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SEC and CFTC Adopt Rules Defining Swaps-Related Terms

Written by: Jay B. Gould and Peter Chess

On April 18, 2012, the Securities and Exchange Commission (“SEC”) and the Commodity Futures Trading Commission (“CFTC”) voted to adopt rules defining “swap dealer,” “security-based swap dealer,” “major swap participant,” and “major security-based swap participant,” among other terms, as mandated by the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act (“Dodd-Frank Act”).  The Dodd-Frank Act assigns to the SEC the regulatory authority for security-based swaps[1] and assigns to the CFTC the regulatory authority for swaps. 

Under the adopted rules, the definitions are as follows:

A swap dealer is defined as any person who:

  • Holds itself out as a dealer in swaps;
  • Makes a market in swaps;
  • Regularly enters into swaps with counterparties as an ordinary course of business for its own account; or
  • Engages in activity causing itself to be commonly known in the trade as a dealer or market maker in swaps.

The definition of security-based swap dealer tracks the definition of swap dealer, with “security-based swap” inserted where “swap” appears.

A major swap participant is a person that satisfies any one of the three parts of the definition:

  • A person that maintains a “substantial position” in any of the major swap categories, excluding positions held for hedging or mitigating commercial risk and positions maintained by certain employee benefit plans for hedging or mitigating risks in the operation of the plan.
  • A person whose outstanding swaps create “substantial counterparty exposure that could have serious adverse effects on the financial stability of the United States banking system or financial markets.”
  • Any “financial entity” that is “highly leveraged relative to the amount of capital such entity holds and that is not subject to capital requirements established by an appropriate Federal banking agency” and that maintains a “substantial position” in any of the major swap categories.

The definition of major security-based swap participant tracks the definition of major swap participant with “security based-swap” inserted where “swap” appears.

The newly adopted rules contain further definitions for the terms “substantial position,” “hedging or mitigating commercial risk,” “substantial counterparty exposure,” “financial entity,” “highly leveraged,” and “eligible contract participant.”  In addition, the adopting release provides interpretative guidance on the definitions of swap dealer and security-based swap dealer, and the CFTC provides further details on the exclusion for swaps in connection with originating a loan, the exclusion of certain hedging swaps and the exclusion of swaps between affiliates.  Finally, the new rules call for a de minimis exemption from the definition of swap dealer and security-based swap dealer wherein a person who engages in a de minimis amount of swap or security-based swap dealing will be exempt from the respective definition.  

The SEC and the CFTC adopted the new rules under joint rulemaking, and the SEC rules become effective 60 days after the date of publication in the Federal Register, although dealers and major participants will not have to register with the SEC until the dates that will be provided in the SEC’s final rules for the registration of dealers and major participants.  The CFTC must adopt further rules defining the term “swap,” and swap dealers and major swap participants will need to register by the later of July 16, 2012, or 60 days after the publication of CFTC rules defining “swap.”

The full text of the SEC press release and fact sheet is available here.  The full text of the CFTC release is available here.

[1]               Security-based swaps are broadly defined as swaps based on (i) a single security, (ii) a loan, (iii) a narrow-based group or index of securities, or (iv) events relating to a single issuer or issuers of securities in a narrow-based security index.