First the SEC, Now the CFTC

The Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act is getting ready to land its second regulatory punch to private equity funds. The first was the registration requirement with the Securities and Exchange Commission. The second is the upcoming registration requirement with the Commodities Futures Trading Commission.

Two recent developments pull fund managers into the CFTC’s world. The first is the inclusion of interest rate and foreign exchange swap transactions into the regulatory oversight of the CFTC. That’s part of the Dodd-Frank regulation of derivatives. The second is the repeal of a popular exemption from registration. That exemption was available for funds that were limited to investors that were accredited investors and qualified eligible persons. That exemption will cease to be available after December 31, 2012.

Title VII (the “Derivatives Act”) of Dodd-Frank creates a new framework for regulating derivatives. Securities derivatives get SEC oversight, but non-securities derivatives get CFTC oversight.

Under the Commodity Exchange Act, as amended by the Derivatives Act, swaps are now considered “commodity interests” and need to be considered when determining whether an entity is a “commodity pool” and whether the operator or adviser to the entity is a Commodity Pool Operator or Commodity Trading Advisor.

  • A “Commodity Pool” is “any investment trust, syndicate, or similar form of enterprise operated for the purpose of trading in commodity interests, including any… commodity for future delivery, security futures product, or swap. . .””
  • A “Commodity Pool Operator” (a “CPO”) is any person “engaged in a business that is of the nature of a commodity pool…and who, in connection therewith, solicits, accepts or receives from others, funds, securities or property. . .for the purpose of trading in commodity interests, including any… commodity for future delivery, security futures product or swap. . .”
  • A “Commodity Trading Advisor” (a “CTA”) is any person “who, for compensation or profit, engages in the business of advising others. . . as to the value of or advisability of trading in… any contract of sale of a commodity for future delivery, security futures product, or swap . . .””

I don’t think most private equity funds would consider themselves to be “trading” in commodity interests. However, the CFTC release indicates that entering into a single commodity interest transaction would be sufficient to cause a fund to be a Commodity Pool. So, a fund that enters into a single interest rate hedge could be treated as a Commodity Pool and the adviser of the fund would have to register as a CPO or CTA, or establish an available exemption.

I would guess that the CFTC will have a few thousand new registrants by the end of the year. Fortunately, there is another exemption that should allow many funds to avoid the full regulatory oversight of the CFTC. More on that later.