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Notice

Proposed Amendment to Prohibited Transaction Exemption (PTE) 2000-58 Involving Bear, Stearns & Co. Inc., Prudential Securities Incorporated, et al.

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Information about this document as published in the Federal Register.

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AGENCY:

Pension and Welfare Benefits Administration, U.S. Department of Labor.

ACTION:

Notice of a proposed amendment to certain of the Underwriter Exemptions.[1]

SUMMARY:

This document contains a notice of pendency before the Department of Labor (the Department) of a proposed amendment to certain of the Underwriter Exemptions. The Underwriter Exemptions are individual exemptions that provide relief for the origination and operation of certain asset pool investment trusts and the acquisition, holding and disposition by employee benefit plans (Plans) of certain asset-backed pass-through certificates representing undivided interests in those investment trusts. The proposed amendment, if granted, would permit the trustee of the trust to be an affiliate of the underwriter of the certificates. If adopted, the proposed amendment would affect the participants and beneficiaries of the Plans participating in such transactions and the fiduciaries with respect to such Plans.

DATES:

Written comments and requests for a public hearing should be received by the Department on or before 45 days from the date of the publication in the Federal Register of this notice of proposed amendment. If granted, the amendment will be effective as of March 13, 2002.

ADDRESSES:

All written comments and requests for a public hearing (preferably three copies) should be addressed to the U.S. Department of Labor, Office of Exemption Determinations, Pension and Welfare Benefits Administration, Room N-5649, 200 Constitution Avenue, NW, Washington, DC 20210, (attention: Application No. D-11077; Proposal to Amend Underwriter Exemptions). Interested persons are also invited to submit comments and/or hearing requests to PWBA via e-mail or FAX. Any such comments or requests should be sent either by e-mail to moffittb@pwba.dol.gov or by FAX to (202) 219-0204, by the end of the scheduled comment period. The comments received will be available for public inspection in the Public Documents Room of the Pension and Welfare Benefits Administration, U.S. Department of Labor, Room N-1513, 200 Constitution Avenue, NW., Washington, DC 20210.

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FOR FURTHER INFORMATION CONTACT:

Karen E. Lloyd, Office of Exemption Determinations, Pension and Welfare Benefits Administration, U.S. Department of Labor, telephone (202) 693-8540. (This is not a toll-free number.)

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SUPPLEMENTARY INFORMATION:

Notice is hereby given of the pendency before the Department of a proposed exemption that would amend certain of the Underwriter Exemptions. The Underwriter Exemptions are individual exemptions that provide relief from certain of the prohibited transaction restrictions of sections 406(a), 406(b) and 407(a) of the Employee Retirement Income Security Act of 1974 (the Act), as amended, and from the taxes imposed by section 4975(a) and (b) of the Internal Revenue Code of 1986 (the Code), as amended, by reason of certain provisions of section 4975(c)(1) of the Code. All of the Underwriter Exemptions were amended by Prohibited Transaction Exemption 97-34 (62 FR 39021, July 21, 1997) and by Prohibited Transaction Exemption 2000-58 (65 FR 67765, November 13, 2000).

On March 28, 2002, the Department granted a final exemption to J.P. Morgan Chase & Company (J.P. Morgan Chase) which amended three of the Underwriter Exemptions granted to J.P. Morgan Chase and certain of its affiliates.[2] (See PTE 2002-19, 67 FR 14979). The Department subsequently contacted The Bond Market Association, a trade association which represents securities firms and banks that underwrite, trade and sell debt securities, which confirmed that a majority of its members currently possessing Underwriter Exemptions desire the same relief provided to J.P. Morgan Chase under PTE 2002-19. Accordingly, the Department has determined to amend the remaining Underwriter Exemptions on its own motion.

The Underwriter Exemptions permit Plans to purchase certain securities representing interests in asset-or mortgage-backed investment pools. The securities generally take the form of certificates issued by a trust (the Trust). The Underwriter Exemptions permit transactions involving a Trust (including the servicing, management and operation of the Trust) and certificates evidencing interests therein (including the sale, exchange or transfer of certificates in the initial issuance of the certificates or in the secondary market for such certificates). The entities covered include the sponsor of Start Printed Page 36029the Trust as well as the underwriter for the certificates issued by the Trust when the sponsor, servicer, trustee or insurer of the Trust, the underwriter of the certificates issued by the Trust, or an obligor of the receivables contained in the Trust, is a party in interest with respect to an investing Plan.[3]

One of the requirements of the Underwriter Exemptions (except as amended by PTE 2002-19) is that the trustee of the Trust not be an affiliate of any member of what the Underwriter Exemptions define as the “Restricted Group;” i.e., in addition to the trustee, each underwriter, each servicer, each insurer, the sponsor, any more than 5% obligor with respect to receivables included in the Trust, each counterparty in an Eligible Swap Agreement, and any affiliate of such persons.

Like PTE 2002-19, the amendment proposed herein would permit the trustee of a Trust to be an affiliate of the underwriter of the securities issued by the Trust. The Bond Market Association represents that the facts and circumstances presented in the amendment requested by J.P. Morgan Chase are equally relevant and applicable with respect to other situations in which underwriters possessing an Underwriter Exemption may have trustee affiliates.

In connection with its application to amend its Underwriter Exemptions, J.P. Morgan Chase represented that, while the provision requiring an independent trustee was not a major issue in 1989, developments in the banking industry over the past twelve years have caused the requirement to become onerous and disadvantageous to investors, including Plans. As the banking industry has consolidated, the number of banks participating in the corporate trust business has shrunk dramatically. This trend has been due to a number of factors which have made participation in the trust business less attractive to banks. On the income side, these factors include competitive pressure on pricing corporate trust services and loss of transactional fees and traditional float income due to the growth in book entry securities. On the expense side, the cost of entry into the corporate trust business and the cost of remaining in the business have increased dramatically. This increase includes both technological and personnel costs. The cost increase is particularly acute in the structured finance sector of the corporate trust business, where both systems and staff need to have the capability of supporting increasingly complex transactions.

J.P. Morgan Chase represented that the changes in the securities underwriting business are equally significant. These include the increased participation by banks and bank affiliates, and consolidation within the industry. As of the calendar year 2000, four of the top ten underwriters for structured finance transactions had affiliated corporate trust businesses. Eight of the top ten trustees, a group with a combined market share of over 76 percent in 2000, were affiliates of underwriters active in the structured finance sector. The trend in the market to broadly syndicate underwriting exacerbates the problem: the Underwriter Exemptions prohibit affiliation not only between the trustee and the lead underwriter, but between the trustee and any underwriter, without regard to the amount underwritten.

J.P. Morgan Chase stated that currently, most providers of corporate trust and related services in the structured finance marketplace are large banks that have the requisite staff and systems resources to efficiently serve this marketplace. Most of these same banks, particularly those that are profitable and well-capitalized, have expanded into the securities underwriting business, including underwriting of structured finance transactions. Not only will investors (including Plans) be disadvantaged if banks and their affiliates which underwrite securities continue to be precluded from providing trust services, but further, it is clearly not in the best interest of investors, including Plan investors, to eliminate those banks— often the most competent in the servicing of structured finance transactions—from the pool of available corporate trust providers.

A trustee in a structured finance transaction, while involved in complex calculations and reporting, typically does not perform any discretionary functions. Such a trustee operates as a stakeholder and strictly in accordance with the explicit terms of the governing agreements so that the intent of the crafters of the transaction may be carried out. These functions are essentially ministerial, such as establishing accounts, receiving funds, making payments and issuing reports, all in a predetermined manner. Unlike trustees for corporate or municipal debt, there is no need for trustees in structured finance transactions to assume discretionary functions in order to protect the interests of debt holders in the event of default or bankruptcy, because structured finance entities are bankruptcy remote vehicles. There is no “issuer” outside the structured transaction to pursue for repayment of the debt. The trustee's role is defined by a contract, which provides an explicit structure spelling out the action to be taken upon the happening of specified events. There is no opportunity or incentive for the trustee in a structured finance transaction, by reason of its affiliation with an underwriter or otherwise, to take or not to take actions which might benefit the underwriter to the detriment of Plan investors.

J.P. Morgan Chase represented that the role of the underwriter in a structured financing involves, among other things, assisting the sponsor or originator in structuring the contemplated transaction. The trustee becomes involved later in the process, after the principal parties have agreed on the essential components, to review the proposed transaction from the limited standpoints of technical workability and potential trustee liability. After the issuance of securities to the public, in a structured financing, while the trustee performs its role as trustee over the life of the transaction, the underwriter has no further role in the transaction. The trustee has no opportunity to take or not take action, or to use information in ways which might advantage the underwriter to the detriment of Plan investors. In fact, from the point of view of enhancing its reputation, the underwriter clearly wants the transaction to succeed as it was structured, which includes the trustee performing in a manner independent of the underwriter. Accordingly, J.P. Morgan Chase requested a modification to its Underwriter Exemptions in order to permit the trustee of the Trust to be an affiliate of the underwriter.

General Information

The attention of interested persons is directed to the following:

(1) The fact that a transaction is the subject of an exemption under section 408(a) of the Act and section 4975(c)(2) of the Code does not relieve a fiduciary or other party in interest or disqualified person from certain other provisions of the Act and the Code, including any prohibited transaction provisions to which the exemption does not apply and the general fiduciary responsibility provisions of section 404 of the Act, which require, among other things, a fiduciary to discharge his or her duties respecting the plan solely in the interest of the participants and beneficiaries of Start Printed Page 36030the plan and in a prudent fashion in accordance with section 404(a)(1)(B) of the Act; nor does it affect the requirements of section 401(a) of the Code that the plan operate for the exclusive benefit of the employees of the employer maintaining the plan and their beneficiaries;

(2) Before an exemption can be granted under section 408(a) of the Act and section 4975(c)(2) of the Code, the Department must find that the exemption is administratively feasible, in the interest of the plan and of its participants and beneficiaries and protective of the rights of participants and beneficiaries of the plan; and

(3) This proposed exemption, if granted, will be supplemental to, and not in derogation of, any other provisions of the Act and the Code, including statutory or administrative exemptions. Furthermore, the fact that a transaction is subject to an administrative or statutory exemption is not dispositive of whether the transaction is in fact a prohibited transaction.

Written Comments and Hearing Requests

All interested persons are invited to submit written comments or requests for a hearing on the pending exemption to the address above, within the time frame set forth above, after the publication of this proposed exemption in the Federal Register. All comments will be made a part of the record. Comments received will be available for public inspection with the referenced applications at the address set forth above.

Proposed Exemption

Based on the facts and representations set forth in the application, under the authority of section 408(a) of the Act and section 4975(c)(2) of the Code and in accordance with the procedures set forth in 29 CFR Part 2570, Subpart B (55 FR 32836, August 10, 1990), the Department proposes to modify the following individual Prohibited Transaction Exemptions (PTEs), as set forth below: PTE 89-88, 54 FR 42582 (October 17, 1989); PTE 89-89, 54 FR 42569 (October 17, 1989); PTE 89-90, 54 FR 42597 (October 17, 1989); PTE 90-22, 55 FR 20542 (May 17, 1990); PTE 90-24, 55 FR 20548 (May 17, 1990); PTE 90-28, 55 FR 21456 (May 24, 1990); PTE 90-29, 55 FR 21459 (May 24, 1990); PTE 90-30, 55 FR 21461 (May 24, 1990); PTE 90-32, 55 FR 23147 (June 6, 1990); PTE 90-36, 55 FR 25903 (June 25, 1990); PTE 90-39, 55 FR 27713 (July 5, 1990); PTE 90-59, 55 FR 36724 (September 6, 1990); PTE 90-83, 55 FR 50250 (December 5, 1990); PTE 90-84, 55 FR 50252 (December 5, 1990); PTE 90-88, 55 FR 52899 (December 24, 1990); PTE 91-14, 55 FR 48178 (February 22, 1991); PTE 91-22, 56 FR 03277 (April 18, 1991); PTE 91-23, 56 FR 15936 (April 18, 1991); PTE 91-30, 56 FR 22452 (May 15, 1991); PTE 91-62, 56 FR 51406 (October 11, 1991); PTE 93-31, 58 FR 28620 (May 5, 1993); PTE 93-32, 58 FR 28623 (May 14, 1993); PTE 94-29, 59 FR 14675 (March 29, 1994); PTE 94-64, 59 FR 42312 (August 17, 1994); PTE 94-70, 59 FR 50014 (September 30, 1994); PTE 94-73, 59 FR 51213 (October 7, 1994); PTE 94-84, 59 FR 65400 (December 19, 1994); PTE 95-26, 60 FR 17586 (April 6, 1995); PTE 95-59, 60 FR 35938 (July 12, 1995); PTE 95-89, 60 FR 49011 (September 21, 1995); PTE 96-22, 61 FR 14828 (April 3, 1996); PTE 96-84, 61 FR 58234 (November 13, 1996); PTE 96-92, 61 FR 66334 (December 17, 1996); PTE 96-94, 61 FR 68787 (December 30, 1996); PTE 97-05, 62 FR 1926 (January 14, 1997); PTE 97-28, 62 FR 28515 (May 23, 1997); PTE 98-08, 63 FR 8498 (February 19, 1998); PTE 99-11, 64 FR 11046 (March 8, 1999); PTE 2000-19, 65 FR 25950 (May 4, 2000); PTE 2000-33, 65 FR 37171 (June 13, 2000); PTE 2000-41, 65 FR 51039 (August 22, 2000); and PTE 2000-55 (November 13, 2000), each as subsequently amended by PTE 97-34 and PTE 2000-58.

In addition, the Department notes that it is also proposing individual exemptive relief for: Deutsche Bank A.G., New York Branch and Deutsche Morgan Grenfell/C.J. Lawrence Inc., Final Authorization Number (FAN) 97-03E (December 9, 1996); Credit Lyonnais Securities (USA) Inc., FAN 97-21E (September 10, 1997); ABN AMRO Inc., FAN 98-08E (April 27, 1998); Ironwood Capital Partners Ltd., FAN 99-31E (December 20, 1999); and William J. Mayer Securities, FAN 01-25E (October 15, 2001), which received the approval of the Department to engage in transactions substantially similar to the transactions described in the Underwriter Exemptions pursuant to PTE 96-62.

The first sentence of section II.A.(4) of these exemptions is amended to read:

The Trustee is not an Affiliate of any member of the Restricted Group, other than an Underwriter.

If granted, the amendment will be effective as of March 13, 2002.

For a more complete statement of the facts and representations supporting the Department's decision to grant the Underwriter Exemptions, refer to the proposed exemptions and the grant notices that are cited above.

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Signed at Washington, DC, this 17th day of May, 2002.

Ivan L. Strasfeld,

Director of Exemption Determinations, Pension and Welfare Benefits Administration, U.S. Department of Labor.

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Footnotes

1.  The term “Underwriter Exemptions” refers to the following individual Prohibited Transaction Exemptions (PTEs): PTE 89-88, 54 FR 42582 (October 17, 1989); PTE 89-89, 54 FR 42569 (October 17, 1989); PTE 89-90, 54 FR 42597 (October 17, 1989); PTE 90-22, 55 FR 20542 (May 17, 1990); PTE 90-23, 55 FR 20545 (May 17, 1990); PTE 90-24, 55 FR 20548 (May 17, 1990); PTE 90-28, 55 FR 21456 (May 24, 1990); PTE 90-29, 55 FR 21459 (May 24, 1990); PTE 90-30, 55 FR 21461 (May 24, 1990); PTE 90-31, 55 FR 23144 (June 6, 1990); PTE 90-32, 55 FR 23147 (June 6, 1990); PTE 90-33, 55 FR 23151 (June 6, 1990); PTE 90-36, 55 FR 25903 (June 25, 1990); PTE 90-39, 55 FR 27713 (July 5, 1990); PTE 90-59, 55 FR 36724 (September 6, 1990); PTE 90-83, 55 FR 50250 (December 5, 1990); PTE 90-84, 55 FR 50252 (December 5, 1990); PTE 90-88, 55 FR 52899 (December 24, 1990); PTE 91-14, 55 FR 48178 (February 22, 1991); PTE 91-22, 56 FR 03277 (April 18, 1991); PTE 91-23, 56 FR 15936 (April 18, 1991); PTE 91-30, 56 FR 22452 (May 15, 1991); PTE 91-62, 56 FR 51406 (October 11, 1991); PTE 93-31, 58 FR 28620 (May 5, 1993); PTE 93-32, 58 FR 28623 (May 14, 1993); PTE 94-29, 59 FR 14675 (March 29, 1994); PTE 94-64, 59 FR 42312 (August 17, 1994); PTE 94-70, 59 FR 50014 (September 30, 1994); PTE 94-73, 59 FR 51213 (October 7, 1994); PTE 94-84, 59 FR 65400 (December 19, 1994); PTE 95-26, 60 FR 17586 (April 6, 1995); PTE 95-59, 60 FR 35938 (July 12, 1995); PTE 95-89, 60 FR 49011 (September 21, 1995); PTE 96-22, 61 FR 14828 (April 3, 1996); PTE 96-84, 61 FR 58234 (November 13, 1996); PTE 96-92, 61 FR 66334 (December 17, 1996); PTE 96-94, 61 FR 68787 (December 30, 1996); PTE 97-05, 62 FR 1926 (January 14, 1997); PTE 97-28, 62 FR 28515 (May 23, 1997); PTE 97-34, 62 FR 39021 (July 21, 1997); PTE 98-08, 63 FR 8498 (February 19, 1998); PTE 99-11, 64 FR 11046 (March 8, 1999); PTE 2000-19, 65 FR 25950 (May 4, 2000); PTE 2000-33, 65 FR 37171 (June 13, 2000); PTE 2000-41, 65 FR 51039 (August 22, 2000); and PTE 2000-55 (November 13, 2000).

In addition, the Department notes that it is also proposing individual exemptive relief for: Deutsche Bank A.G., New York Branch and Deutsche Morgan Grenfell/C.J. Lawrence Inc., Final Authorization Number (FAN) 97-03E (December 9, 1996); Credit Lyonnais Securities (USA) Inc., FAN 97-21E (September 10, 1997); ABN AMRO Inc., FAN 98-08E (April 27, 1998); Ironwood Capital Partners Ltd., FAN 99-31E (December 20, 1999); and William J. Mayer Securities LLC, FAN 01-25E (October 15, 2001), which received the approval of the Department to engage in transactions substantially similar to the transactions described in the Underwriter Exemptions pursuant to PTE 96-62.

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2.  The exemptions are PTE 90-23 (55 FR 20545, May 17, 1990), PTE 90-31 (55 FR 23144, June 6, 1990), and PTE 90-33 (55 FR 23151, June 6, 1990).

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3.  Interested persons should review the Department's regulations at 29 CFR 2510.3-101 (Definition of “plan assets”—plan investments) for the reasons a Plan's investment in certificates issued by a Trust may raise prohibited transaction issues with respect to parties in interest.

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[FR Doc. 02-12831 Filed 5-21-02; 8:45 am]

BILLING CODE 4510-29-P