EU moves closer to ultrafast trading, commodities curbs

Fri Oct 26, 2012 9:09am EDT

* Synchronised clock to spot abuses better

* Campaigners say commodity curbs have loopholes

* Lawmakers reject move for pan-EU ban on commission

By Huw Jones

LONDON, Oct 26 (Reuters) - Europe's first direct curbs on ultrafast trading and investors who take bets on commodity prices moved a step nearer on Friday when the EU's parliament backed new securities rules.

Lawmakers want to tighten regulations on so-called high frequency trading (HFT), which uses computers to dart in and out of markets in the blink of an eye and exploit tiny price differences, because they fear it makes markets more volatile.

They are also cracking down on speculation in commodities markets in a bid to reduce big price swings.

Meeting in full session in Strasbourg, France, the parliament voted by 495 to 15 in favour of MiFID II, a draft law that updates EU securities rules to reflect lessons from the financial crisis and rapid advances in trading technology.

But it threw out an attempt to ban financial advisers from pocketing commission on the products they sell to consumers, sticking instead to requirements for better disclosure.

The new rules include the introduction a synchronised clock for trading shares, bonds, commodities and other instruments across the EU so regulators can spot abuses more easily in a market where many exchanges and platforms trade the same shares.

Share orders would have to remain in the market for at least 500 milliseconds, far longer than HFT traders stay at present.

"That way, purely speculative business with high-frequency transactions will become unattractive," said Markus Ferber, the centre-right lawmaker who is steering MiFID through parliament.

The parliament will now sit down with EU states to agree a final text that will become law around 2014, and the broad majority reinforces the lawmakers' negotiating hand.

Supporters of HFT argue it brings welcome volume to markets, making it easier for buyers and sellers to find counterparties.

The new rules also take aim at what some policymakers see as speculation in derivatives for commodities like food and oil by imposing caps on how many contracts can be held to avoid cornering markets.

Manufacturers who use derivatives to insure, or hedge, against risks of adverse price moves in raw materials would not be affected by the new position limits.

"A hedge fund, however, that only speculates on the price of steel, has no real need for that material and so his activities in the commodities markets should be limited", Ferber said.

The latest compromise of the draft law being circulated among EU states takes a similar position.

The World Development Movement (WDM), an anti-poverty group, said lawmakers left loopholes which risk making the curbs ineffective. The limits should apply to all commodity contracts and for their full duration, the WDM said.

Arlene McCarthy, a British centre-left lawmaker who proposed the EU-wide ban on financial product commission that was rejected on Friday, said relying on disclosure won't work. Britain is introducing its own ban on commissions from January.

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