EC demands centralised clearing by year end

A European Commission official who attended the meeting told Risk that a working group for derivatives – to be chaired by the EC – has been established, with its first meeting scheduled in early November.

“There are two main objectives: firstly, the commissioner wants the group by the end of the year to establish concrete proposals as to how the risks from credit derivatives can be mitigated,” the official says. “In particular, he wants ambitious plans to move credit default swaps (CDSs) onto centralised clearing facilities. More generally, he wants the group to take a systematic look at derivatives markets in terms of the lessons learned from the current turmoil.”

The official added that the EC’s goal is “to shift the majority of CDSs” from bilateral OTC arrangements to central clearing houses. McCreevy told attendees at the October 22 meeting that although he wanted the solution to be principles-based and implemented willingly by market players, the EC “would not refrain from imposing legislation to meet that objective if the industry does not deliver”.

In terms of the broader objective, the commission wants the working group to finalise plans by April 2009 on how the overall derivatives market can move forward.

McCreevy had already hinted at the commission’s plans to transform credit derivatives from being a predominantly OTC business in a statement published on October 17. He said the market was “little understood by those outside of it”, adding: “I am not convinced that more derivatives could not be standardised.”

The commissioner thought September’s collapse of a major derivatives dealer, Lehman Brothers, had brought to light the need for a central clearing house. “In the event of the failure of a significant party to honour its obligations, there could be serious knock-on effects to other financial players. The opaqueness of these products leads to nasty surprises when things go wrong. Regulators need to have a much better view of where the real risks in these instruments lie,” McCreevy said.

Regulatory representatives from the Committee of European Banking Supervisors, the Committee of European Securities Regulators, the European Central Bank and the Committee of European Insurance and Occupational Pension Supervisors were in attendance at the October 22 meeting.

Joining them was a range of industry groups, including the International Swaps and Derivatives Association, the European Association of Central Counterparty Clearing Houses, the Federation of European Securities Exchanges, the Alternative Investment Management Association, the European Fund and Asset Management Association, the European Banking Federation, the European Insurance and Reinsurance Federation, the London Investment Banking Association and the Securities Industry and Financial Markets Association.

Also present was the London International Financial Futures Exchange, the European arm of NYSE Euronext that operates derivatives exchanges in London, Amsterdam, Brussels, Lisbon and Paris. One representative from each group will sit on the commission’s working group for derivatives.

Eraj Shirvani, chairman of Isda and the co-head of credit sales and trading at Credit Suisse, described the meeting as constructive. “Participants are reviewing progress in operational efficiencies and will seek to examine the exact nature and extent of challenges the markets are facing in ensuring operational and systematic security, as well as where further progress might be needed,” commented Shirvani.

To that end, Shirvani said, Isda will continue to push for a European Union directive that would reinforce the bilateral close-out netting regime in the region.

Despite McCreevy’s warning on putting in place legislation for centralised clearing if market participants do not deliver, private initiatives are rapidly moving towards such a practice.

Four groups - Eurex, NYSE Euronext, the CME Group in conjunction with Chicago-based Citadel Investment Group, and the Clearing Corporation in partnership with the Intercontinental Exchange – have confirmed plans to launch CDS clearing facilities in the coming months.

Market participants suggests attention is also being focused on centralised clearing for other asset classes, including foreign exchange, interest rates, equity derivatives and commodities. Currency derivatives dealers are, for example, believed to be in discussions for a central clearing house, which could be up and running by the middle of next year.

See also: Banks move towards clearing for FX, interest rate and equity
Fed discusses CDS clearing house options

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