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Yves Mersch, Member of the Executive Board of the ECB, at the Frankfurt Finance Summit, Frankfurt, 29 May 2018 illustrated the key role played by central counterparties in Europe. During the 2008 financial crisis, counterparty risks became infamous. The failure of Lehman Brothers and the large losses suffered by AIG in over-the-counter derivatives markets revealed that there were counterparty risks throughout the entire financial system. This was due to the domino effect of counterparty defaults in leveraged products.

In the 2009 summit in Pittsburgh, G20 countries agreed to move all standardised derivatives contracts to clearing through central counterparties (or CCPs), yet CCPs can only make the financial system safer if they are safe themselves.

In the European Union, they are subject to a comprehensive regulatory framework. The European Market Infrastructure Regulation (or EMIR) ensures that they hold robust resources to deal with financial distress. The global regulatory push towards central clearing has contributed to making CCPs extremely important parts of the global financial system. In 2009, just 40% of all interest rate derivatives contracts were cleared through CCPs, but by 2017 this had increased to 83%.

The rising importance of CCPs means that their supervisory framework needs to be reformed. Most clearing is now done across borders and is strongly concentrated in a limited number of EU CCPs, which have become systemically important for the EU as a whole.

Furthermore, two of these CCPs are based in the United Kingdom and they currently clear around 95% of euro-denominated interest rate derivatives and around 30% of euro-denominated repos. Thus, a significant disturbance involving a major UK CCP could affect financial stability and market functioning across the EU.

On top of this, most of the liquidity provided by central banks tends to be channelled through the repo market. The United Kingdom’s withdrawal from the EU means the supervisory framework for non-EU countries must be adapted. EU authorities must continue to be able to not only closely monitor UK CCPs but ensure they comply with EU regulations.

In this sense, precautions have to be taken to ensure that CCPs do not become a weak point for monetary policy and the currencies issued by central banks. CCPs can pose significant risks to the smooth operation of payment systems and to monetary policy transmission in times of market stress.

For example, market volatility or failures in CCPs’ risk management may affect liquidity within the financial system and that of CCP users, who are typically monetary policy counterparties and key participants in payment systems. In extreme situations, liquidity shortfalls could foster contagion and lead to CCPs and banks becoming distressed.

This could mean the ECB needs to provide liquidity to systemic CCPs or to their members to ensure that payment systems continue to function smoothly and that monetary policy can be transmitted effectively. It is clear that, in such cases, liability and control need to be well aligned: the ECB must be able to monitor and control the risks posed by CCPs.

CCPs are also directly relevant for payment systems. Cleared markets represent a significant share of financial markets as a whole, meaning that CCPs are settling large payment volumes. In order to ensure that payment systems continue to function smoothly, the ECB must ensure that CCPs have appropriate arrangements in place for liquidity management and settlement in euro.

Moreover, in the past CCPs have increased margins and collateral haircuts beyond the levels required by prudential standards or their own risk models. But doing so they may cause liquidity strains and increase volatility in bond prices which, in turn, affects the transmission of monetary policy. To be clear, CCPs should of course make sure they remain resilient to liquidity risks. But they should do so in a predictable manner and based on sound risk models that should not undercut monetary policy decisions.

Yves Mersch: ECB Clearing – the open race, full press release (HTML)

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