CSA To Commence Crippling Canadian Corporate Bond Market

The Canadian Securities Administrators have announced that they have:

published for comment CSA Staff Notice 21-315 Next Steps in Regulation and Transparency of the Fixed Income Market, which describes the CSA’s plan to enhance fixed income regulation.

The Notice sets out the steps CSA staff are taking to improve market integrity, evaluate access to the fixed income market and facilitate more informed decision making among market participants.

The CSA Staff Notice can be found on CSA members’ websites. The 45-day comment period will close on November 1, 2015.

Naturally the CSA can’t put actual links on the press release announcing their existence. That would be too simple, but after some poking around we find on the OSC website CSA Staff Notice and Request for Comment 21-315 Next Steps in Regulation and Transparency of the Fixed Income Market:

On April 23, 2015, staff of the Ontario Securities Commission (OSC) published a report titled The Canadian Fixed Income Market 2014 (the Report).{2} The Report presented a fact-based snapshot of the $2 trillion fixed income market in Canada, with particular emphasis on the $500 billion in corporate debt outstanding.{3} The Report also highlighted the following:

1. fixed income data available is limited and fragmented across a number of sources, which makes it difficult to conduct a comprehensive assessment of the fixed income market;

2. the secondary fixed income market is a decentralized, over-the-counter market where large investors have significantly more bargaining power than small investors;

3. there is limited adoption of electronic trading and alternative trading systems, especially for corporate bonds; and

4. direct retail participation in the primary and secondary fixed income market is low and retail investors typically access the fixed income market by purchasing investment funds.

The purpose of this notice is to set out the CSA staff’s plan to enhance fixed income regulation to:

1. facilitate more informed decision-making among all market participants, regardless of their size;

2. improve market integrity; and

3. evaluate whether access to the fixed income market is fair and equitable for all investors.

Each of these steps is discussed in the sections below.

The report was discussed on PrefBlog in the post The Canadian Fixed Income Market: 2014.

It is noteworthy that not one of the objectives involves answering the question “What is the corporate bond market for?”. If this question was ever asked and it was decided that the purpose of the corporate bond market was to give Granny a good place to invest her $5,000 in a single particular bond at a good price then the other objectives make sense. If, however, the purpose of the market is to give corporations access to debt funding that is less constraining and cheaper than bank funding, so they can invest money, help the economy grow and create jobs, then other conclusions might be drawn.

However, CSA staff already has jobs, currently on the public payroll and quite often with the banks afterwards, so job creation by other corporations is hardly a meaningful concern.

As they are on the public payroll, they have very prudently not commenced crippling the government bond market:

NI 21-101 sets out transparency requirements for government debt securities. Specifically, marketplaces and inter-dealer bond brokers are required to report order or trade information, or both, to an information processor. However, an exemption from these transparency requirements is in place and was recently extended until January 1, 2018, through amendments to NI 21-101. As indicated in the notice published with the amendments,{9} no other jurisdiction has mandated transparency for government debt securities. The extension was granted in order to allow CSA staff to monitor international developments, including the expected implementation of the transparency regime that will be established across the European Union by the new Markets in Financial Instruments Directive (MiFID II) and the Markets in Financial Instrument Regulation (MiFIR) adopted by the European Commission,{10} and to determine whether the NI 21-101 transparency requirements for government debt securities should be implemented or whether changes are appropriate.

It is laughable that CSA staff boasts about the wonders of public dissemination of information via SEDAR without permitting direct links to these public documents, but the funniest part of this diktat is their lip service to liquidity:

As noted above, it is CSA staff’s goal to achieve transparency for trades in all corporate debt securities by the end of 2017. We have considered how to achieve this goal in light of:

• the fact that IIROC will be implementing the IIROC Debt Reporting Rule in two phases (described below); and

• concerns that have been raised globally about a decrease in the liquidity in corporate debt markets, and the potential impact of additional transparency on liquidity.{19}

It is intended that transparency for all corporate debt securities will be phased in over the next two years in two phases, as follows:

• in Phase I (expected to occur in mid-2016), IIROC, as an information processor, will disseminate post-trade information for all trades in the Designated Corporate Debt Securities and for retail trades{20} for all other corporate debt securities reported to IIROC; and

• in Phase II (expected to occur in mid-2017), IIROC will disseminate information for all trades in all corporate debt securities and for new issues of corporate debt.

Footnote 19 reads: Specifically, concerns have been raised globally about a potential decrease in the liquidity of the fixed income markets due to a number of factors, including an increase in corporate bond issuances coupled with, some believe, decreases in dealers’ inventories resulting from changes in regulation. We have also heard these concerns raised by Canadian buy-side and sell-side firms during our discussions regarding liquidity and transparency.

Oh, isn’t that just the sweetest thing you can imagine! They’ve “heard these concerns” and, of course, having heard them we can rely on our Wise Masters to have made the correct decision. Just what these concerns were and just why certain decisions were made is none of your business – not only are you mere investor scum but you’re not even government employees, so dry up and blow away, vermin.

I have written about liquidity ant transparency many times on this blog and provided some of the links in my review of the OSC literature survey that is being used as cover for the CSA’s shenanigans. The short version is: increasing transparency leads to markets with a narrower bid-ask spread, but less depth. This has been shown time and time again by academics studying all sorts of markets. Naturally, the regulators are focussing on a definition of liquidity that emphasizes the bid-ask spread; Granny will be able to trade her $5,000 worth of bonds much more cheaply. Investors who trade corporates in $1-million+ sized chunks, however, experience a sharp decline in liquidity. This, naturally, increases the risk of flash-crashes and ‘crowded-trades’ as retail dumps ETFs … but who cares? That will merely give the regulators another excuse for some crocodile tears and another expensive study.

Institutional level liquidity is not a joke and it’s not trivial. When investments are more volatile and less liquid, you want to get paid more for holding them. That is to say, you demand more yield. It is the issuers who are paying that yield and increases in this yield increase their costs, and make building that new factory just that much less attractive.

But nobody cares and the regulators can’t even be bothered to ask ‘What is the corporate bond market for?’.

I’ve had it with this sham. However, for those who are interested, there was a story in the Globe about this issue titled Canadian regulators unveil new system to report corporate bond trading data. The plan has been greeted with rapturous applause from non-investors.

Coming up next: industry regulators take on the Ontario Food Terminal. It is disgusting that purchase of food at wholesale prices is restricted! Let’s see some FAIRNESS!!!

Update, 2015-9-19: Other press mentions have been Canada to Boost Corporate Bond Market Transparency by 2017 and CSA seeks comments on enhancing fixed-income transparency. The former article is notable for the paragraph:

“The steps we have set out to enhance regulation in the fixed income market will improve market transparency and better protect investor interests,” Tracey Stern, head of market regulation at the Ontario Securities Commission, said in an e- mailed statement. “With increased transparency, investors will be in a better position to assess the quality of their executions.”

Do I really need to point out that the concept of judging “quality of their executions” is a concept that applies only to brokered trades, while virtually all bond transactions are done on a principal basis? It would appear that I do.

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