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Notice

Self-Regulatory Organizations; National Association of Securities Dealers, Inc.; Order Granting Approval to Proposed Rule Change and Notice of Filing and Order Granting Accelerated Approval to Amendment No. 1 to the Proposed Rule Change Relating to Exemptions from Options Position and Exercise Limits

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Start Preamble February 3, 2003.

I. Introduction

On October 1, 2002, the National Association of Securities Dealers, Inc. (“NASD”) filed with the Securities and Exhange Commission (“Commission”), pursuant to section 19(b)(1) of the Securities Exchange Act of 1934 (“Act”) [1] and rule 19b-4 thereunder,[2] a proposed rule change to amend NASD rule 2860(b)(3)(A) by eliminating options position and exercise limits for positions entered into under certain enumerated hedge strategies and establishing position and exercise limits of five times the standard limit for certain of those strategies when they include an over-the-counter (OTC) option contract. On December 23, 2002, the NASD filed Amendment No. 1 to the proposed rule change.[3] The proposed Start Printed Page 6978rule change was published for comment in the Federal Register on December 30, 2002.[4] The Commission received no comments on the proposal. This order approves the proposed rule change, and notices and grants accelerated approval to Amendment No. 1 to the proposed rule change.

II. Description of the Proposal

The proposed rule change amends NASD's options position and exercise limits. The proposed rule change establishes six qualified hedge strategies:

1. Where each option contract is “hedged” or “covered” by 100 shares of the underlying [5] security or securities convertible into the underlying security, or, in the case of an adjusted option, the same number of shares represented by the adjusted contract: (a) Long call and short stock; (b) short call and long stock; (c) long put and long stock; or (d) short put and short stock.

2. Reverse Conversions— A long call position accompanied by a short put position, where the long call expires with the short put, and the strike price of the long call and short put is equal, and where each long call and short put position is hedged with 100 shares (or other adjusted number of shares) of the underlying security or securities convertible into such underlying security.

3. Conversions— A short call position accompanied by a long put position where the short call expires with the long put, and the strike price of the short call and long put is equal, and where each short call and long put position is hedged with 100 shares (or other adjusted number of shares) of the underlying security or securities convertible into such underlying security.

4. Collars— A short call position accompanied by a long put position, where the short call expires with the long put and the strike price of the short call equals or exceeds the strike price of the long put position and where each short call and long put position is hedged with 100 shares (or other adjusted number of shares) of such the underlying security or securities convertible into such underlying security. Neither side of the short call/long put position can be in-the-money at the time the position is established.

5. Box Spreads— A long call position accompanied by a short put position with the same strike price and a short call position accompanied by a long put position with a different strike price.

6. Back-to-Back Options— A listed option position hedged on a one-for-one basis with an OTC option position on the same underlying security. The strike price of the listed option position and corresponding OTC option position must be within one strike price interval of each other and no more than one expiration month apart.

Under the proposed rule change, there would be no position and exercise limits when such qualified hedge strategies are effected solely with standardized equity options. In addition, the proposed rule change establishes standardized equity option position and exercise limits of five times the standard limit when one component of such strategies is an OTC option contract. Further, within the list of proposed hedge strategies, NASD proposes that the option component of a reversal, a conversion or a collar position can be treated as one contract rather than as two contracts.

The proposed rule change also modifies the conventional equity options position and exercise limits. First, the proposed rule change expands the hedge exemption for conventional options to include all of the qualified hedge strategies. Second, the proposed rule change increases the conventional equity options position and exercise limits for such qualified hedge strategies to five times the standard limits. Third, the proposed rule change provides that conventional equity options positions under the hedge strategies not be aggregated with other options positions similar to the way that positions under the current equity option hedge exemption and OTC collar aggregation exemption are not aggregated with other options positions.

Under the proposed rule change, the standard position and exercise limits will remain in place for unhedged equity options positions. Once an account reaches the standard limit, positions identified as a qualified hedge strategy would be subject to the increased position limits, or exempted from position limit calculations, as appropriate. The exemption would be automatic (i.e., it will not require pre-approval from NASD) to the extent that a member identifies that a pre-existing qualified strategy is in place or is employed from the point that an account's position reaches the standard limit and provides the required supporting documentation to NASD.[6] The exemption would remain in effect to the extent that the exempted position remains intact and NASD is provided with any required supporting documentation.

III. Discussion

The Commission finds that the proposed rule change is consistent with the requirements of the Act and the rules and regulations thereunder applicable to a national securities associations [7] and, in particular, the requirements of section 15A of the Act [8] and the rules and regulations thereunder. The Division finds specifically that the proposed rule change is consistent with section 15A(b)(6) of the Act[9] because it is designed to promote just and equitable principles of trade, and to protect investors and public interest.

Position and exercise limits serve as a regulatory tool designed to address potential manipulative schemes and adverse market impact surrounding the use of options. The NASD proposes to expand the hedge exemption from position and exercise limits. The NASD also proposes to modify the conventional equity options position and exercise limits. The Commission believes it is permissible to expand the current equity hedge exemption without risk of disruption to the options or underlying cash markets. The Commission believes that existing position and exercise limits, procedures for maintaining the exemption, and the reporting requirements imposed by the NASD will help protect against potential manipulation. The Commission notes that the existing standard position and exercise limits will remain in place for unhedged equity option positions. To further ensure against market disruption, the NASD will establish a position and exercise limit equal to no greater than five times the standard limit for those hedge strategies that include an OTC option component.

In addition, according to the NASD, once an account reaches the standard Start Printed Page 6979limit, positions identified as a qualified hedge strategy would be subject to the increased position limits, or exempted from position limit calculations, as appropriate. The exemption would be automatic (i.e., it will not require pre-approval from NASD) to the extent that a member identifies that a pre-existing qualified strategy is in place or is employed from the point that an account's position reaches the standard limit and provides the required supporting documentation to NASD.[10] The exemption would remain in effect to the extent that the exempted position remains intact and NASD is provided with any required supporting documentation.

The Commission notes that it has previously approved changes to similar rules of the options exchanges that eliminated standardized equity option position and exercise limits for certain qualified hedge strategies and established position and exercise limits of five times the standard limit for certain of those strategies when they include an over-the-counter (OTC) option contract.[11] The Commission does not believe that the proposed rule changes raises novel regulatory issues that were not already addressed and should benefit NASD members by permitting them greater flexibility in using hedge strategies advantageously, while providing an adequate level of protection against the opportunity for manipulation of these securities and disruption in the underlying market.

The Commission finds good cause for approving Amendment No. 1 to the proposed rule change prior to the thirtieth day after the date of publication of notice thereof in the Federal Register. Amendment No. 1 merely provides technical corrections and clarification to the proposed rule text. The Commission, therefore, believes that granting accelerated approval of Amendment No. 1 is appropriate and consistent with section 15A(b)(6) [12] and section 19(b) [13] of the Act.

IV. Solicitation of Comments

Interested persons are invited to submit written data, views, and arguments concerning Amendment No. 1, including whether it is consistent with the Act. Persons making written submissions should file six copies thereof with the Secretary, Securities and Exchange Commission, 450 Fifth Street, NW., Washington, DC 20549-0609. Copies of the submission, all subsequent amendments, all written statements with respect to the proposed rule change that are filed with the Commission, and all written communications relating to the proposed rule change between the Commission and any person, other than those that may be withheld from the public in accordance with the provisions of 5 U.S.C. 552, will be available for inspection and copying at the Commission's Public Reference Room. Copies of such filing will also be available for inspection and copying at the principal office of the NASD. All submissions should refer to File No. SR-NASD-2002-134 and should be submitted by March 4, 2003.

V. Conclusion

It is therefore ordered, pursuant to section 19(b)(2) of the Act,[14] that the proposed rule change (File No. SR-NASD-2002-134), as amended, be and hereby is, approved.

For the Commission, by the Division of Market Regulation, pursuant to delegated authority.[15]

Start Signature

Margaret H. McFarland,

Deputy Secretary.

End Signature End Preamble

Footnotes

3.  See letter from Gary L. Goldsholle, Associate General Counsel, Office of General Counsel, NASD, to Katherine A. England, Assistant Director, Division of Market Regulation (“Division”), Commission, dated December 20, 2003 (“Amendment No. 1”). In Amendment No. 1, the NASD corrected grammatical errors in the rule language text of the proposed rule change.

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4.  See Securities Exchange Act Release No. 47080 (December 23, 2002), 67 FR 79676 (December 30, 2002).

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5.  NASD represents that the phrase “securities convertible into the underlying security” does not include single stock futures products. Telephone Conversation between Gary L. Goldsholle, Associate General Counsel, Office of General Counsel, NASD and Tim Fox, Law Clerk, Division, Commission on December 6, 2002.

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6.  Under the proposed rule change, the existing reporting procedures that serve to identify and document hedged positions above a certain threshold continue to apply. Paragraph (b)(5) of NASD rule 2860 requires reporting to NASD of aggregate positions of 200 more contracts of the put class and the call class on the same side of the market covering the same underlying security.

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7.  In approving this proposed rule change, the Commission notes that it has considered the proposed rule's impact on efficiency, competition, and capital formation. 15 U.S.C. 78c(f).

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10.  Under the proposed rule change, the existing reporting procedures that serve to identify and document hedged positions above a certain threshold continue to apply. Paragraph (b)(5) of NASD rule 2860 requires reporting to NASD of aggregate positions of 200 more contracts of the put class and the call class on the same side of the market covering the same underlying security.

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11.  See Securities Exchange Act Release No. 45603 (March 20, 2002), 67 FR 14751 (March 27, 2002) (CBOE-2000-12); Securities Exchange Act Release No. 45650 (March 26, 2002), 67 FR 15638 (Apr. 2, 2002) (AMEX-2001-71); Securities Exchange Act Release No. 45737 (April 11, 2002), 67 FR 18975 (Apr. 17, 2002) (PCX-2000-45); Securities Exchange Act Release No. 45899 (May 9, 2002), 67 FR 34980 (May 16, 2002) (PHLX-2002-33); and Securities Exchange Act Release No. 46228 (July 18, 2002), 67 FR 48689 (July 25, 2002) (ISE-2002-15).

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[FR Doc. 03-3319 Filed 2-10-03; 8:45 am]

BILLING CODE 8010-01-P