Traders Warn US CFTC About Vague Bans on Practices

By Christopher Doering and Roberta Rampton

WASHINGTON, Dec 2 (Reuters) – The U.S. futures regulator asked traders on Thursday how best to define trading practices now banned in a new Wall Street reform law, but got little clarity from the experts, who fear an overly restrictive crack-down.

The Commodity Futures Trading Commission is grappling with how to give markets more direction on how they intend to carry out a ban in the Dodd-Frank law on three disruptive practices — and whether regulators should go further and rein in high-frequency traders.

Beginning in July, the CFTC is required by the Dodd-Frank act to ban trading practices, including “banging the close”, acquiring a big position and then offsetting it before trading ends, and “spoofing,” when a trader makes bids or offers but cancels them before execution.

The CFTC wants to “put more meat on the bone” on how it will enforce the ban, said Robert Pease, an attorney in the agency’s enforcement division.

At a day-long public meeting, panelists said the rules  must remove grey areas so firms know how to run their trading practices without fear they will be violating the law.

New regulations must be “crystal clear, and allow firms to put in the procedures and processes to ensure that they’re not engaging in activity that would have that character,” Adam Nunes of Hudson River Trading Group told the panel.

But traders and academics had few suggestions for what those rules should be, despite repeated questions from some of the agency’s top enforcement staffers.

“It is dangerous to be pigeon-holed with too many rules,” said Rajiv Fernando, chief executive of Chopper Trading.



The CFTC’s new powers have taken on greater public profile in the wake of the May 6 “flash crash” where algorithmic trading was seen as a contributing factor to volatility.

Traders warned that imposing new types of controls could threaten liquidity, making markets thinner and more volatile.

“We are worried you will drive out the good with the bad and we will lose liquidity,” said John Hyland, chief investment officer at the United States Commodity Funds.

Traders said the CFTC needs to look at patterns of trade over time, and closely examine intent — something that historically has been difficult for the CFTC to prove, and may be getting even more difficult with new technology, said Joel Hasbrouck, a business professor at New York University.

Greg Mocek, a former enforcement chief at the CFTC and now a partner at McDermott Will & Emery in Washington, said unless the definition of these trading practices is clear, it would create problems for both traders and the agency.

“The vagueness is going to chill legitimate trading, there’s no doubt about it,” said Mocek, who spoke for the Commodity Markets Council.

“The vagueness is also going to impede the ability of the enforcement division to bring cases,” he said.



Although a government review of May 6 did not blame high-frequency traders, the Securities and Exchange Commission and CFTC are under pressure to rein in the rapid traders, who use computer-driven algorithms.

High-frequency trading may account for 60 percent of U.S. futures trade by the end of 2010, according to one estimate — a dramatic shift from traditional pit-dominated trade.

DRW Trading Chief Executive Don Wilson said the CFTC should require high-frequency traders to have good risk-management practices to ensure algorithms don’t run amok, but stopped short of suggesting mandatory pre-trade testing for algos.

“Algorithmic traders that have not put in place reasonable procedures to ensure that something like this doesn’t happen absolutely should be held accountable,” Wilson said.

While high-frequency traders argued their orders helped make markets efficient, New York University’s Hasbrouck said the CFTC should look for ways to slow the market down.

“This is ultimately an arms race,” he said.

“The race to be first is ultimately more unstable than people simply people trying to be fast because they deliver more value to their customer,” Hasbrouck said.

Tyson Slocum, a director at Public Citizen’s Energy Program who works on energy issues, said regulators should put some brakes on high-frequency trades.

“We need to question whether or not these advances in technologies employed with high frequency trading and these complex algorithms are far beyond the ability of (regulators) to be able to protect consumers from abusive practices,” he said. (Editing by Alden Bentley) (( ; +202 898 8394 Reuters messaging:


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