U.S. Markets

EU shows no sign of heeding U.S. threat over derivatives clearing

LONDON (Reuters) - The European Union is proposing to give the European Central Bank sweeping powers over foreign clearing houses in times of market stress, an EU document showed, as the bloc shows little sign of heeding U.S. calls to water down the plans.

FILE PHOTO: The headquarters of the European Central Bank (ECB) and the Frankfurt skyline with its financial district are photographed on early evening in Frankfurt, Germany, March 25, 2018. REUTERS/Kai Pfaffenbach/File Photo

The bloc has proposed changing the ECB’s statute to give it a broad role in the oversight of EU and foreign clearing houses that handle large amounts of euro-denominated securities. That would include those in London, which will lie outside the EU in five months’ time.

Now the current EU president Austria has proposed fleshing out the role with detailed powers, such as being able to force foreign clearing houses to “submit information, cooperate in the assessment of their resilience to adverse market conditions, and open overnight deposit accounts”, the document said.

The EU wants the changes approved in time for Britain's departure from the bloc next March. LCH, a unit of the London Stock Exchange LSE.L, dominates clearing of euro-denominated interest rate swaps and will be outside the EU.

In exceptional situations, the ECB could force a foreign clearing house to comply with temporary requirements on how much margin customers should post to back trades, the level of collateral, and how frequent intraday margins should be collected, tasks normally supervised by the home regulator.

Financial lawyers say this would, for example, give the ECB power to stop a foreign clearing house raising margins on euro-denominated positions in times of market stress.

The ECB has long been concerned that so much euro-denominated trade is already conducted outside the euro zone in London, and appears keen to bring this under its supervision after Brexit.

Some policymakers had wanted to stop a clearing house from increasing margins during the euro zone debt crisis, saying this amplified stress in markets.

The United States is unhappy about the EU plans.

Christopher Giancarlo, chairman of the U.S. Commodity Futures Trading Commission which regulates the American derivatives market, has threatened retaliation against EU financial firms if the bloc does not water down what he sees as overly intrusive proposals affecting U.S. clearers such as CME and ICE. [nL8N1WX2II]

The European Commission has dismissed this as “blackmail” and a working group of EU member state representatives could give the proposals the green light next Tuesday. [nL8N1WY6ZL]

Member states would then thrash out a final text with the European Parliament, which has already backed similar proposals.

Reporting by Huw Jones; editing by David Stamp