Thursday, November 22, 2012

A New Era in Swaps Markets?*

US CFTC Chairman Gary Gensler declared last month that a new era for the swaps marketplace would start on 12 October 2012, the effective date of the new US swap definition rule. This marked the beginning of the process of swap dealer registration and swap data reporting. Mandatory clearing by swap dealers and major swap participants is expected to follow in February. The new rules are intended to bring transparency to the swaps markets and lower their risks. While the 12 October date may indeed be remembered as a milestone, a close look at the new rules suggests that lingering difficulties remain and that the process of regulatory swaps market reform may still be undergoing teething pains.

Those difficulties should not come as a surprise. There is an inherent tension between, on the one hand, the political clarity of the perceived need for, and urgency of, financial‐market transparency and regulatory reform and, on the other hand, the very complexity of those market’s financial instruments, and hence the great difficulty of regulatory adjustments. When G20 leaders set the broad reform agenda to be implemented by the end of 2012 to reduce systemic risk and increase transparency in the OTC derivatives markets, they might not have fully appreciated the complex nature of the instruments they were dealing with. They might also have held exaggerated hopes that new rules could easily achieve consistency across nations and win consensual international support. Instead, regulators in different countries followed their own paths in designing the rules that were supposed to govern global swaps markets, without engaging into much‐needed cooperation among themselves.