On 8th May 2018, CPMI-IOSCO released anonymised updates on the three critical risk areas where central clearing houses are scrambling to meet the business and regulatory demands as set forth in the 2014 Principles for Financial Market Infrastructures (‘PFMIs’). These three are recovery, coverage of financial resources, and liquidity stress testing.

In April, the global banking and capital markets authorities together announced a mid-course correction to their work transforming central counterparty clearing of OTC derivatives contracts. In their search in 2009 for the answer to the ‘OTC counterparty risk problem’ that had so brutally hit the world’s financial system and economy, the authorities grasped at a notion then circulating in central banking circles: if clearing houses had proven themselves able to manage the risk of on-exchange transactions during the market turmoil of 2008 and the failure of Lehman Brothers, then they ought to be called upon to do the same for the off-exchange business that had gone off the rails.

Thomas Murray has always understood and supported the value of bespoke OTC derivatives contracts, which meet highly specific economic needs not found in the regulated marketplaces. What cannot be overlooked, however, is that OTC derivatives contributed significantly to the Global Financial Crisis of 2007-2009. One factor behind this contribution was the poor information on bilateral positions. Contracts had not been confirmed with counterparties, different terms were noted on contract notes, and on and on the information gaps went: there was no overall picture in the autumn of 2008 as to who owed what to whom, and what a given counterparty’s positions and ability to meet its commitments were, not to mention the sudden realisation that nobody knew the true value of the contacts. And so the OTC markets largely froze.

We are no longer in an age of brokers trading shares in a splendid baroque room in Amsterdam, under a willow tree in lower Manhattan, or in the coffee houses of London. We are no longer in an age of imposing 19th century bourgeois edifices lining Europe’s most important boulevards, underscoring the central position of finance - of stocks and bonds - for national economies as a keystone of Victorian social progress. And we are no longer in an age of outbound transfer of European thinking and law about securities finance to nearly every corner of the world – almost no matter what the political structure in place, the idea of marketable securities seems to have won the day. And it carries on, often in unlikely circumstances where the “soil” would have seemed too shallow for this “plant” to take root.

We are in an age where the price discovery of securities is being led by algorithmic computer programs. Most likely, we have been in this age for longer than we realized; certainly, it has been coming on for decades. The Computer Assisted Trading (“CAT”) software developed in Toronto is generally recognized as having been the first such electronic trading system established in a central, regulated marketplace. It was introduced in the now distant year of 1977, a full 40 years ago.

Agreed and launched in 2012, the CPMI-IOSCO Principles for Financial Market Infrastructures (‘PFMIs’) require that all central securities depositories (CSDs), central clearing houses (CCPs), payment systems, and trade repositories perform a very detailed self-assessment of how well they observe these global standards. The self-assessments are meant to be published as a matter of enforcing transparency on these systemically critical systems, and also to reassure the markets and public that these national institutions are meeting a consistent set of minimum standards. The PFMIs are one set of the body of standards orchestrated by the Financial Stability Board on behalf of G20 governments.


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