This Month in Finance: March 2010

Finance industry news briefs highlight research comeback for Oppenheimer and tightening of custody rules.


Wall Street

• Oppenheimer & Co. is going back to basics in research, building up consumer; energy; health care; industrials; and technology, media and telecommunications coverage, while cutting lagging sectors. “We need to make sure the department is more focused,” an Oppenheimer official says. The 40-analyst firm has let go analysts covering commercial real estate, exchange-traded funds and closed-end funds and enterprise infrastructure software. The beefed-up coverage appears to be timely. Ratings firm Fitch forecasts greater stability among retailers because of improved cash flow, although overall sales are anticipated to be flat or up only modestly. In TMT the development of low-cost Internet protocol video tools and free-market online distribution channels should give a boost to entertainment and marketing industries. Health care, meanwhile, is likely to boom, according to the National Center For Policy Analysis.

— Wall Street Letter

• Brokerages may soon face stricter custody rules. Staffers at the Securities and Exchange Commission’s Division of Trading and Markets are preparing recommendations to beef up current broker-dealer regulations. The proposals, which require full commission approval, follow new custody rules imposed late last year on investment advisers in the wake of the Bernard Madoff scandal. Under the rules being readied, broker-dealers would be required to answer a series of questions every quarter about their custody of customer assets and their relationships with investment advisers. Michael Macchiaroli, associate director of the trading and markets division, told delegates to a recent Practising Law Institute event in Washington that examiners from both the SEC and the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority would be able to make use of the survey responses in their investigations.

— Wall Street Letter

• The U.K. Financial Services Authority and H.M. Treasury want to extend the European Union’s market abuse directive to credit default swaps. In a recent submission to the House of Lords EU subcommittee on derivatives, Treasury and FSA officials supported increased regulation to curb manipulation of derivatives and specifically recommended that CDSs be brought under the abuse directive. The European Commission plans to review the directive, which could result in coverage being extended to derivatives and giving regulators power to set position limits. FSA and Treasury officials argue that incorporating CDSs into the market abuse directive is critical. Traders with inside access to information about a derivatives issuer’s financial position may opt to trade on that knowledge in the CDS market. “As trading in CDSs may be more liquid and less transparent, it could provide greater scope for concealing abusive activities,” notes a source familiar with the market.


— Total Securitization & Credit Investment

Real Estate

• The nascent U.S. property derivatives market is signaling positive commercial real estate returns following a 16 percent loss in 2009. “The derivatives market is implying that total returns for the coming year are going to be slightly positive,” says Jeremy Milim, head of U.S. real estate derivatives at GFI Group in New York. A calendar year 2010 swap on the National Council of Real Estate Investment Fiduciaries property index — which factors in both rental income and capital appreciation — is in positive territory.

NCREIF swap pricing proved a relatively accurate predictor of movement in the commercial real estate market last year.

— Real Estate Finance & Investment


• The European Council has proposed that hedge funds operating in Europe disclose how much leverage they employ through over-the-counter derivatives.

Last year the European Commision came out with a draft bill calling for much the same thing. Both the European Council and the European Commission are looking for ways to reduce the systemic risk putatively posed by alternative-investment managers.

However, the cost of implementing these changes could be steep. Jarkko Syyrila, a director in international relations at the Investment Management Association in London, believes that such a reporting regime would cost hedge funds hundreds of millions of pounds. “The cost is going to be substantial, especially as funds will have to implement reporting systems . . . compliance systems and officers, as well as extra personnel,” he explains. “It seems it’s just a move by politicians to protect the world from the evil hedge funds, even though they were not responsible for the financial crisis.”

— Derivatives Week