AIMA Questions Systemic Importance of Funds

Introduction

On 11 January 2013, the Alternative Investment Management Association (“AIMA”) published its response to the EU Commission’s Consultation on a Possible Recovery and Resolution Framework for Financial Institutions Other than Banks (the “Consultation”).

Identifying Systemic Importance

AIMA supports the introduction of a robust and effective framework for dealing with the recovery and resolution of systemically important non-bank financial institutions, but believes that neither hedge fund managers nor asset managers are systemically important given their nature, size, activities and structures, as well as the regulatory environment in which they operate.  In contrast, it agrees that central counterparties (“CCPs”) are, in general, systemically important and that national insolvency laws are not adequate to address CCP failures.

Resolution Objectives

AIMA proposes that an alternative resolution objective be adopted in place of the main objective currently within the Consultation i.e. maintenance of critical functions. This alternative objective would stress the need to ensure the rapid and efficient liquidation of all open positions of all CCP members and the timely return of client monies.

Resolution Tools

AIMA is concerned that the tools designed for the resolution of banks or large investment firms are not suitable for CCP resolution.  It also advocates that certain aspects of the Recovery and Resolution Directive (“RRD”) be revisited, proposing that:

  • all CCP clearing members be subject to the RRD;
  • the main objectives of resolution under the RRD are amended to include the continuity of CCP services; and
  • haircuts not be applied to open derivative positions or to margin held by CCPs or clearing members.

AIMA regards the sale of business and asset separation tools as potentially unsuitable for CCPs primarily due to the lack of substitutability between CCPs and the practical difficulties in effecting a transfer of a failed CCPs services to a private sector purchaser.  With respect to the bridge institution tool, AIMA expresses concerns that the sheer operational complexity of CCP activities reduces the likelihood of a successful application of the tool.

AIMA also regards traditional bail-in as being unsuitable to a CCP resolution.  It believes that loss allocation mechanisms for CCPs must avoid the bail-in of open derivative positions held by CCPs and clearing members.  It also regards the haircutting of margin as undesirable, particularly the haircutting of variation margin for ‘in the money’ participants which it views as entirely arbitrary.  It considers that specific liquidity calls on clearing members implies unlimited liability (which may result in higher capital and liquidity charges on clearing members), may exacerbate pro-cyclicality and will potentially promote contagion.  Instead, AIMA stresses the importance of robust pre-failure capitalisation measures and the use of ex-ante resolution funds in order to avoid the need to apply such loss allocation/recapitalisation tools.

Conclusion

AIMA is right to question the application of this legislation to asset managers and hedge fund managers, although its argument that the use of ‘gates’ and ‘side pickets’ are factors which reduce systemic importance is a little difficult to follow at times.  In general, it is not easy to see how funds can legitimately be regarded as systemically important.  However, ‘gates’ and ‘side pockets’ are generally regarded as mechanisms allowing the manager of a fund to manage its liquidity risks, rather than reducing systemic relevance per se.  Indeed, the use of ‘gates’ and ‘side pockets’ can actually amplify systemic risk – particularly in the case of institutional investors unable to redeem investments from affected funds.

With respect to some of the other AIMA proposals, CCP membership itself is not a definitive indicator of systemic importance.  Moreover, whilst AIMA makes a number of valid observations on the subject of loss allocation, there needs to be a recognition that, if ex-ante arrangements fail, losses must be allocated somewhere.  The haircutting of margin, particularly variation margin, is indeed unpalatable.  However, in the absence of an ultimate backstop provided by the taxpayer, we are yet to see a better solution.

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