US Treasury outlines sweeping reform of capital markets

US Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin arrives to take part in a moment of silence for the victims of the Las Vegas shootings, on the South Lawn of the White House on Oct 2, 2017 in Washington, DC. PHOTO: AFP

WASHINGTON (REUTERS) - The US Treasury on Friday (Oct 6) unveiled a blueprint for sweeping reforms of the US capital markets as it looks to implement Republican President Donald Trump's agenda to promote economic growth by slashing red tape.

The report recommends a raft of measures to encourage companies to seek public listings, to promote company access to capital, and to give investors a wider array of investment opportunities, in what is likely to be a boon for small business, banks, brokers and crowd-funding platforms.

It also called for regulators to put US interests first when engaging in international regulatory forums.

"The US has experienced slow economic growth for far too long," said Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin.

"By streamlining the regulatory system, we can make the US capital markets a true source of economic growth which will harness American ingenuity and allow small businesses to grow."

The 232-page report largely steers clear of proposing legislative changes that would have to be passed by a divided Congress, instead focusing on tweaks that could be made relatively quickly by the country's two markets regulators, which are both led by Trump appointees.

Christopher Giancarlo, chairman of the Commodity Futures Trading Commission (CFTC) and Jay Clayton, chairman of the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC), said in statements on Friday that they had provided extensive input to the "thoughtful"report and supported its recommendations.

Friday's report is the second of four expected from the Treasury as it completes a comprehensive review of existing financial rules, as mandated by an executive order Trump signed in February.

The first report, released in June, sought to promote lending by easing banking regulations outlined under the 2010 Dodd-Frank Act, with major parts requiring legislative revisions that are unlikely to be passed with Democrats fiercely opposed.

Friday's report, in contrast, outlines a broad range of 91 technical fixes aimed at boosting stock, bond and derivatives markets. All but nine can be put into effect by the country's federal regulatory agencies, who were consulted on the report.

The recommendations were met with quick praise from financial industry groups, who said capital markets regulations were also long overdue for a review.

"Efficient capital markets are at the core of a growing and prosperous economy. The Treasury Department's report offers a blueprint to unlock the resources needed to spur economic growth and job creation," said David Hirschmann, president and CEO of the US Chamber of Commerce's Center for Capital Markets Effectiveness.

Disclosure Rules

The Treasury proposes streamlining disclosure and compliance requirements for companies that are both publicly-listed and which are looking to go public, in bid to reduce a secular downward trend in initial public offerings.

It also proposes scrapping a Dodd-Frank rule requiring public companies to disclose information about the potential conflict minerals in their products, and the ratio between the pay for top executives and the company's average worker.

To boost small companies' access to capital, the report recommends loosening the rules around crowd-funding, and suggests revising the definition of an "accredited investor" in order to provide more opportunities for mom and pop investors. The Treasury also waded into the long-running debate over equity market structure, proposing the SEC review share-tick sizes, order types, exchange fee models, and how exchanges themselves operate and are governed.

To reduce regulatory duplication and bring the United States more in line with other markets, the report calls for the SEC and CFTC to work more closely and harmonise their rules, but stopped short of recommending a merger of the two - something policymakers have called for in the past.

"The focus on harmonising rule sets... is a vital part of efforts to reduce the compliance burden for derivatives end users," Scott O'Malia, chief executive of bank group the International Swaps and Derivatives Association and a former CFTC commissioner, said in a statement.

Derivatives dealers also stand to gain from a recommendation to relax rules around swaps trading and the cash they must post against derivatives trades.

While banks, brokers and small companies have cheered the report, many of the requirements are likely to draw criticism from public advocacy groups worried they may reduce investor protections, and open the door for banks to pursue risky trading behaviour once again.

"It's almost uniformly deregulatory. It calls for cutting back on post-crisis Dodd-Frank rules," said Marcus Stanley, policy director for Americans for Financial Reform. "It's quite dangerous."

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