Battle Lines Drawn Over CCP Resolvability

Introduction

In the context of the continuing industry and regulator discussion regarding CCP resolvability, last week ISDA published a position paper entitled “CCP Loss Allocation at the End of the Waterfall”.  The paper addresses two scenarios:

  • “Default Losses” – i.e. losses that remain unallocated once the ‘default waterfall’ is exhausted following a clearing member (“CM”) default; and
  • “Non-default Losses” – i.e. losses that do not relate to a CM default but exceed the CCP’s financial resources above the minimum regulatory capital requirements.

Default Losses

ISDA recognises the importance of central clearing for standard OTC derivatives, the difficulty of achieving optimal CCP recovery and resolution and the fact that no loss allocation system can avoid allocating losses to CMs.  It takes the view that residual CCP losses should be borne not by the taxpayer, nor solely by surviving CMs who as guarantors have no control over losses.  Rather, ISDA believes that all CMs with mark-to-market gains since the onset of the CCP default should share the burden of CCP losses.  Accordingly, ISDA is an advocate of Variation Margin Gains Haircutting (“VMGH”) being applied at the end of the default waterfall.

Under a VMGH methodology, the CCP would impose a haircut on cumulative variation margin gains which have accumulated since the day of the CM default.  In doing so, ISDA believes that:

  • losses fall to those best able to control their loss allocation by flattening or changing their trade positions;
  • CMs with gains at risk are incentivised to assist in the default management process; and
  • in the event that the CCP runs out of resources, VMGH mimics the economics of insolvency.

ISDA believes that a VMGH methodology should not have an adverse impact on the ability of a CM to net exposures or gain the appropriate regulatory capital treatment for client positions held at the CCP[1].  In contrast to contractual tear-up provisions or forced allocation mechanisms, VMGH allows a CM to assume that its portfolio of cleared transactions outstanding as of any given date will be the same as of the point of a CCP’s insolvency (because there is no mechanism by which they can be extinguished prior to any netting process).  As such, because it has certainty with respect to its legal rights in the CCP’s insolvency, the CM should be able to conclude that netting sets remain enforceable.  In addition, to the extent that VMGH provides incremental resources to the CCP, ISDA believes that it effectively protects initial margin held at a CCP and therefore strengthens segregation.

In theory, VMGH should always be sufficient to cover a defaulting CM’s mark-to-market losses in the same period.  However, if in practice this was not the case (e.g. because the CCP was not able to determine a price for the defaulting CM’s portfolio) and in the absence of other CMs voluntarily assuming positions of the defaulting CM, ISDA advocates a full tear-up of all of the CCP’s contracts in the product line that has exhausted its waterfall resources and has reached 100% haircut of VM gains.  ISDA contends that there should be no forced allocation of contracts, invoicing back, partial non-voluntary tear-ups, or any other CCP actions that threaten netting.  Furthermore, prior to the point of non-viability, ISDA believes that resolution authorities should not be entitled to interfere with the CCP’s loss allocation provisions (as detailed within its rules) unless not doing so would severely increase systemic risk.

Non-default Losses

An example of Non-default Loss (“NDL”) would be operational failure.  ISDA views NDL in a different light to Default Losses believing there to be no justification for reallocating NDL amongst CMs and other CCP participants.  Accordingly, it does not believe that VMGH (or similar end-of-the-waterfall options) are appropriate for allocation of NDL.  Rather, it considers that NDL should be borne first by the holders of the CCP’s equity and debt.

Conclusion

The ISDA paper is a useful contribution to the ongoing discussion around CCP resolvability.  It suggests a sensible CCP default waterfall,[2] but is probably most noteworthy for its opposition to initial margin (“IM”) haircutting as a resolution tool.  In ISDA’s view, IM haircutting would distort segregation and “bankruptcy remoteness”.  In doing so it would have significant adverse regulatory capital implications and would create disincentives for general participation in the default management process.  In this sense, it adopts the opposite position to that detailed by the Committee on Payment and Settlement Systems (“CPSS”) and the International Organization of Securities Commission (“IOSCO”) in their recent consultative report on the Recovery of financial market infrastructures (see this blog post for more detail).  CPSS/IOSCO see IM haircutting as an effective tool which may facilitate access to a much larger pool of assets than VMGH.

There is general agreement on the principle that the taxpayer should never again have to pick up the tab following the failure of a systemically important firm.  On this basis alone, one suspects that IM haircutting will ultimately be included in the suite of resolution tools, if only to act as additional buffer between derivatives losses and the public purse.  In fairness, it’s difficult to see how a general tear-up of contracts is consistent with one of the underlying goals of CCP resolution – to ensure the continuity of critical services.  Ultimately, however, we will have to wait to see whether the contagion which may result from ISDA’s tear-ups outweighs the regulatory impact associated with CPSS/IOSCO’s IM haircutting.


[1] Pursuant to Article 306(1)(c) of the Capital Requirements Regulation, a CM will likely have to be able to pass on the impact of a CCP default to its clients in order to attract the appropriate regulatory capital treatment

[2] See page 8

CCP Loss-Allocation Rules Under the Microscope

This is a link to an article in risk magazine regarding CCP recovery planning, and specifically loss allocation rules.

The article highlights differing views within the market regarding the extent to which loss-allocation rules within a recovery (but not necessarily a resolution) scenario should be flexible or prescriptive in nature.  The article points to a paper published by the Bank of England in April 2013, which states that loss-allocation rules should provide a full and comprehensive description of the way in which losses would be allocated and be capable of being implemented quickly.

CCP loss-allocation rules play an important part in the recovery of financial market infrastructures, such as CCPs.  However, as the CPSS/IOSCO paper on Recovery and resolution of financial market infrastructures makes clear, they are not one and the same thing.  General recovery planning options must remain flexible in nature so as to allow firms to respond appropriately to financial stress scenarios the exact nature of which are impossible to determine before the event.  Nonetheless, account must be taken of clearing members, given their systemic importance and the need for them to be able to effectively manage their own risks.  As such, it must surely be the case that CCP loss allocation rules applied as part of the recovery process must provide a clear, detailed and transparent description of the way in which clearing members which would be liable for shortfalls at the CCP.

CCP Loss Allocation Rules

This is a link to an interesting paper published by the Bank of England relating to CCP loss allocation rules (first spotted over on The OTC Space).  The paper explains the reasons why CCPs must maintain a matched book at all times and the process typically followed on the occurrence of a clearing member default.  It also provides a useful discussion of the pros and cons associated with various loss-allocation options (particularly around cash calls from clearing members, margin haircutting and contract tear-up) as well as a helpful summary of existing loss-allocation rules of various CCPs, presented in tabular form.

Although it doesn’t provide any answers, the paper does proffer a set of principles, designed to guide CCPs in designing loss-allocation rules.  It notes that the Bank of England will have regard to these principles in assessing the suitability of CCPs’ loss-allocation rules.  In summary, the principles state that:

  • loss-allocation rules should provide a full and comprehensive description of the way in which losses would be allocated – they should be clear, transparent and capable of being implemented quickly;
  • tear-up of contracts should be a last resort to prevent the disorderly failure of the CCP;
  • where tear-up is used, it should as far as possible be isolated to the affected clearing services so as to limit the risk of contagion;
  • loss-allocation rules should positively incentivise participation by clearing members (for example in auctions) and avoid incentives to resign membership (which may prove to be destabilising);
  • loss-allocation rules should not disincentivise effective risk management by CCPs, for example by imposing losses solely on participants and not shareholders; and
  • loss-allocation rules should not compromise the CCP’s risk management of open positions, for example by ensuring the replacement of initial margin which has been made subject to a haircut.