Scrambling CFTC proposes key rule in nick of time

Wed Dec 1, 2010 9:33am EST

* Key rule to be considered, but no details available

* CFTC did not complete rule until hours before hearing

* Sign of tough workload for small, underfunded agency

* Chilton-"bellwether day," may end some speculation

By Roberta Rampton and Christopher Doering

WASHINGTON, Dec 1 (Reuters) - The U.S. futures regulator scrambled on Wednesday to introduce a key rule that will give its clearest picture to date on what firms will be subject to the toughest scrutiny for their swaps trades.

The Commodity Futures Trading Commission will propose the broad metrics that will define which counterparties will be classified swap dealers and major swap participants, players required to post capital and margin for their trades, according to an agenda for the meeting starting at 9:30 a.m. ET (1430 GMT).

Discussion of the rule, which was the subject of fierce lobbying by companies ranging from Morgan Stanley (MS.N) to fund BlackRock (BLK.N) to power utility Exelon (EXC.N) who argued that they should not be required to tie up capital with the new rules, was slated for the end of the session, and no details of the proposal were presented ahead of time.

At a background briefing for reporters held late on Tuesday, CFTC officials were not certain the proposal would be ready for the meeting, and declined comment on the reason for the last-minute struggle to issue the plan.

It was the latest signal that the chronically underfunded CFTC is struggling under the ambitious deadlines set by Congress for its overhaul of the $600 trillion over-the-counter swaps market, a key part of Dodd-Frank financial reforms.

"One thing that's been evident in some of the public comment we've received is that a lot of folks think that the line for regulation starts right behind them," said Commissioner Bart Chilton in prepared remarks.

"Clearly, that can't always be the case and I think today is one of those bellwether days that will bring further clarity to the new law and end some of the guessing that's been going on in the industry."

The rule is being jointly proposed by the CFTC and the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission, which has jurisdiction over securities-based swaps. Commissioners at the SEC are slated to consider the rule at a Friday meeting.

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FACTBOX-CFTC rulemaking to-do list [ID:nN29292443]

CFTC comment file: r.reuters.com/bav67q

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The CFTC expects to write 50-60 detailed regulations to implement the Dodd-Frank law, a Herculean task for the small, underfunded agency to complete by July.

The CFTC had aimed to have the first draft of its rules unveiled by the end of December so that it would have enough time to gather comments from industry players before finalizing the regulations.

The agency has failed to release some of the most controversial regulations.

One of the first items of business for the CFTC was supposed to be its plan to limit speculative positions held by commodity traders, but the agency has also grappled with this rule on how to set and police the limits without data on the swaps market.

The agency hopes to consider that rule at a meeting slated for Dec. 16, but sources have said that timeline could easily slip into the New Year, along with other controversial measures. (Additional reporting by Rachelle Younglai; Editing by Russell Blinch)

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