U.S. fund industry sees modest wins in final Volcker rule

Wed Dec 11, 2013 2:57am EST

A sign for Wall Street is seen with a giant American flag in the background across from the New York Stock Exchange November 5, 2012. REUTERS/Chip East

A sign for Wall Street is seen with a giant American flag in the background across from the New York Stock Exchange November 5, 2012.

Credit: Reuters/Chip East

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(Reuters) - Banks and asset managers scored some small victories after U.S. regulators narrowed the scope of a provision in the Volcker rule that restricts banks' ownership stake in hedge funds and private equity funds.

The final version of the Volcker rule, required by the 2010 Dodd-Frank Wall Street reform law, strives to draw a much clearer line for what qualifies as a hedge fund or private equity fund.

Regulators decided to exempt certain funds after Wall Street complained that an earlier draft would have applied to an unnecessarily broad swath of the industry, including many commodity pools, foreign registered mutual funds, securitized loans and corporate structures such as joint ventures.

"There were some successful efforts to deal with some unintended overreaching aspects of the proposed regulation," said Mark Nuccio, an attorney at Ropes & Gray in Boston.

The final version adopted by five regulatory agencies on Tuesday excludes publicly offered foreign funds, insurance company accounts, certain corporate vehicles, loan securitizations and a broader array of commodity pools.

"Regulators appear to have heard our concerns," said Paul Schott Stevens, the chief executive of the Investment Company Institute, an industry group.

Ken Spain, the vice president of public affairs for the Private Equity Growth Capital Council, also said he was optimistic about the rule.

"On first review, it appears that the regulators have addressed a series of important changes," he said.

The Volcker rule is among the most controversial provisions of Dodd-Frank. The measure seeks to limit the type of Wall Street risk-taking that helped land banks in trouble during the 2007-2009 financial crisis.

While much bank angst has been directed at the restrictions on proprietary trades for banks' own profits, the rule also prohibits banks from owning more than 3 percent of any individual hedge fund or private equity fund. It also bans banks from investing more than 3 percent of their total equity capital in private funds.

As regulators struggled for years to finalize the complex rule, some banks have been proactive in complying with the reform.

JPMorgan said in June it was spinning off its last remaining private equity business, One Equity Partners. Morgan Stanley in 2011 spun off most of its ownership in the $4.5 billion hedge fund FrontPoint Partners.

Experts said other firms were waiting to see if the final version would be scaled back before dumping other businesses.

One regulatory insider noted that the original version of the Volcker rule was so broad possibly in part because lawmakers did not consult with investment management experts at the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission while writing Dodd-Frank.

Robert Plaze, a former deputy director of the SEC's investment management division, said the agency didn't even originally realize the full extent of their fund-related responsibilities under the Volcker rule until after Dodd-Frank became law.

Also, when the original Volcker proposal was drafted, the SEC "didn't have much data on the types or number of hedge funds or private equity funds" that would be covered, he added.

Not every entity that hoped for exemptions got them. Venture capital funds, credit funds, cash management vehicles and cash collateral pools were included as "covered funds."

Until now, venture capital funds were largely spared from many of the other regulatory burdens that hedge funds and private equity funds face today. But the political view of venture capitalists as job creators, which protected them while Dodd-Frank was being written, may have faded, said Bruce Ettelson, a partner with Kirkland & Ellis.

"People are less concerned about the job creation element in 2013 than they were previously," he said.

(Reporting by Sarah N. Lynch, with additional reporting by Ross Kerber in Boston and Dan Wilchins in New York; Editing by Phil Berlowitz)