CHICAGO/WASHINGTON As U.S. regulators race to write rules that will put Wall Street reform legislation into action, some industry groups are trying to apply the brakes, latching onto linguistic loopholes in the law to bolster their case.
The new law, which aims to prevent a repeat of the 2007-2009 financial crisis, requires regulators to potentially write hundreds of rules, many under a tight time-frame.
But in cases where the Dodd-Frank reform law leaves a bit of wiggle room on deadlines for final rules or effective dates, industry groups are urging regulators to take a deep breath and adopt a go-slow approach.
The argument is being made across the financial industry in areas such as derivatives market oversight; plans for liquidating large, failing financial institutions, and a crackdown on debit card fees.
"We appreciate that Dodd-Frank imposes short and strict deadlines by which each agency must adopt various rules," says a December 6 letter from 11 industry groups to the Securities and Exchange Commission and the Commodity Futures Trading Commission, which are busy writing rules that will impact how the $600 trillion derivatives market is traded.
"We respectfully note that the CFTC and SEC have discretion in determining when new regulatory measures will become applicable," the letter said. The industry groups who penned the letter include the Futures Industry Association and the Investment Company Institute.
In one key passage, the letter notes, Dodd-Frank requires swaps rules to take effect "not less than 60 days" after they are finalized, a phrase which suggests, according to the letter, that the gap can certainly be more.
The efforts may already be getting traction.
CFTC Chairman Gary Gensler last week delayed issuing a draft rule on commodity position limits designed to curb speculation. The draft rule ran into objections both from commissioners who want the agency to act quicker and those who fear moving too fast will damage the market.
But Dale Rosenthal, a professor at the University of Illinois, Chicago who has studied derivatives trading, senses desperation in industry's focus on language.
"So they are resisting, but they are running out of tools, which is why they are starting to go to semantics," Rosenthal said. "You are literally starting to fight over small words because you are not winning the larger battle."
FDIC, FED ALSO LOBBYING TARGETS
Gensler's ear is not the only one being bent -- the go-slow argument is being made to several agencies.
The American Bankers Association is urging the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp to take its time in crafting rules that will determine how large, failing financial firms seized by the government will be liquidated. The group notes the law does not specify a deadline for these regulations to be in place.
"The nation's financial system would be well served if the FDIC used the flexibility granted by Congress to adopt a measured and deliberate approach to the development and implementation of its authority," the group wrote in a November 18 letter to the agency.
Both Bank of America and Visa have urged the Federal Reserve to use as much time as it can to implement a rule slashing debit card fees and forcing more competition among networks used to process transactions.
Some are arguing regulators just aren't ready to move.
The Chamber of Commerce is questioning why the new systemic risk council is busy writing rules on how to determine which non-banks will be subject to increased scrutiny by the Federal Reserve when the panel does not yet have all its members.
The Financial Stability Oversight Council is headed by the Treasury Department and includes other major regulators. The Chamber of Commerce notes, however, that the seat reserved for an insurance expert has not been filled and that the head of the council's research office has not been selected.
"The current narrow focus of the Council may skew the discussions and decisions of the Council, potentially harming the economy with unintended consequences," the Chamber of Commerce wrote regulators in a November 5 letter.
Republicans have been highly critical of the new law and their gains in Congress may have emboldening industry to step up their calls for slower -- and lighter-handed -- rulemaking, some suggest.
"It's better to get this right than to get it done quickly," John Damgard, president of the Futures Industry Association, told Reuters in an interview. "Even people on both sides of the aisle have indicated that some of these deadlines aren't realistic, and the next Congress may very well take a good long look at the implementation issues."
(Reporting by Ann Saphir in Chicago and Dave Clarke in Washington with reporting by Jonathan Spicer in New York, Editing by Tim Dobbyn)