New EU rules could mean death for London’s global financial clout

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The European Union will require banks to monitor their exposure to clearinghouses and maintain active clearing accounts in the bloc as part of new financial market rules put forward by its executive on Wednesday.

The European Commission’s proposals are designed to encourage more business to move to clearing houses in continental Europe from the City of London by June 2025, when a temporary waiver that allows its banks and money managers to clear trades in the UK expires.Play Video

The EU wants to reduce its dependence on London, which continues to dominate Europe’s financial infrastructure even after Brexit. Investors have so far been reluctant to shift trades to far smaller EU clearing houses, a key part of the plumbing that runs through the financial system. 

Clearing is a key part of the finance world supporting banking, technology and legal jobs across the City of London. Clearinghouses such as London Stock Exchange Group Plc’s LCH operate at the center of markets, collecting collateral from both sides of a trade to ensure a default on one doesn’t spread panic through financial markets.

“I think we have talked enough to the stakeholders that they understand what we are doing and why we are doing it and I think there is less resistance than there was in the early stages,” Mairead McGuinness, the European Commission’s head of financial services, told reporters in Brussels. 

She stressed that the move should not be regarded as “trying to weaken” London’s position but is instead about ensuring the bloc’s financial stability. She said about 60% of firms are understood to currently have active clearing accounts in the EU.

The European Securities and Markets Authority, the bloc’s markets regulator, will determine the threshold that banks will need to clear when it comes to clearing volumes in the bloc, Valdis Dombrovskis, the commission’s executive vice-president, told reporters in Brussels.

Read More: EU Weighs Incentives, Penalties to Draw Clearing From London

The new proposed measures will also allow clearing services providers to expand their products range quicker and easier, help increase transparency of margin calls, according to the commission materials.

A press release accompanying the announcement said the draft law is designed to “reduce excessive reliance” on external clearing houses. That suggests UK clearing houses will continue to service the bloc after 2025, industry figures say.

The LSEG welcomes “the acknowledgement of the importance of continued access for EU firms to UK CCPs in order to hedge their risks in all currencies and manage their costs efficiently,” a spokesperson said in an emailed statement. “We will continue to engage and cooperate with the relevant regulatory authorities in respect of the long-term recognition of LCH Limited on an ongoing basis.”

McGuinness, whose term ends in 2024, said in a separate briefing that the market should be ready for the 2025 deadline and that she isn’t planning an extension of the existing equivalence decision. She declined to provide the share of business the EU is targeting.

“Have I ruled out equivalence? I have been very clear of the deadline,” McGuinness said to reporters in Brussels. “At this stage definitely we would be saying, repeating, that it is June 2025. I can only speak for my own term here.”

CMU Initiative

The proposals are part of the EU’s Capital Markets Union initiative, which is designed to break down barriers between the bloc’s financial markets and address clearing, insolvencies and listings.

“We are preparing our capital markets for the future,” McGuinness told Bloomberg Television. “At the moment we have too many fragmentations and that means that business large and small do not benefit from capital markets.”

The Commission also proposed amendments to boost investment into smaller and mid-sized firms. The planned change will raise the threshold below which the re-bundling of trading execution fees and research fees is allowed to €10 billion ($10.6 billion), up from €1 billion, a limit that was only set during the pandemic.

The move is designed to encourage investors to pay more attention to smaller and mid-sized firms. Since the introduction of MiFID II in 2018, unbundling has been blamed for removing the incentive for banks to produce research on smaller stocks and making it harder for them to attract capital.

Read More: EU Plans to Ease MiFID Rules to Boost Smaller Firm Research

Companies will also see listing requirements and documentation simplified to reducing the cost to companies. The proposals also aim to harmonize insolvency proceedings across the bloc including actions to preserve the insolvency estate, fair distribution of the recovered value among creditors to foster cross-border investment.

The proposals will be submitted to the European Parliament and member states for adoption.

Crypto Fallout

The collapse of FTX into bankruptcy last month is also a focus for EU officials as the bloc’s Markets in Cryptoassets directive moves towards an expected vote in February. McGuinness said the exchange’s failure showed a need to regulate the sector on a global scale.

“Anyone who is reading headlines has got to be more than cautious about crypto, and that is no bad thing,” she said in the Bloomberg Television interview. “Too many entered this space thinking that the only way was up and we know that what goes up can come down.”

(Adds LSEG statement and context on 2025 deadline from ninth paragraph.)

–With assistance from Emily Nicolle.

-With assistance from Emily Nicolle.

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