(Bloomberg) — The U.S. Treasury Department wants to know if you’re worried about federal government bond-market liquidity. Also, how you even define it.
The agency released a request for information Tuesday — part of its first significant review of the U.S. Treasury market in almost two decades — where questions range from the technical to the philosophical, and may be a key to where Treasury is most focused on making changes and enhancing oversight. It’s open to comments from anyone who wants to weigh in on issues like automated trading and the lack of a central source for transaction data.
“While transparency in the financial markets has improved greatly since the crisis, the U.S. Treasury market — one of the most important markets in the world — still remains oddly opaque,” Kevin McPartland, fixed income market-structure analyst at Greenwich Associates, said in an e-mail.
Issuers of life insurance, annuity, long-term disability insurance and long-term care insurance products make heavy use of high-grade bonds, including some Treasury market bonds, in their investment portfolios.
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Officials are planning to weigh the responses and determine what steps are needed to shore up the market’s stability by the end of this year, before a new president takes office. The Treasury Department put together the document with the other agencies that regulate Treasury trading: The Federal Reserve, New York Fed, Securities and Exchange Commission and Commodity Futures Trading Commission (CFTC).
Regulators will be most interested in what banks, finance executives and speed traders have to say given their importance to the market. They have 60 days to submit comments.
The first thing that’s clear from the information request is that Treasury needs more data as it works to prevent future swings like the ones on Oct. 15, 2014, in the $13.2 trillion market that serves as a benchmark for everything from mortgages to corporate borrowing costs.
One of the changes to come could be more frequent or detailed reporting on direct trading between bond dealers and their clients, which averaged $277 billion of volume each day last year.
Treasury’s questions include what types of traders and markets should report data regularly, how much detail they should report, when those trades should be reported, and whether transaction data should include the type of investors ultimately doing the buying and selling. The agency is also soliciting views on the potential costs and benefits of reporting more data to regulators.
“We don’t take any policy changes to the Treasury market lightly, but it is clear we need better access to more information,” James Clark, Treasury deputy assistant secretary for federal finance, said in an interview. “We cannot afford to stand still as the world changes around us.”
Treasury’s first set of questions, perhaps signaling the importance of a much-debated topic in the market, asks how respondents define liquidity.
Finance industry executives such as JPMorgan Chase & Co. Chief Executive Officer Jamie Dimon have argued that rules passed after the 2008 crisis have sucked up liquidity in debt markets by forcing banks to reduce their trading and hoard high-quality assets like Treasuries. Treasury officials including Secretary Jacob J. Lew have said regulations passed under the Dodd-Frank Act didn’t play a significant role in what happened in October 2014.