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Notice

Self-Regulatory Organizations; Options Clearing Corporation; Notice of Filing of Proposed Rule Change, as Modified by Amendment No. 1 Thereto, Relating to the Clearance and Settlement of Over-the-Counter Options

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Information about this document as published in the Federal Register.

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January 3, 2012.

Pursuant to Section 19(b)(1) of the Securities Exchange Act of 1934 (“Act”) [1] and Rule 19b-4 thereunder [2] notice is hereby given that on December 20, 2011, The Options Clearing Corporation (“OCC”) filed with the Securities and Exchange Commission (“Commission”) the proposed rule change. On January 3, 2012, OCC filed Amendment No. 1 to the proposed rule change. The propose rule change as amended by Amendment No. 1 is described in Items I, II, and III below, which Items have been prepared primarily by OCC. The Commission is publishing this notice to solicit comments on the proposed rule change and Amendment No. 1 to the proposed rule change from interested persons.

I. Self-Regulatory Organization's Statement of the Terms of Substance of the Proposed Rule Change

The proposed rule change would allow OCC to provide central clearing of OTC options beginning in the first quarter of 2012.

II. Self-Regulatory Organization's Statement of the Purpose of, and Statutory Basis for, the Proposed Rule Change

In its filing with the Commission, OCC included statements concerning the purpose of and basis for the proposed rule change and discussed any comments it received on the proposed rule change. The text of these statements may be examined at the places specified in Item IV below. OCC has prepared summaries, set forth in sections (A), (B), and (C) below, of the most significant aspects of these statements.

(A) Self-Regulatory Organization's Statement of the Purpose of, and Statutory Basis for, the Proposed Rule Change

The purpose of this proposed rule change is to allow OCC to provide central clearing of OTC options beginning in the first quarter of 2012. OCC will clear the proposed OTC options in a manner that is highly similar to the manner in which it clears listed options, with only such modifications as are appropriate to reflect the unique characteristics of OTC options.

OTC Options

The initial OTC options to be cleared by OCC will consist of options on equity indices published by Standard & Poor's Financial Services LLC (“S&P”).[3] OCC has entered into a license agreement with S&P that allows OCC to clear OTC options on the S&P 500 Index, the S&P MidCap 400 Index and the S&P Small Cap 600 Index. OCC may clear OTC options on other indices and on individual equity securities in the future. OTC options will have predominantly common terms and characteristics, but also include unique terms negotiated by the parties. Transactions in OTC options will not be executed through the facilities of any exchange, but will instead be entered into bilaterally and submitted to OCC for clearance through one or more providers of trade affirmation services.[4]

OTC options will be similar to exchange-traded standardized equity index options called “FLEX Options” that are currently traded on certain options exchanges.[5] FLEX Options are exchange-traded put and call options that allow for customization of certain terms. For example, FLEX index Options traded on the Chicago Board Options Exchange have six customizable terms: (1) underlying index, (2) put or call, (3) expiration date, (4) exercise price, (5) American or European exercise style, and (6) method of calculating settlement value. OCC is the issuer and guarantor of FLEX Options and clears FLEX Options traded on multiple exchanges.

Similar to FLEX Options, a limited number of variable terms of OTC options will be allowed for customization, with a specified range of values that may be assigned to each, as agreed between the buyer and seller. Parties submitting transactions in OTC options for clearing by OCC will be able to customize six discrete terms: (1) Underlying index [6] (2) put or call; (3) exercise price; (4) expiration date; (5) American or European exercise style; and (6) method of calculating exercise settlement value on the expiration date.[7] The variable terms and permitted values will be specified in the proposed Section 6 of Article XVII of the By-Laws. With respect to future OTC options accepted for clearing, OCC intends that such future OTC options will conform to the general variable terms and limits on the variable terms set forth in proposed Section 6 of the By-Laws, and will either amend the Interpretations and Policies thereunder to specify additional requirements for specific OTC options or publish such requirements on OCC's Web site.

Clearing of OTC Options

OCC proposes to clear OTC options subject to the same basic rules and procedures used for the clearance of listed index options. The proposed rules require that the counterparties to the OTC options must be eligible contract participants (“ECPs”), as defined in Section 3a(65) of the Securities Exchange Act of 1934, as amended (the “Exchange Act”) and Section 1a(18) of the Commodity Exchange Act, as amended (the “CEA”).[8] Because an OTC option will be a “security” as defined in the Exchange Act of 1934, the proposed rules also require that the transactions be cleared through a clearing member of OCC that is registered with the Commission as a broker-dealer or one of the small number of clearing members that are “non-U.S. securities firms” as defined in OCC's By-Laws.[9] OCC is not proposing to require clearing members to meet any different financial standards for clearing OTC options. However, clearing members must be specifically approved by OCC to clear OTC options in order to assure operational readiness.

Exercise of an OTC option will be settled by payment of cash by the assigned writer and to the exercising holder through OCC's cash settlement system on the business day following exercise in exactly the same manner as is the case with exercise settlement of listed index options. As in the case of listed index options, the exercise-settlement amount will be equal to the difference between the current value of the underlying interest and the exercise price of the OTC option, times the multiplier that determines the size of the OTC option. In the case of OTC index options on the S&P 500, the multiplier will be fixed at 1. The multipliers for additional OTC index options that OCC may in the future clear may be fixed at such value as OCC determines and provides for in its By-Laws and Rules.

OCC will calculate clearing margin for the OTC options using its STANS margin system on the same basis as for listed index options. Because OCC currently clears listed options on all three of the underlying indexes on which OCC is currently licensed to clear OTC options, and because the customizable terms of these OTC options are relatively limited and the range of values that customizable terms may be given is limited, OCC does not believe that valuation and risk management for these OTC options present any difficult challenges. Nevertheless, as discussed further below, OCC is proposing a special close-out rule to be used in the unlikely event that OCC would be unable to close out positions in OTC options of a failed clearing member through existing procedures.

OTC options may be carried in a clearing member's firm account, in market-maker accounts or in its securities customers' account, as applicable. Although customer positions in OTC options will be carried in the securities customers' account (an omnibus account), OCC will use a “customer ID” to identify positions of individual customers based on information provided by clearing members.[10] However, positions are not presently intended to be carried in individual customer sub-accounts, and positions in OTC options will be margined at OCC in the omnibus customers' account on the same basis as listed options. If a clearing member takes the other side of a transaction with its customer in an OTC option, the transaction will result in the creation of a long or short position (as applicable) in the clearing member's customers' account and the opposite short or long position in the clearing member's firm account. The positions could also be includable in the internal cross-margining account, subject to any necessary regulatory approvals.

The trade data of an OTC option trade will be entered into the system of MarkitSERV or another trade affirmation vendor approved by OCC for this purpose (the “OTC Trade Source”). OCC will permit additional OTC Trade Sources in the future in response to sufficient market demand from OCC's clearing members and subject to the ability of any such OTC Trade Source to meet OCC's requirements for operational readiness and interoperability with OCC's systems, as well as requirements with respect to relevant business experience and reputation, adequate personnel and expertise, financial qualification and such other factors as OCC deems relevant. The trade may be affirmed through one of two methods: (i) both sides of the trade enter the trade details into the system of the OTC Trade Source and the trade details are compared and matched by the OTC Trade Source; or (ii) one party to the trade enters the trade details into the system of the OTC Trade Source and the other party to the trade then views the information and affirms it if it is correct. Whichever method is used, OCC will receive a matched trade from the OTC Trade Source. Note that, in either case, the OTC Trade Source merely acts as a messaging system among the parties and OCC to affirm the terms that are agreed to by the parties bilaterally and to transmit that information to OCC. It will be permissible for parties to submit trades for clearance that were entered into bilaterally at any time in the past, provided that the eligibility for clearance will be determined as of the date the trade is submitted to OCC for clearance.[11] The OTC Trade Source will process the trade and submit it as a matched trade to OCC for clearing. If OCC accepts the trade, OCC will so notify the OTC Trade Source, which will notify the submitting parties. Customers of clearing members may have direct access to the OTC Trade Source for purposes of entering or affirming trade data and receiving communications regarding the status of transactions, in which case mechanisms will be put in place for a clearing member to authorize a customer to enter a trade for the clearing member's customers' account or for the clearing member to affirm a trade once entered.

In order for a clearing member to be approved for clearing OTC options, the clearing member must enter into a standard agreement with MarkitServ (or another OTC Trade Source, if and when OCC enters into arrangements with other OTC Trade Sources). At launch, OTC options will not be subject to the same clearing member trade assignment rules and procedures through which exchange-traded options can be cleared by a clearing member other than the executing clearing member. This functionality may be added at a later date. OCC and MarkitSERV will adopt procedures to permit a customer that has an account with Clearing Member A (“CM A”) to enter into an OTC option transaction with Clearing Member B (“CM B”) and have the position included in its account at CM A and cleared in CM A's customers' account at OCC.

OTC options will be fungible with each other to the extent that there are OTC options in the system with identical terms. However, OCC will not treat OTC options as fungible with index options listed on any exchange, even if an OTC option has terms identical to the terms of the exchange-listed option.

Clearing members that carry customer positions in cleared OTC options will be subject to all OCC rules governing OCC-cleared options generally, as well as all applicable rules of the SEC and of any self-regulatory organization, including the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority (“FINRA”), of which they are a member.

Regulatory Status of the OTC Options

An OTC option will be a “security” as defined in both the Securities Act of 1933, as amended (the “Securities Act”) and, as noted above, the Exchange Act. OCC will be the “issuer” of the OTC options. The OTC options will be neither “swaps” nor “security-based swaps” for purposes of the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act (“Dodd-Frank”).[12]

Most of OCC's clearing members are members of FINRA and subject to FINRA's rules, which have different provisions for “listed” and “OTC options” and contain various definitions distinguishing between the two. In some cases, OTC options would fall into neither category under FINRA's definitions and in other cases, they would fall within what OCC perceives to be the wrong category. OCC has suggested to FINRA that it amend certain of its rules to clarify the proper application of such rules to cleared OTC options.

Proposed By-Law and Rule Changes

The specific proposed changes to OCC's By-Laws and Rules to provide for the clearing of OTC options relate primarily to: (i) Specification of customizable terms; (ii) procedures for submission and acceptance of trades for clearance; and (iii) specification of criteria for eligibility of clearing members to clear transactions in OTC options and limitation of the types of customers for whom clearing members may effect transactions in OTC options. Otherwise, the currently proposed OTC options will be cleared and settled under the same provisions applicable to clearance of listed index options. Many of the proposed amendments are self-explanatory, and we have therefore attempted to confine the following discussion to a broad overview with specific explanation only where the reasons for the change may be less obvious.

Article I of the By-Laws contains defined terms used throughout the By-Laws and Rules. OCC proposes to modify certain existing definitions and include certain new definitions in order to incorporate OTC options into existing rules and facilitate the creation of new provisions unique to OTC options. Throughout the By-Laws and Rules, OCC proposes to replace the term “Exchange transaction,” which is currently defined in Article I, in relevant part, as “a transaction on or through the facilities of an exchange for the purchase, writing or sale of a cleared contract” with the term “matched trade” so as to make the relevant portions of the By-Laws and Rules applicable to transactions in OTC options as well as listed options. “Matched trade” is proposed to be defined in Article I to include transactions “effected on or through the facilities of an exchange” or “affirmed through the facilities of an OTC Trade Source” in order to include transactions in both listed options and OTC options. The current definition of “matched trade” in Rule 101 is proposed to be deleted as unnecessary given the new definition. Much of the length of this rule filing is attributable to the fact that the term “Exchange transaction” is used so many places in the rules. OCC has entered into agreements in the past which reference the term “Exchange transaction” or “exchange transaction.” OCC is also proposing to add an Interpretation and Policy to the new definition of “matched trade” in order to avoid any ambiguity concerning how such terms should be interpreted in any such agreement.

OCC proposes to add a new Interpretation and Policy .10 to Section 1 of Article V of the By-Laws, providing the additional criteria that must be met by a Clearing Member in order to clear OTC index options. Among these new criteria are that Clearing Member seeking to clear OTC index options on underlying indices published by Standard & Poor's Financial Services LLC (“S&P”) must execute and maintain in effect a short-form license agreement in such form as specified from time to time by S&P. The current form of S&P short-form index license agreement is attached hereto as Exhibit A.

The Interpretations and Policies under Section 1, Article VI allow clearing members to adjust their positions with OCC for certain enumerated reasons. OCC proposes to amend the Interpretations and Policies to clarify that, consistent with industry conventions in the OTC markets, adjustment of positions in OTC options will be effected through a manual process (as opposed to the electronic process available to post-trade adjustments in listed options), to the extent permitted by OCC. For the same reason, OCC is proposing to amend Rule 403 to prohibit clearing member trade assignment (“CMTA”) transactions in OTC options. Trade “give-ups” that are effected through the CMTA process in the case of listed options will, in the case of OTC options, be effected through MarkitSERV before the trades are submitted to OCC for clearing.

Article XVII of the By-Laws governs index options in general and OCC is proposing amendments to Article XVII in order to set forth the terms applicable to the initial OTC options proposed to be cleared by OCC—options on equity indices published by S&P—and to differentiate OTC index options from other index options cleared by OCC. For example, certain amendments to the definitions are necessary because OTC options will be permitted to have a much wider range of expiration dates and expiration times than exchange-traded options. Additional definitional amendments ensure that OTC index options will constitute a separate class of options from other cash-settled index options even if both index options have the same terms and cover the same underlying interest.

Section 3 of Article XVII provides for adjustment of the terms of outstanding index options as necessary to reflect possible changes in the underlying index—such as those creating a discontinuity in the level of the index—that could theoretically make an adjustment necessary to protect the legitimate expectations of holders and writers of options on the index. Pursuant to paragraph (g) of Section 3, most but not all such adjustments would be made, in the case of listed index options, by an adjustment panel consisting of representatives of the exchanges on which the options are traded. In the case of OTC options, any such adjustments will be made by OCC in its sole discretion. However, in exercising that discretion, OCC may take into consideration adjustment made by the adjustment panel with respect to exchange-traded options covering the same underlying index.[13]

OCC proposes to add a new Section 6 to Article XVII to set forth certain provisions unique to OTC index options, including the variable terms allowed for OTC index options and the general limitations on such variable terms. In general, all OTC index options must conform to the terms and limitations set forth in Section 6, and additional specific requirements applicable to specific OTC index options will either be set forth in the Interpretations and Policies under Section 6 or published separately on OCC's Web site. Section 6 also makes clear that although OTC index options are not fungible with exchange-traded index options, OTC index options of the same series (i.e., options having identical terms) will be fungible with each other. In addition to the terms and limitations applicable to OTC index options, Section 6 will establish that clearing members will be deemed to have made a number of representations and warranties in connection with their activities in OTC options each time they affirm a matched trade entered into an OTC Trade Source.

Chapter IV of the Rules sets forth the requirements for reporting of matched trades to OCC, and Rule 401 thereunder governs reporting of transactions in listed options by participant Exchanges. OCC is proposing to add new Rule 404 to govern the details of reporting of matched trades in OTC options by an OTC Trade Source.

As discussed above, positions in OTC options will generally be margined in the same manner as positions in listed options using STANS and pursuant to Chapter VI of the Rules. However, OCC proposes to amend Rule 611 to establish different procedures for the segregation of long positions in OTC options for margining purposes. Long positions in listed options are held in a clearing member's customers' account or firm non-lien account and by default are deemed to be “segregated,” meaning that they are not subject to OCC's lien and are given no collateral value when determining the margin requirement in the account. Such positions may be unsegregated only when a clearing member instructs OCC to unsegregate a long position and represents to OCC that the long position is part of a spread transaction carried for a single customer whose margin requirement on the corresponding short position has been reduced in recognition of the spread. OCC will then unsegregate the long position and so reduce OCC's margin requirement. However, in case of long positions in OTC options that are carried in a clearing member's customers' account and for which OCC has received a customer ID, OCC proposes that it will automatically unsegregate such long positions if OCC identifies a qualifying short position in OTC options carried under the same customer ID. Clearing members will not be required to give an affirmative instruction to OCC to unsegregate a long position in OTC options or make a separate representation regarding the spread transaction. Instead, by carrying a qualifying spread position in a customer account, clearing members are deemed to have represented to OCC that the customer's margin has been reduced in recognition of the spread. Based on discussion with the clearing members, it is OCC's understanding that, in practice, broker-dealers reduce customers' margin requirements to reflect spread positions. Therefore, OCC believes that automatic recognition of such spreads by OCC together with the deemed representation will greatly increase operational efficiency while providing equal assurance that long positions in OTC options will be unsegregated only if an identified customer will receive the benefit of the reduced margin required for spread transactions.

Rule 1001 sets forth the amount of the contribution that each clearing member is required to make to the clearing fund. OCC proposes to amend Rule 1001(c) so that, for purposes of calculating the daily average number of cleared contracts held by a clearing member in open positions with OCC during a calendar month (which number is used in turn to determine the clearing member's contribution to the clearing fund), open positions in OTC options will be adjusted as needed to account for any differences between the multiplier or unit of trading with respect to OTC options relative to non-OTC options covering the same underlying index or interest so that OTC options and non-OTC options are given comparable weight in the computation.[14]

In general, the rules in Chapter XI governing the suspension of a clearing member will apply equally to clearing members that transact in OTC options. Rule 1106 provides broad authority for OCC to close out open positions in options carried by a suspended clearing member “in the most orderly manner practicable.” OCC is proposing to amend Rule 1106 to add an additional provision with respect to positions in OTC options. The Commission has recently approved an OCC rule change providing OCC the authority to use an auction process as one of the means by which OCC may close out open positions in listed options carried by a suspended clearing member.[15] OCC anticipates it will use this auction process for OTC options as well. As an additional protection, however, OCC is proposing to amend Rule 1106 to give OCC the authority, in extraordinary circumstances, to fix a liquidation value for open OTC options positions of a suspended clearing member if OCC determines that fixing a close-out value is the most orderly manner of closing out such positions. This procedure would mean that one or more clearing members having the opposite side of options of the same series as those held by the defaulting clearing member could have their positions involuntarily closed out and would be required to accept or pay the close-out value of the positions as determined by OCC. OCC anticipates that the likelihood of having to exercise this authority is small, and that the authority would only be exercised in the event that OCC is unable to find a counterparty willing to purchase, or assume the obligations of, open long and short positions of the suspended clearing member at an appropriate value either through the regular OTC market or through the auction process. Nevertheless, in view of the fact that positions in OTC index options are expected to be large and that there may be no active trading market in options with terms precisely identical to the terms of the OTC index options in question, OCC believes that this is an appropriate failsafe provision.

OCC believes that the proposed changes to OCC's By-Laws are consistent with the purposes and requirements of Section 17A of the Exchange Act because they are designed to permit OCC to perform clearing services for products that are subject to the jurisdiction of the CFTC without adversely affecting OCC's obligations with respect to the prompt and accurate clearance and settlement of securities transactions or the protection of securities investors and the public interest. The proposed rule change is not inconsistent with any rules of OCC.

(B) Self-Regulatory Organization's Statement on Burden on Competition

OCC does not believe that the proposed rule change would impose any burden on competition.

(C) Self-Regulatory Organization's Statement on Comments on the Proposed Rule Change Received From Members, Participants or Others

Written comments relating to the proposed rule change have not been solicited or received. OCC will notify the Commission of any written comments received by OCC.

III. Date of Effectiveness of the Proposed Rule Change and Timing for Commission Action

Within 45 days of the date of publication of this notice in the Federal Register or within such longer period up to 90 days (i) as the Commission may designate if it finds such longer period to be appropriate and publishes its reasons for so finding or (ii) as to which the self-regulatory organization consents, the Commission will:

(A) By order approve or disapprove the proposed rule change or

(B) Institute proceedings to determine whether the proposed rule change should be disapproved.

Electronic Comments

Paper Comments

  • Send paper comments in triplicate to Elizabeth M. Murphy, Secretary, Securities and Exchange Commission, 100 F Street NE., Washington, DC 20549-1090.

All submissions should refer to File Number SR-OCC-2011-19. This file number should be included on the subject line if email is used. To help the Commission process and review your comments more efficiently, please use only one method. The Commission will post all comments on the Commission's Internet Web site (http://www.sec.gov/rules/sro.shtml). 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 Web site viewing and printing in the Commission's Public Reference Section, 100 F Street NE., Washington, DC 20549, on official business days between the hours of 10 a.m. and 3 p.m. Copies of such filings will also be available for inspection and copying at the principal office of OCC and on OCC's Web site at http://www.optionsclearing.com/components/docs/legal/rules_and_bylaws/sr_occ_11_19_a_1.pdf. All comments received will be posted without change; the Commission does not edit personal identifying information from submissions. You should submit only information that you wish to make available publicly. All submissions should refer to File Number SR-OCC-2011-19 and should be submitted on or before January 30, 2012.

For the Commission by the Division of Trading and Markets, pursuant to delegated authority.16

Kevin M. O'Neill,

Deputy Secretary.

Footnotes

3.  OCC indicated that if it intends to clear additional non-S&P OTC products it will file a proposed rule change with the Commission pursuant to Section 19(b)(2) of the Act. Telephone conference between Steve Szarmack, Vice President and Associate General Counsel, OCC, and Pamela Kesner, Special Counsel, Securities and Exchange Commission Division of Trading and Markets on December 22, 2011.

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4.  The initial provider of the trade affirmation services in connection with the OTC options will be MarkitServ.

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5.  Note that FINRA Rule 2360(a)(16) refers to FLEX Options as “FLEX Equity Options”, which it defines as “any options contract issued, or subject to issuance by, The Options Clearing Corporation whereby the parties to the transaction have the ability to negotiate the terms of the contract consistent with the rules of the exchange on which the options contract is traded.” OCC does not believe this definition would capture OTC options as they are not traded on any exchange. Nevertheless, as discussed below, OCC is working with FINRA to amend certain of FINRA's rules to clarify the proper application of such rules to OTC options.

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6.  Initially, however, the S&P 500 Index will be the only permitted underlying index.

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7.  The expiration date of an OTC option must fall on a business day. The method of determining the exercise settlement value of an OTC option on its expiration date may be either the opening settlement value or the closing settlement value of the underlying index (calculated by S&P using the opening or closing price, as applicable, in the primary market of each component security of the underlying index on the specified expiration date), in each case as reported to OCC by CBOE.

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8.  See proposed Section 6(f), Article XVII of the By-Laws.

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9.  See proposed Interpretation and Policy .10 of Section 1, Article V of the By-Laws.

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10.  Such customer IDs are necessary in order to allow OCC to comply with certain terms of OCC's license agreement with S&P. As described further below, customer IDs will be used for other purposes as well.

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11.  OCC's license agreement with S&P imposes certain minimum requirements relating to time remaining to expiration of the OTC option, as detailed in proposed Interpretation and Policy .01 of Section 6, Article XVII of the By-Laws.

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12.  Section 1a(47)(A)(i) of CEA, as added by Section 721(a)(21) of Dodd-Frank, defines “swaps” broadly to include options on indices. However, Section 1a(47)(B)(iii) of the CEA excludes from the “swap” definition any option on any index of securities that is subject to the Securities Act and the Exchange Act. A contract that is excluded from the definition of a “swap” under Section 1a(47)(B) (other than Section 1a(47)(B)(x)) is not a “security-based swap” for purposes of Section 3a(68) of the Exchange Act.

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13.  Because index options, unlike options on individual stocks, rarely, if ever, require adjustments, allocation of the adjustment authority may have little practical significance.

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14.  For example, the index multiplier applicable to OTC index options on the S&P 500 Index will be fixed at 1. See proposed Interpretation and Policy .01 of Section 6, Article XVII of the By-Laws. In comparison, the index multiplier applicable to listed index options is 100.

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15.  See Securities Exchange Act Release 65654 (October 28, 2011), 76 FR 68238 (November 3, 2011).

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[FR Doc. 2012-112 Filed 1-6-12; 8:45 am]

BILLING CODE 8011-01-P