New US CFTC head says he will be tough cop, tweak rules

The new head of the U.S. derivatives regulator on Thursday pledged he would be a tough cop now that the agency has largely finished a raft of new rules to oversee the $710 trillion global swaps market.

Tim Massad
Andrew Harrer | Bloomberg | Getty Images
Tim Massad

Tim Massad, who took the helm at the Commodity Futures Trading Commission in June, also said he would tweak any rules designed to rein in Wall Street firms if they made it harder for others, such as energy companies that use derivatives to hedge risk, to access the market.

"One of my priorities will be to make sure these markets still work very well for the commercial companies, the non-financial companies, who had nothing to do with the crisis and who rely on this market very heavily,'' Massad said.

"You're going to see us make some changes and do some tinkering,'' he said in a public interview with Politico in his first major appearance since he took the job.

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Under Massad's predecessor, Gary Gensler, the CFTC has written a raft of new rules for the swaps market, which stood at the center of the 2007-09 financial collapse. Swaps had been unregulated since their inception in the 1980s.

Massad also said that he would work with foreign regulators to harmonize rules globally, an issue that caused a row between U.S. and foreign regulators under Gensler.

Bankers and their lobbyists are keen for any sign that Massad will ease up on Gensler's tough stance, but he said the changes would not amount to a "wholesale revision.''

A live market monitor is viewed on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange (NYSE).
Spencer Platt | Getty Images
A live market monitor is viewed on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange (NYSE).

A former lawyer who oversaw the U.S. government's $700 billion bank bailout program, Massad said it was time to make sure that banks lived by the new rules.

"We'll be very aggressive in our compliance and enforcement,'' Massad said. He mentioned enforcement first when asked to list his top priorities on the job.

This week, the CFTC fined JPMorgan $650,000 for inaccurate reporting on futures positions.

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The CFTC is litigating a number of high-profile cases that may go to trial, including a lawsuit against former New Jersey Governor Jon Corzine, whom it accuses of failing to oversee staff at MF Global, which he headed, when it collapsed in one of the largest U.S. bankruptcies.

The agency is probing whether banks were trying to dodge part of the new U.S. rules for swaps trading by shifting them to units abroad that are not guaranteed by the parents, or by taking away the guarantee in individual trades.

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"We'll see what we get from that and then decide what actions to take,'' Massad said.

Massad said he would work with foreign regulators to coordinate rules so that agencies around the world could rely on each other to supervise local entities of foreign banks and their trading with local clients.

Gensler had a notoriously difficult relationship with foreign regulators, particularly those in Europe.

— By Reuters