Tag: Exchange-traded funds

Evolving Equity Markets Require Constant Attention

Luis A. Aguilar is a Commissioner at the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission. This post is based on Commissioner Aguilar’s recent address at a Meeting of the Equity Market Structure Advisory Committee. The full text, including footnotes, is available here. The views expressed in the post are those of Commissioner Aguilar and do not necessarily reflect those of the Securities and Exchange Commission, the other Commissioners, or the Staff.

I want to extend a warm welcome to the members of the Equity Market Structure Advisory Committee (“Committee”). I appreciate the work that you do and, in turn, how this work informs the Commission’s efforts to fulfill its mission. I also want to welcome everyone in the audience, whether participating in person or via the internet.

Well, if we needed more proof of the importance of this Committee, we’ve gotten it. Although, it’s been only five months since this Committee’s first meeting, we have already witnessed two major market disruptions. The first was a software glitch in July that halted trading at one major exchange for several hours. That event highlighted a glaring shortcoming in our current market infrastructure, specifically, the fact that the primary exchanges still have no back-up plan for their opening and closing auctions. This was especially disconcerting because in November 2013, the exchanges issued a public statement acknowledging the importance of developing backup plans for their critical functions—including their opening and closing auctions.


The Importance of Being Earnest About Liquidity Risk Management

Luis A. Aguilar is a Commissioner at the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission. This post is based on Commissioner Aguilar’s recent public statement at an open meeting of the SEC; the full text, including footnotes, is available here. The views expressed in the post are those of Commissioner Aguilar and do not necessarily reflect those of the Securities and Exchange Commission, the other Commissioners, or the Staff.

The fund industry has witnessed substantial changes in recent years, including the rise of novel investment strategies, a growing use of derivatives, and an increased focus on assets that, traditionally, have been less liquid. Unfortunately, it appears that not all funds’ liquidity risk management practices have kept pace with these developments.

Today [September 22, 2015], the Commission considers proposing a set of rules and amendments that will help ensure that open-end investment companies—which include mutual funds and exchange traded funds—manage their liquidity risks in a prudent and responsible manner. The proposed changes will also help attenuate the dilution risks that confront long-term shareholders, and will give investors needed tools to monitor how well funds are managing their liquidity risk. These proposals are important, because they will adapt our decades-old liquidity regime to the fund industry’s new and vastly altered landscape. The proposals we consider today are especially timely, for at least two reasons. First, a study published just last night suggests that U.S. bond funds need to sharpen their methodologies for analyzing the liquidity of their portfolios, because their current methods might be inadequate. And second, a resurgence of volatility in the bond markets in recent months has, in concert with shifting market dynamics, thrust liquidity concerns in that space to the forefront.

These proposals are intended to foster a rigorous and analytically sound approach to liquidity risk management, while also helping investors to better gauge the ability of funds to fulfill redemption obligations.


Open-End Fund Liquidity Risk Management and Swing Pricing

Mary Jo White is Chair of the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission. The following post is based on Chair White’s remarks at a recent open meeting of the SEC, available here. The views expressed in this post are those of Chair White and do not necessarily reflect those of the Securities and Exchange Commission, the other Commissioners, or the Staff.

The Commission will consider a recommendation of the staff to propose a new rule and amendments designed to strengthen the management of liquidity risks by registered open-end investment companies, including mutual funds and exchange-traded funds (or ETFs).

Regulation of the asset management industry is one of the Commission’s most important responsibilities in furthering our mission to protect investors, maintain orderly markets, and promote capital formation. The Commission oversees registered investment companies with combined assets of approximately $18.8 trillion and registered investment advisers with approximately $67 trillion in regulatory assets under their management. At the end of 2014, 53.2 million households, or 43.3 percent of all U.S. households, owned mutual funds. Fittingly, next Tuesday, we will reflect on our history of regulating funds and advisers at an event to celebrate the 75th anniversary of the Investment Company Act and the Investment Advisers Act.


Regulating Trading Practices

Andreas M. Fleckner is a Senior Research Fellow at the Max Planck Institute for Comparative and International Private Law in Hamburg. This post is based on a chapter prepared for The Oxford Handbook of Financial Regulation (forthcoming).

High-frequency trading, dark pools, front-running, phantom orders, short selling—the way securities are traded ranks high among today’s regulatory challenges. Thanks to a steady stream of news reports, investor complaints, and public investigations, it has become commonplace to call for the government to intervene and impose order. The regulation of trading practices, one of the oldest roots of securities law and still a regulatory mystery to many people, is suddenly the talk of the town.

From a historical and empirical perspective, however, many of the recent developments look less dramatic than some observers believe. This is the essence of Regulating Trading Practices, my chapter for the new Oxford Handbook of Financial Regulation. The chapter explains how today’s regulatory regime evolved, identifies the key rationale for governments to intervene, and analyzes the rules, regulators, and techniques of the world’s leading jurisdictions. My central argument is that governments should focus on the price formation process and ensure that it is purely market-driven. Local regulators and self-regulatory organizations will take care of the rest.


Does Short Selling Discipline Earnings Manipulation?

The following post comes to us from Massimo Massa, Professor of Finance at INSEAD; Bohui Zhang of UNSW Business School, and Hong Zhang of the PBC School of Finance, Tsinghua University.

The experience of the recent financial crisis has brought to the attention the role of short selling. Short selling has been identified as a factor that contributes to market informational efficiency. At the same time, however, short selling has been regarded as “dangerous” to the stability of the financial markets and has been banned in many countries. Interestingly, these two seemingly conflicting views are based on the same traditional wisdom that short selling affects only the way in which information is incorporated into market prices by making the market reaction either more effective or overly sensitive to existing information but does not affect the behavior of firm managers, who may shape, if not generate, information in the first place.


SEC Sanctions Adviser, Broker-Dealer and Their Owner Over ETF Trades

The following post comes to us from Eric R. Fischer, partner in the Business Law Department at Goodwin Procter LLP, and is based on a Goodwin Procter Financial Services Alert by Jackson B. R. Galloway.

The SEC settled claims against a registered investment adviser (the “Adviser”), its affiliated broker-dealer (the “Broker-Dealer”), and the founder, owner, and president of each (the “CEO”) that related to (1) investments in Class A shares of underlying funds made by funds managed by the Adviser (the “Funds”) and (2) commissions paid by the Funds to the Broker-Dealer for trades in exchange-traded funds (“ETFs”). Without admitting or denying its findings, the Respondents agreed to the settlement order (the “Order”), available here, which this post summarizes.


SEC and Actively Managed Exchange Traded Funds

The following post comes to us from Jayant W. Tambe, partner focusing on litigation concerning securities, derivatives, and other financial products at Jones Day, and is based on a Jones Day alert.

Nearly three years after the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (“SEC”) effectively froze the creation of actively managed and leveraged exchange traded funds (“ETFs”) that utilize options, futures, swaps, and other derivatives as part of their investment strategies, the SEC has lifted the moratorium on the use of derivatives by actively managed funds while continuing to restrict the use of derivatives by leveraged ETFs. The SEC’s decision follows a Concept Release issued last August soliciting comments on the issue from the public. ETFs, which are typically registered as open-ended investment companies under the Investment Company Act of 1940 (the “’40 Act”), usually require exemptive relief from the SEC because certain common features of ETFs do not comport with the strict provisions of the ’40 Act.

On December 6, 2012, in a speech to the American Law Institute’s Conference on Investment Adviser Regulation in New York City, Norm Champ, Director of the Division of Investment Management, announced the SEC has reversed course and “will no longer defer consideration of exemptive requests under the Investment Company Act relating to actively managed ETFs that make use of derivatives.” In his speech, Director Champ made clear the SEC’s decision was subject to two important conditions, each designed to address the concerns by the SEC back in March 2010 when it first imposed the moratorium on derivatives. To that end, issuers seeking to create an actively managed ETF that employs derivatives will be required to represent: “(i) that the ETF’s board periodically will review and approve the ETF’s use of derivatives and how the ETF’s investment adviser assesses and manages risk with respect to the ETF’s use of derivatives; and (ii) that the ETF’s disclosure of its use of derivatives in its offering documents and periodic reports is consistent with relevant Commission and staff guidance.”


Deferred Underwriting Compensation in Public Offerings

The following post comes to us from Robert Buckholz, partner and co-coordinator of the Corporate and Finance Group at Sullivan & Cromwell LLP, and is based on a Sullivan & Cromwell publication.

FINRA proposes to amend Rule 5110, the Corporate Financing Rule, to permit a broader range of deferred compensation arrangements between member firms and issuers regarding future public offerings, provided the arrangements meet two significant new requirements. [1] Under the proposal, engagement letters for underwriting and financial advisory services will be permitted to include termination fees and rights of first refusal, but must specify that any future underwriting fees be reasonable or customary and must permit the issuer to terminate these arrangements for cause. As is currently the case, the arrangements also must be limited to two or three years in duration as described below. While the proposal will provide member firms more flexibility to negotiate deferred compensation arrangements with their issuer clients, they should consider the potential impact of the proposed new requirements on their engagement letter practices. Separately, FINRA also proposes to amend Rule 5110 to exempt a broader range of exchange-traded fund (“ETF”) offerings from the filing requirement of the Rule. FINRA has asked for comments on the proposals by July 23, 2012.


An Analysis of ETF Voting Policies, Practices and Patterns

This post is by Scott Fenn, Senior Managing Director, Proxy Governance Inc.

The Investor Responsibility Research Center Institute and PROXY Governance Inc. recently released an in-depth analysis of the proxy voting policies and recent voting records of seven of the largest exchange-traded fund (ETF) sponsors, which account for some 94% of the ETF market. Entitled “Proxy Voting by Exchange-Traded Funds: An Analysis of ETF Voting Policies, Practices and Patterns,” the study was commissioned by the non-profit IRRC Institute and conducted by PROXY Governance.

The findings indicate a considerable variation in the voting patterns and philosophies of these funds. The key research findings are as follows:

• There appear to be significant differences in the level of detail of proxy voting guidelines utilized by ETF sponsors. The ETF sponsors in the study that relied on guidelines provided by proxy advisory firms appear to have the most detailed and comprehensive, and prescriptive, guidelines. At the other end of the spectrum, Rydex has very summary guidelines that stipulate voting with management on virtually all issues.

• There is significant variation in the voting philosophies and patterns of the largest ETF sponsors, with some funds much more likely to vote against management on both shareholder and management-sponsored proposals than other funds

The three largest ETF sponsors are somewhat less likely to vote against management on shareholder and management proposals than are most of the smaller fund sponsors examined in this study. Yet, the three largest ETF sponsors, on average, appear to withhold votes from incumbent director nominees at a greater number of companies than the smaller funds, which appears to be their preferred means of expressing dissatisfaction with management or board governance rather than voting against management on specific proposals.

• The votes by the specific funds at selected 2008 annual meetings are generally consistent with the written voting policies of those funds. Case-by-case voting policies by many funds on most issues explain much of this consistency. In a few cases, however, specific votes were cast that appear to be potentially contrary to the fund’s written voting guidelines.

• Funds that rely heavily on a proxy advisory firm for voting guidelines or to make their vote decisions tend to vote against management proposals, and in favor of shareholder proposals, more frequently than those that rely on their own guidelines.

The study covers the following seven ETF sponsors – Barclays Global Investors (iShares), State Street Global Advisors (SPDRs), Vanguard Group (Vanguard ETFs), Invesco Ltd. (PowerShares), ProFunds (ProShares), Rydex Investments (RydexShares) and WisdomTree Trust (WisdomTree ETFs). (NB: Barclay’s Plc recently announced that it would sell its Barclay’s Global Investors asset management division, the single largest ETF manager, to BlackRock, Inc.)

The full report is available here and here.

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