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The Securities and Exchange Commission wants to require that broker-dealers trading in off-exchange venues become members of a national securities association.

The SEC says the rule change would enhance regulatory oversight of active proprietary trading firms, such as high frequency traders.

“This proposal embodies a simple but powerful principle of the federal securities laws – the protection of investors and the stability of our markets require that trading is overseen by both the Commission and a strong self-regulatory organization,” said SEC Chair Mary Jo White.  “Today’s proposed rules would close a regulatory gap by extending oversight to a significant portion of off-exchange trading.”

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The proposed amendments to Rule 15b9-1 under the Exchange Act would narrow an exemption that currently exempts certain brokers-dealers from membership in a national securities association if they are a member of a national securities exchange, carry no customer accounts, and have annual gross income of no more than $1,000 that is derived from securities transactions effected otherwise than on a national securities exchange of which they are a member.

Income derived from proprietary trading conducted with or through another broker-dealer does not count against the $1,000 limit.  The exemption originally was designed to accommodate exchange specialists and other floor members that might need to conduct limited hedging or other off-exchange activities ancillary to their floor-based business.  Over time, the markets have undergone a substantial transformation, including the emergence of active cross-market proprietary trading firms, many of which engage in high-frequency trading strategies.  Although the business of these firms may not be focused on an exchange floor, and they may be responsible for a substantial percentage of the trading volume in the off-exchange market, many are not members of a national securities association because they have been able to rely on the broad proprietary trading exemption in Rule 15b9-1.

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The proposed amendments would amend the exemption to target the broker-dealers for which it was originally designed – those with a business focused on an exchange floor and over which that exchange is positioned to oversee the entirety of their trading activity.  The proposed amendments, among other things, would eliminate the current proprietary trading exemption and replace it with a more focused one that would accommodate off-exchange transactions by a floor-based dealer that are solely for the purpose of hedging the risks of its floor-based activities.  They also would update the exemption that permits off-exchange transactions necessary to comply with regulatory requirements restricting trade-throughs, under Rule 611 of Regulation NMS.

The SEC will seek public comment on the proposed rule amendment for 60 days following its publication in the Federal Register.

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Originally published on Advisor.ca

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