CBOT issued a pair of notices in a single disciplinary action (notices here and here) for failure to have an underlying physical trade. The notice made clear that there were offsetting transactions styled as an EFRP to allow positions to move between accounts without performing a back office transfer. This is a recurring and common theme in exchange disciplinary notices this year - a prty wanting to move trades between positions without having anyone (possibly anyone within their organization) notice.
The interesting point here is that one party (the first notice above) is cited for executing "the EFRPs for the purpose of rebalancing positions held by various (company) funds" They got find $40K.
The other company, in the same notice sequence, was cited for executing "these transactions simultaneously and without incurring material market risk." They got fined $55K.
This may be overreading the case but it would appear that the first company wanted to move positions between accounts and asked someone at the second company to help. That person appears to have agreed. The exchange fined the helper more than the the company wanting the improper act. The second fim is a major organization with significant oversight and training. It is interesting that that firm got fined more than 35% more than the company that was likely to have been the instigator of the scheme.
This leads DCM to believe that exchanges are starting to crack down with penalties based at least partially in whether yoou should have known better than to facilitate the improper action. This woould be an implicit warning that you not only no have excuse to go along to "help" someone by subverting exchange rules but that you will get an even bigger penalty because you should have said no.
It is always good to go back and review the guidance from regulatory agencies every now and then. The CFTC issued guidance for how it would consider cooperation from companies who have been or may be charged with a violation (here is the guidance). It starts out by setting the expectation that "what a company voluntarily does, beyond what it is required to do" is important.
It sets forth three broad areas of focus:
1. The value of the company's cooperation to an investigation of enforcement action;
2. The value of the company's action to the overall CFTC enforcement interests; and
3. The level of culpability and prior misconduct balanced against acceptance of responsibility, mitigation, and remediation.
It also adds a negative factor - "Uncooperative Conduct" - at the end.
Note that the first two items are not how much you cooperated by whether the cooperation actually had any value. Voluntarily presenting reams of useless information is not going to be of value. Specific, targeted information that either furthers the investigation of makes resolution of the investigation - and DCM believes the qualifier here would be that in formation helps the resolution in the manner the CFTC staff feels is warranted - easier is the concept of "value" being indicated here.
The guidance goes on to further examine the three broad points with a listing of additional factors for each of the areas.
For value in an enforcement action, the factors are:
All of these things have in common the impact of increasing the costs and effort of the CFTC action as well as reducing the success of the CFTC investigation in getting an accurate picture of the behavior - as inverse impacts of the cooperation points listed before.
The guidance closes with two additional areas - an acknowledgement of attorney-client privilege and a caveat that all this guidance is advisory and its application is at the complete discretion of CFTC staff to apply in a manner they see fit in their discretion.
The NYMEX issued a disciplinary notice today here relating to Rule 575.D - Disruptive Trading Prohibited. In this case the trader was creating "user defined spreads" ("USD") on Globex. A USD is enabled on Globex to allow trading of option spreads against the underlying in a manner that, as implied, the trader defines. In particular, a trader can define the delta of the option being traded and allocate the futures against that covered option strategy in the USD. The NYMEX disciplined the trader "for the purpose of receiving advantageous over-allocations or under-allocations of futures contracts that should have been associated with the covered options instrument."
There have been comments by other individuals covering CME disciplinary notices that the notices do not provide the information necessary to use the notices as training exercises - unlike notices from other regulatory entities. DCM likes to note that CME discipline is conducted under the Rule Book enforced under the contractual agreements between the participants and the exchange. Regulatory notices are normally issued under administrative law rules and, as such, may have much greater public documentation requirements. Developing controls on US exchange disciplinary notices takes greater individual research and analysis.
Greater information would be helpful in this case. The NYMEX notes that "Although the CME Globex system provides certain protections such as reasonability checks with respect to option deltas and the futures price on covered instruments,the UDS functionality requires users to exercise diligence and care in the creation of option spread instruments, including the creation of covered option strategies."
DCM acknowledges that this type of deception has not been a central part of its prior compliance training. Like we like to note frequently, traders tend to go where their actions are less likely to be observed when they want to stretch the controls. This is a place where it is likely firms will have to up their game.
The CFTC is starting to push the Climate Change train forward - establishes new "Climate Risk Unit" that may impact you
One of the emerging areas that we have been working on here at DCM is the confluence of the emerging carbon products and existing risk and compliance operations. In many cases, the activities driving towards carbon offests and carbon reduction are being headed by groups outside the historic market facing risk and compliance controls. But now the SEC - with its ESG reporting requirements - and the CFTC - with tradeable CORSIA compliant futures - arre becoming active players in overseeing corporate carbon objectives and the activities related to them.
This brings us to the press release that came out almost a month ago from Chairman Behnam of the CFTC establishing the new Climate Risk Unit. The release is here and the most challenging information is:
"As the U.S. joins governing bodies around the world in recognizing the need to reduce carbon emissions, the derivatives markets regulated by the CFTC will play a vital role in supporting and developing new products and solutions that address climate and sustainability challenges. In support of these efforts, it is widely recognized that globally consistent standards, taxonomies, and practices will be critical as the industry and policymakers partner and guide their economies through the transition. "
Taken at face value, this would imply that the CFTC Is going to be an actor in working to develop and implement global taxonomies for climate derivatives and possibly other things - this would imply the possibility of a globally imposed taxonomy for carbon related blockchains and derivatives (possibly including carbon reduction validation requirements?).
If this is the case, then adopting and implement, for example, a Scope 3 carbon blockchain for your supply chain at this time might be something that requires a complete data model and entity/attribute rebuild based on global imposed taxonomies. The upside would be that the oversight of such systems woould be much simpler to implement - similar to the difference in implementing trade surveillance for European natural gas trading versus US natural gas trading.
In addition, market participants must recognize that the CFTC considers physical activity underlying the market activity that sets a tradeable future on US market as to be within their jurisdiction as regards manipulation of prices. I can speculate that the CFTC would look very harshly at a firm that falsified data, either interntionally or by failure to meet standards, that causes a significant misstatement of carbon reduction accomplished versus the amount stated in a certificate delivered through an exchange futures physical settlement. The SEC might similarly look harshly at a firm that had to restate prior year ESG reporting because the carbon reduction reported was not the carbon reduction achieved.
DCM takes this as a very positive, though potentially complicating, step. Much of our recent focus has been on helping firms strategize for how they will encompass the billions, in some cases, of dollars spect on a reportable, and tradeable, product within their existing control frameowrk. Firms that fail to accomplish this could find themselves in a very similar regulatory situation as the natural gas firms found themselves in the mid 1990s when natural gas price indicies all of a sudden were subject to regulatory scrutiny. For those in the banking industry, the similar impacts on idnividuals in the LIBOR investigation might resonate - especially, the lack of regulator appreciation for the "that is just how I was taught the industry works" argument as criminal charges were filed. The individuals who ended up in jail in both cases might advise getting the control structures in place early as an advisable course of business.
This blog has pointed out the difference between US and European regulatory environments for futures trading. A circular issue today by ICE Futures Europe here points out the differences and similarities very nicely.
The circular cites ABN Amro Clearing Chicago LLC as the fined party but the facts are that ICE Europe "observed numerous instances of suspected disorderly trading by the AACC client firm on the ICE Brent Crude Futures, ICE WTI Crude Futures and the ICE Brent / WTI Crude Spread markets." The fact pattern would normally be called spoofing in the compliance world.
ICE Europe rules require "that, as part of their systems and controls, Members must have an effective compliance function which provides appropriate oversight of trading activity. In respect of DEA Providers, this includes having effective oversight of the trading activity of DEA client firms. "
Note, as DCM has pointed out before, that the rule is directed towards the broker/dealer Member, not the customer. This is the big difference between US and Europe's exchange rules. But also note that the ICE Europe disciplinary notice covers WTI and Brent/WTI spreads - these are US markets. And ABN was providing this service from its US entity. So, just like the US, the European exchanges are reaching out past their borders to impose discipline on entities because they are participating in their exchange.
This does not cite any rules like the US CFTC rules for prior approval or controls on algos to assure there is no disruptive trading prior to implementing the use of the algo.
The fine to ABN was £30,000 (discretionary discount was applied for “early settlement”).
The customer was not let off scot free however. ICE Futures notes “Following receipt of the Exchange’s notice of investigation, ABN ceased to provide the ABN client firm with DEA (Direct Electronic Access)” to the market. In addition, ICE required that ABN cease providing such service to the customer for at least a year.
Last week, the CFTC filed civil charges against a rancher for multiple violations stemming from the use of fale hedge exemptions (among other things) to avoid major position limit violations. The fedeal case is here). This a a really egregious case but it holds a lot of points to consider.
First, the defendant was rampantly speculating in cattle futures (as a cattle rancher one can anticipate some degree of knowledge but would also expect some restraint) from 2016 to 2020. This firm built up over $200 million in trading losses. So, like all good traders he closed the book and took his loses, right? NOT.
Instead, this guy decided to creat fake cattle and send bills to a business partner to cover the losses - $233 million in fake cattle. That also gave him a reason to have a lot of futures hedging them, right? So, the rancher submitted:
"false cattle inventory, purchase, and sales figures to the Chicago Mercantile Exchange (“CME”) in two hedge exemption applications to seek permission to exceed the exchange’s speculative position limits and avoid disciplinary action."
Oops, you just took a fraud case into a futures market violation. The rancher did admit the false filings isometime near last month.
The CME and CFTC found that since the cattle didn't exist, the hedge exemptions were false. So now the rancher is not just on the hook for fraud but also for:
1. Filing false statements regarding a hedge exemption to the CME,
2. Fraud in a commodity transaction,
3. Position limit violations for all the underlying position no longer covered by the hedge exemption
Since the futures trades were linked to the defrauding of the rancher's partner, the futures trades were used in a manipulative device. Yes, the fraud was in presenting the false invoices to the partner but then the rancher employed that information used in the fraud in the hedge exemption. I will leave it to the lawyers to connect the dots but the consulting take away is simple - if you are commiting fraud and part of the way you are attempting to commit or monetize the fraud lands in you exhcange and CFTC territory. I am sure there is a civil case somewhere between the rancher and the partner but the case here is in addition.
It should also be noted that the CFTC charge reads:
" From at least October 2016 through November 2020, as set forth in Paragraphs 15–41 above, Defendants violated 7 U.S.C. § 9(1) and 17 C.F.R. § 180.l(a)(1)–(3) by, among other things, in connection with the sale of commodities in interstate commerce, submitting to the Producer fraudulent invoices for more than 200,000 head of cattle and receiving reimbursement for the purchase price and grow costs associated with them. "
Many people forget that the CFTC jurisdiction is over the commodity in interstate commerce. Committing the fraud by using beef is using a commodity. Foreign companies especially need to understand this as well as the fact that almost any commodity in the US will cross a state line before it is loaded for international shipment. So loading from a coastal port in the US may not exempt a firm from this jurisdiction - again, a point to raise with your lawyer.
So, to the penalities - the CFTC is lowering the boom. They want full restitution including disgrogement of:
"all benefits received including, but not limited to, salaries, commissions, loans, fees, revenues, real and personal property and trading profits derived, directly or indirectly, from acts or practices which constitute violations" Claw back of salaries is a pretty harsh ask.
Plus complete bar from anything to do with futures, swaps or other products relating to "any commodity interests" - which is one of the broadest definitions used by the CFTC in the commodity space.
Plus civil penalties as allowed, which is "in any case of manipulation or attempted manipulation in violation of section 9, 15, 13b, or 13(a)(2) of this title, a civil penalty in the amount of not more than the greater of $1,000,000 or triple the monetary gain to the person for each violation." This could be read to mean every invoice, every position limit violation, every filing with the CME is a separate violation. In the case of position limits, a violation occurs each time you go over the limit - so if you are over and go under and then back over again, it is a separate violation. Ther are likely at least a minimum of 24 violations for position limits alone (each spot month would likely have had a least one violation.
The potential penalty here would appear to be at least the $233 million of monies defrauded plus a sum that could easily equal that in civil penalties.
This CCTC case will, most likely, be in addition to CME fines and discpline for false statements and position limit violations - which could also run in the millions.
DCM speaks frequently about the differences between European and US enforcement regimes. Case in point is a summary judgement from ICE Futures Europe today. The circular is here. The broker got fined over $30,000.
The issue was that a customer of the broker held positions in excess of the limits for three consecutive days. The rule (Rule P.3) for ICE Futures Europe reads:
"A Member shall not carry a position that exceeds the limits on behalf of any Person unless the Member has confirmed that such Person has received an exemption from the Exchange."
In Europe is the broker cannot "carry" the position. In the US , the CME rule (Rule 562 for Violations of Position Limits) reads:
"Any positions, including positions established intraday, in excess of those permitted under the rules of the Exchange shall be deemed position limit violations. If a position exceeds position limits as a result of an option assignment, the person who owns or controls such position shall be allowed one business day to liquidate the excess position without being considered in violation of the limits"
It references the owner, not the broker. The broker obligation in the US (same Rule 562) is:
"A clearing member carrying such positions shall not be in violation of this rule if, upon notification by the Market Regulation Department, it liquidates its pro-rata share of the position in excess of the limits or otherwise ensures the customer is in compliance with the limits within a reasonable period of time. For purposes of this rule, a reasonable period of time shall generally not exceed one business day."
The European rule places the obligation and responsibility on the Member (Broker) to not allow the position and th broker has an affirmative obilgation to confirm the customer hedge exemption.
In the US, the borker has an obligation to confirm after the fact and within a reasonable time period they have the right to hold the position. The customer, on the other hand, is in violation the minute they exceed the position. By the way, in the US, if you exceed the limit and then trade below the limit and then back above, each time yoou cross below the limit you reset and each time you cross is a new violation.
You should keep in the mind the jurisdiction you are trading in - not necessarily where you are located - for assuring you compliance program is appropriate. DM has worked with many non-US firms to assist them in aligning their global, non-US based compliance programs to the US specific regulatory regime.
COVID and reopening the trade floor - once again the difference in the exchange's enforcement rights
As we all work towards the "new normal" (whatever the heck that might be and mean), we still have this transition where we so want to get away from all of what we see as restrictions from COVID and go back to the way things were. This includes the new exchange rules on social distancing and face shields.
Along come four summary actions from the exchange a week ago Friday. Four different floor traders were given summary action fines of $500 each for:
"On numerous dates in February 2021, (name of offender) violated socialdistancing and face shield guidelines after repeated warnings by Exchange staff."
All four traders got the same fine with exactly the same cause.
Now, if a cop wanted to give you a ticket for failing to wear a mask, you would see a concerted effort against the action and, possibly, the news covering it. The exchange is different - as DCM has repeatedly mentioned, its enforcement is a contract law action.
So, you don't follow the rules, you get written up and a summary action. I think the phrase is "pour encourager les autres" covers the intent.
Just a lighter enforcement coverage with the same message - the US exchanges regulatory regime is different than many other national enforcement regimes. It assigns personal responsibility and liability in a way that many others don't. And since it is in the contract, you can't say that it doesn't apply since you are in the US. Because it does.
ESG, carbon credits, the "net zero" supply chain, and blockchain - a risk manager's/trader's view of some potential issues
While it is not the centerpiece of the skill set the DCM leadership is known for, one member of our leadership team has been involved in environmental issues since he served an internship for over a year with the Connecticut Department of Environmental Protection in 1972. Since that time, he has stayed involved in areas from air quality, renewable fuels, renewable energy sources, distributed energy, and carbon credits - including leading analytical engagements, publishing articles, and supplying strategic advice to clients. The recent rapid changes in carbon sequestration, carbon credit trading, and supply chain carbon reduction targets led to these observations.
1. Not all carbon credits or carbon sequestration methodologies may be considered equal for your corporate objectives. Is the credit a voluntary credit or will it be valid under Article 6 or the Paris Accords? The quality and persistence of the carbon sequestration as well as the ongoing validation of the credits may have impact on both your corporate requirements for carbon reduction under national laws as well as the public reputation impacts of any disallowed or under-performing sequestration or reduction actions;
2. Blockchain will be a major tool in validating "net zero" carbon in your supply chain, especially when looking at "Scope 3" carbon emissions. ("Scope 3 emissions are the result of activities from assets not owned or controlled by the reporting organization, but that the organization indirectly impacts in its value chain. Scope 3 emissions include all sources not within an organization's scope 1 and 2 boundary. - https://www.epa.gov/climateleadership/scope-3-inventory-guidance). Tracking the Scope 3 emissions (and emissions reductions) across your supply chain to validate achievement of "net zero carbon" supply chain goals is likely going to require blockchain technology. However, when discussing blockchain technologies with participants and vendors at Madrid COP 25 in December, 2019 it became evident that the blockchain models were being developed from the information provider's perspective. If I am the transportation company, I will develop blockchain to provide the information backwards to the shipper and forward to the purchaser. However, if the supplier who utilizes that shipper also has a blockchain model where they track the carbon impacts (and reductions) from their suppliers to their end consumer, the two blockchains may overlap in a manner that the ultimate consumer may not be able to untangle. In addition, if the taxonomy of the blockchain information is subject to change by the blockchain owner, a user of the information may not be able to rely on the definitions initially utilized to develop their "net zero" supply chain assessment methodology. In the end, I feel it may be likely that carbon data definitions that are utilized in Scope 3 carbon assessments may need to fall under a carbon market equivalent of a SWIFT style organization that defines the messaging components, structure, and definitions - allowing changes only when the governing body approves them.
3. This leads to the last item - blockchain providers make their money from the use of their blockchain and their "smart" contracts. If there is a global set of definitions and structures, blockchains become less monetizable as users can transfer their data from one blockchain provider to another and so decrease individual blockchain provider's revenue. Absent the interchangeability of blockchain data, each blockchain and "smart" contract becomes an individual pool of liquidity. In this manner, the overall market liquidity could be fractured - making structuring and execution of transactions more expensive for market participants. But if a company is committed to a single blockchain information source, that source may not align with the goal of tracking Scope 3 emissions and reductions.
I do feel that blockchain has great potential but it also can be a significant market burden if implemented and adopted without consideration of potential pitfalls.
DCM takes a risk based approach to all our clients needs - risk management, compliance or supply chain - as they are impacted by tradeable commodity markets. As carbon credits become a greater component of a company's assets, they will need to incorporate those assets into their existing risk management network in alignment with their ESG goals and ojectives.
You trade US futures markets, you accept their jurisdiction. You don't, you don't trade them - pretty simple equation.
The CME and ICE US Futures both issued a disciplinary notice with the same result - permanent ban from their markets, all of them. There is an interesting difference though - while both came down to the smae type of rule violation, they differed in the underlying detail.
The CME (NYMEX) issued a very simple notice here. The rule violation cited was Rule 432.L.1 -
"To fail to appear before the Board, Exchange staff or any investigative or hearing committee at a duly convened hearing, scheduled staff interview or in connection with any investigation."
Nothing more - no description of the underlying charges, no clarification of the severity of the underlying charges. Just a simple failure to appear. The decision from the Business Conduct Committee was a premanent ban from all designated contract markets, swap execution facilities, or derivatives clearing organization owned or controlled by the CME. A simple denial of access to CME liquidity forever.
The ICE US notice was more detailed and is here. This notice laid out three rules violations associated with spoofing, one related to conduct detrimental to the exchange, and two related to failing to respond to charges and appear at a hearing on the charges. The ICE notice iconcluded with the same permanent ban on access to all ICE US Futures trading facilities.
It should be noted that the CME and ICE US Futures processes have slight differences. Under the CME process, failure to respond to an investigatory request waives the right of the subject of the investigation to a hearing on the charges and is seen as an admission of guilt from failure to respond. Under the ICE US Futures process, the failure to respond is an admission of guilt; however, the Respondent (the term ICE US Futures used for the individual or firm charged with the violation) has a right to request a hearing on the penalty. Failure to rrequest a hearing is deemed as acceptance of the penalty. CME does not reflect this second step in its notices.
Once again, Both exchanges in the same week have reaffirmed the simple truth - signing a brokerage agreeemnt to trade on US futures exchanges is an acceptance of jurisdiction regardless of whether you are located in the US. Failure to accept that is an admission you don't want to trade those markets. If access to the liquidity of US markets is important, than compliance with their rules is a simple necessity.