New Commission opinion on EU sanctions and “making available”: the impact of a non-sanctioned company and its subsidiaries of having a Designated Person director

On 8 June 2021, the European Commission published an opinion on Article 2(2) of Council Regulation (EU) No 269/2014 of 17 March 2014 (the “Regulation”). The Regulation imposes an asset freeze on certain Russian individuals and entities in response to the situation in Ukraine. Article 2(2) contains the standard EU asset freeze wording providing that “no funds or economic resources shall be made available, directly or indirectly, to or for the benefit of” the designated persons listed in Annex I to the Regulation. Continue reading

Operational Resilience: respond, enhance, thrive

Operational resilience is the next phase in the evolution of financial services regulatory policy.

Regulators’ expectations are increasing – but it’s an evolution rather than a revolution; firms – more specifically firms’ senior managers – must “join the dots” across a range of practical risk management and governance activities.

To help keep you up to date on the upcoming regulatory expectations, we are pleased to announce the launch of our new #OperationalResilience hub. Continue reading

Brexit and Financial Services: 2021 Update

The UK and EU finalised the Trade and Cooperation Agreement (“TCA”) that governs their future trading and security relationship on 24 December 2020. The TCA offers minimal commitments on financial services and even excludes financial services from some general protections that otherwise apply under the TCA. At the same time, in a non-binding declaration, the UK and EU agreed to enter into a memorandum of understanding by March 2021 on the establishment of a cooperation framework. Continue reading

Payment Systems Regulator focuses on innovation in payments with the New Payments Architecture

Genevieve Marjoribanks, Head of Policy at the Payment Systems Regulator (PSR), delivered an insightful speech to the Westminster Business eForum this week on innovation in payments and the next steps for digital payments in the UK. One of the PSR’s three key objectives is to promote the development of and innovation in payment systems, including the infrastructures that are used for these systems.

The PSR will be issuing a draft policy statement later this year. Businesses which are active in the payments space or rely on Bacs or Faster Payments technology should consider feeding in views on the proposed changes and future regulatory approach.

The New Payments Architecture (NPA) is a key priority for the PSR. The aim is to achieve an ambitious Blueprint plan set out by the Payment Strategy Forum (Forum) of developing a more innovative and competitive interbank payments environment, underpinned by a resilient and sustainable infrastructure. To this end, Faster Payments and Bacs systems will be moved to use central infrastructure that uses the global ISO20022 messaging standard which has or will be adopted for payments in the Single Euro Payments Area (SEPA), USA and Australia. The PSR believes that ISO20022 will bring increased interoperability, competition and richer data capabilities.

Similarly, Pay.UK and the Bank of England (BoE) have been working to define a ‘Common Credit Message’ for domestic payments using the ISO20022 standard which will provide for increased consistency and interoperability across the UK’s wholesale and retail payments systems. By upgrading the UK’s interbank payments services to use the global ISO20022 messaging standard for, and enabling other enhancements contained in the Forum’s Blueprint, such as promoting innovation through the use of Application Programming Interfaces (APIs), the PSR believes the UK’s position as a payments leader will be maintained.

Developing the NPA ecosystem sits with Pay.UK which is consulting existing Bacs and Faster Payments participants, as well as future users. Implementation will require careful consideration, weighing up the potential innovation benefits to users versus costs and risks, particularly as both the industry and wider economy that it serves is facing a period of uncertainty given recent events such as Brexit and the COVID-19 outbreak.

Clive Cunningham
Clive Cunningham
Partner, London
+44 20 7466 2278
Mark Staley
Mark Staley
Senior Associate, London
+44 20 7466 7621
Katie McGrory
Katie McGrory
Associate, London
+44 20 7466 2669

COVID-19: Temporary bans on short selling in the EU come to an end

Those national regulators in the EU which had put in place temporary restrictions on any short selling of securities admitted to trading on regulated markets in their jurisdictions have all confirmed that the prohibitions will not be extended. However, firms should be aware that ESMA’s temporary lower net short reporting threshold will remain in force until 16 June.

National regulators – end of temporary bans on short selling

The regulators in France, Belgium, Spain, Austria and Greece have confirmed that the bans on short selling will not be extended and will expire at 11.59 pm on 18 May. The Italian regulator has also confirmed it will end the prohibition one month earlier than its original 18 June deadline at 11.59pm 18 May (in line with the other jurisdictions).

The below summary table sets out the details of each jurisdiction’s prohibition.

Jurisdiction Latest national regulator public statement Date prohibition imposed Prohibition imposed until
France AMF 18 March 18 May
Belgium FSMA 17 March 18 May
Spain CNMV 17 March 18 May
Austria FMA 18 March 18 May
Greece HCMC 17 March 18 May
Italy CONSOB 18 March 18 May

ESMA – Lower net short reporting threshold still in place

While local regulators now plan to lift the bans on short selling, ESMA has confirmed that its decision to lower the threshold at which persons who hold net short positions in companies whose shares are admitted to trading on an EU regulated market must report to national regulators to 0.1% of the issued share capital (down from 0.2%) will remain in place until 16 June.

More information about the measures put in place can be found at our previous blogpost available here.

Clive Cunningham
Clive Cunningham
Partner, London
+44 20 7466 2278
Nick May
Nick May
Partner, London
+44 20 7466 2617
Mark Staley
Mark Staley
Senior Associate, London
+44 20 7466 7621
Emma Reid
Emma Reid
Associate, London
+44 20 7466 2633

COVID-19: Short selling restrictions and other reporting developments in the EU

[This post was last updated on 16 April 2020 to reflect the extensions to the temporary bans on short selling by EU national regulators]

SHORT SELLING REGULATION

During this unprecedented period of disruption, the European Securities and Markets Authority (ESMA) and other national regulators have taken various extraordinary steps to address the risks faced by financial markets in the EU.

In the past week, ESMA has issued a decision amending the notification threshold for net short positions under the EU Short Selling Regulation (SSR), with some local regulators also imposing temporary prohibitions on short selling transactions. While there has not been any change in the way that the underlying legislation operates, the practical impact of these steps will restrict activity in some markets. Firms involved in short selling need to adjust for the increased transparency obligations.

 1. ESMA – new short thresholds

On 16 March, ESMA published its decision to lower the threshold at which persons who hold net short positions in companies whose shares are admitted to trading on an EU regulated market must report to national regulators to 0.1% of the issued share capital (down from 0.2%).

This lower threshold applies automatically across all EU countries. It will be in place for three months, although ESMA may extend this. Certain exemptions continue to apply, including:

  • net short positions arising from market making and stabilisation activities; and
  • net short positions held in shares admitted to trading on an EU regulated market where the principal venue for the trading of the shares is located in a third (ie non-EU) country.

 2. National regulators –  temporary bans on short selling

In addition to the new EU-wide lowered reporting threshold, national regulators in certain EU jurisdictions have implemented temporary restrictions on any short selling of securities admitted to trading on regulated markets in their jurisdictions (both new and increasing net short positions). A summary table showing the relevant jurisdictions and duration of each prohibition is below:

Jurisdiction Latest national regulator public statement Date prohibition imposed Prohibition imposed until
France AMF 18 March 18 May
Belgium FSMA 17 March 18 May
Spain CMNV 17 March 18 May
Austria FMA 18 March 18 May
Greece HCMC 17 March 18 May
Italy CONSOB 18 March 18 June

Generally, those short selling transactions undertaken by market makers are exempt, and special provisions apply to index-related instruments. However, as these prohibitions are applied on a national (not EU-wide basis) firms will need to confirm the scope and application of the bans in each of the relevant jurisdictions (including any subsequent clarificatory guidance which may be published).

 3. Position in the UK

The FCA has applied ESMA’s amendment to the reporting threshold for net short selling positions (i.e. lowered from 0.2% to 0.1%). However, in a statement made by the FCA on 17 March 2020, firms were told to continue to report data in the UK using the previous threshold until further notice, while the FCA made the necessary technological changes in how it receives the data. Since then, the FCA has confirmed that the required changes have been made and that it will be ready to receive notifications at the lower threshold from 6 April 2020. Firms are not required to amend and resubmit notifications submitted to the FCA between 16 March 2020 and 3 April 2020. Firms should make best efforts to report at the lower threshold from 6 April 2020. Firms should contact the FCA if they are unable to amend their systems by this date.

The FCA has not as yet implemented any specific restrictions on short selling in shares admitted to trading in the UK[1]. In a number of recent statements, the FCA noted that it has never initiated an outright ban on short selling UK shares under SSR, and would set a high bar on imposing any such ban, but could not rule out that this might become appropriate in certain circumstances.

While the FCA’s statements do not suggest that a ban on short selling on shares admitted to UK regulated markets is imminent, firms should continue to monitor regulatory statements on this topic, as changes may be imposed on short notice.

 4. Non-EU markets

Firms should note that non-EU markets might have their own short selling reporting requirements/restrictions and monitor these accordingly.

DELAYS TO SECURITIES FINANCING TRANSACTIONS REGULATION (SFTR) REPORTING REQUIREMENTS

ESMA postpones implementation of reporting under SFTR

On 18 March, ESMA postponed the Securities Financing Transactions (SFT) reporting obligation start date from 13 April 2020, in light of COVID-19 disruption on wider implementation projects.

Trade repositories are also not required to be registered by 13 April 2020. All relevant parties (including trade repositories, entities responsible for reporting and investment firms) should be prepared for compliance by 13 July 2020, when the next phase of the reporting regime begins.

[1]       With the exception of imposing a one day ban on certain Spanish and Italian securities following a request from CNMV and CONSOB on 13 March 2020.

 

Clive Cunningham
Clive Cunningham
Partner, London
+44 20 7466 2278
Nick May
Nick May
Partner, London
+44 20 7466 2617
Mark Staley
Mark Staley
Senior Associate, London
+44 20 7466 7621
Emma Reid
Emma Reid
Associate, London
+44 20 7466 2633

Budget commitment to implement Basel standards and updated investment firms prudential regime

The Chancellor of the Exchequer delivered the 2020 Budget to Parliament on 11 March 2020. This includes a package of related policy documents, many of which highlight planned reforms to the financial services sector.

Of particular note for banks and investment firms is the policy statement on prudential standards published by HM Treasury, which confirms the government’s intention to implement:

  • CRD V and the related Basel III banking standards through powers in the forthcoming Financial Services Bill, including the more recent “Basel 3.1” reforms not incorporated within the EU CRR II regulation; and
  • an updated prudential regime for investment firms in the UK. The policy statement notes the instrumental role played by the UK Government in developing the EU prudential regime for investment firms (ie the Investment Firms Directive and Regulation), although there is no specific commitment to closely mirror the EU regime, or indeed the CRR II rules.

The possibility of divergence in approach is also hinted at in the closing comments, which note that HM Treasury is conducting a review to determine how the regulatory framework will need to adapt to the UK’s position outside of the EU, including examining the ongoing allocation of regulatory responsibilities between Parliament, HM Treasury and the regulators. Both the Government and the regulators will consult on proposals to implement the various prudential reforms “in due course”.

Clive Cunningham
Clive Cunningham
Partner, London
+44 20 7466 2278
Katherine Dillon
Katherine Dillon
Of Counsel, London
+44 20 7466 2522

MiFID II/MiFIR Review

Two years after MiFID II and MiFIR started to apply, the MiFID review process has begun, with both the European Commission and the European Securities and Markets Authority (ESMA) having recently published consultations on the framework.

European Commission consultation

The European Commission has launched a public consultation on the review of the MiFID II/MIFIR regulatory framework.  This consultation uses a questionnaire format divided into two main sections.  The first section covers general questions on the overall functioning of MiFID II/MiFIR, with the second section covering specific questions on “priority” and “non-priority” topics (see below). Continue reading

UK and EU set out their stalls on equivalence and the future trade deal (or no deal…?)

On 26 February 2020, the UK Government published its approach to UK’s future relationship with the EU.

The sections on financial services in the UK’s approach document are set out below:

Chapter 16: Financial Services

  1. The Agreement should promote financial stability, market integrity, and investor and consumer protection for financial services, providing a predictable, transparent, and business-friendly environment for cross-border financial services business.
  1. The Agreement should include legally binding obligations on market access and fair competition, in line with recent CETA precedent.
  1. The Agreement should also build on recent precedent, such as the EU-Japan EPA and international best practice, by establishing regulatory cooperation arrangements that maintain trust and understanding between our autonomous systems of regulation as they evolve. This could include appropriate consultation and structured processes for the withdrawal of equivalence findings, to facilitate the enduring confidence which underpins trade in financial services.

Equivalence in Financial Services

  1. The UK and the EU have committed to carrying out unilateral equivalence assessments for financial services, distinct from the CFTA. The fact that the UK leaves the EU with the same rules provides a strong basis for concluding comprehensive equivalence assessments before the end of June 2020.

Unsurprisingly, these are brief and outcomes-focused in nature, reflecting the Government’s approach more generally and the desire for “autonomous systems of regulation” (as preserved under the EU-Japan Economic Partnership Agreement)  rather than close alignment. The comments on equivalence do serve as a reminder to the EU that the UK will nonetheless be starting from a position of close alignment, but as ever, there are no guarantees that this challenging deadline for completing assessments will be achieved.

On the same date, the European Commission has also published a speech delivered by Michel Barnier, the EU’s chief negotiator on its future relationship with the UK, addressing the potential for UK/EU co-operation post-Brexit. The tone of the speech is characteristically challenging of the UK’s perceived desire to preserve sovereignty and regulatory autonomy while maintaining access to EU markets. Mr. Barnier’s discussion of equivalence indicates the lack of appetite from the EU to develop a more extensive and durable form of equivalence for cross-border market access, as explained in the following extract:

[Equivalence in financial services]

“… The EU will have the possibility to grant equivalences. We will do so when it is in the interest of the EU; our financial stability; our investors and our consumers. But these equivalences will never be global nor permanent. Nor will they be subject to joint management with the UK. They are, and will remain, unilateral decisions.

I read in the Financial Times recently that London must retain its primacy as a hub for wholesale financial markets without becoming a rule-taker of European regulation. As a former Commissioner in charge of financial services, allow me to question that. Why should we accept that the profits stay in London while the EU carries the risks?

The UK may not want to be a rule-taker. But we do not want to be the risk-taker. When the next financial crisis strikes, who will foot the bill? I doubt the UK will foot it for the EU. That is why the EU must take the responsibility for its financial regulation, supervision and stability.”

Clive Cunningham
Clive Cunningham
Partner, London
+44 20 7466 2278
Katherine Dillon
Katherine Dillon
Of Counsel, London
+44 20 7466 2522
Patricia Horton
Patricia Horton
Professional Support Lawyer, London
+44 20 7466 2789