers Association, Financial Services Roundtable, and The Clearing House Association.

5 Comment letter dated February 13, 2012 from General Electric Company and General Electric Capital Corporation.

6 Comment letter dated February 13, 2012 from Barclays Capital.

7 Comment letter dated December 28, 2011 from Masamichi Kono, Vice Commissioner for International Affairs, Financial Services Agency, Government of Japan, and Kenzo Yamamoto, Executive Director, Bank of Japan.

8 Victoria McGrane, U.K.’s Osborne Lodges ‘Volcker Rule’ Complaint, Wall Street Journal, February 1, 2012.

9 Christine Harper and Greg Quinn, Bank of Canada’s Carney Says Volcker Rule Might Damage Markets, Bloomberg, January 30, 2012.

10 Jim Brunsden, Volcker Rule May Harm EU banks, Barnier Warns Bernanke, Geithner, Bloomberg, February 16, 2012.

11 Available at http://www.sec.gov/news/speech/2011/spch101211mls-pt.htm.

12 Testimony of Gary Gensler, Chairman, Commodity Futures Trading Commission, before the U.S. House Financial Services Subcommittees on Financial Institutions & Consumer Credit and Capital Markets & Government Sponsored Enterprises (January 18, 2012).

13 Senator Jeff Merkley, We Need a Strong Volcker Rule, The Huffington Post, February 14, 2012.


Last modified: Feb. 24, 2012