Wednesday, October 27, 2010

CFTC Unveils New Rules for Market Manipulation

Now that the dust has settled from the passing of Dodd-Frank, federal agencies are beginning the arduous task of complying with its laundry list of new provisions, which require various rulemakings and studies to be completed over the next year. The Commodities Futures Trading Commission is no exception.

The CFTC is currently working on rulemaking in 30 different topic areas. The most recent rule proposals were announced Tuesday, October 26, 2010. The new rules are focused on preventing manipulative and disruptive trading in commodities markets, such as precious metals, natural gas, and agricultural products.

The CFTC’s new rules regarding market manipulation create a new prohibition that bans all fraud-based market manipulation derived from “intentional and reckless conduct” that deceives or defrauds market participants, including making false or misleading statements of material facts, omitting material facts, and knowingly providing false or misleading information regarding crops or conditions that affect commodities. According to Commissioner Bart Chilton, the new rule is intended to be a “broad, catch-all” for violations that would otherwise fall through the existing “gaps” in market manipulation rules.

Currently, there is a four-prong test for manipulation that requires (1) showing that prices were outside the bounds of normal supply and demand (i.e. “artificial”), (2) proving that the actor has the ability to cause an “artificial price”, (3) showing that the actor took actions to cause the artificial price, and (4) that those acts be intentional.

On its face, the new rule language lowers this existing standard for proving manipulation from specific intent to recklessness. The penalties include a $1 million fine or triple the monetary gain, whichever is greater, and restitution to customers.

If approved, the proposed rules will expand the CFTC’s authority to the OTC market. These rules come partly in response to the recent allegations of manipulation in the silver market. (The CFTC announced that it would release more information on its investigation soon.) Although partially aimed at the OTC precious metals markets, the proposed rules are not intended to reach into retail OTC precious metals transactions.

The comment period for the new rules will be open for 60 days.

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