In recent months, there has been a fair amount of media coverage of naked short selling, Regulation SHO and even DTCC’s role in that via the Stock Borrow program operated by DTCC subsidiary National Securities Clearing Corporation (NSCC). Because there has been much confusion about these issues, and much misinformation, @dtcc sat down with DTCC First Deputy General Counsel Larry Thompson to discuss these issues.
@dtcc: Let’s start with the question, what is naked short selling and why has it suddenly become an issue?
Thompson: Short selling is a trading strategy where a broker/dealer or investor believes that a stock is overvalued and is likely to decline. It is an integral part of the way our capital market system works. Basically, it involves borrowing stock that you don’t own and selling it on the open market. You then buy it back at a later date, hopefully at a lower price, and as a result, making a profit.
Naked short selling is selling stock you don’t own, but not borrowing it and making no attempt to do so. While naked short selling occurs, the extent to which it occurs is in dispute.
@dtcc: DTCC and some of its subsidiaries have been sued over naked shorting. What has been the result of those cases?
Thompson: We’ve had 12 cases to date filed against DTCC or one of our subsidiaries over the naked shorting issue. Nine of the cases have been dismissed by the judge without a trial, or withdrawn by the plaintiff. The other three are pending, and we have moved to dismiss all those cases as well. While the lawyers in these cases have presented their theory of how they think the system works, the fact is that their theories are not an accurate reflection of how the capital market system actually works.
@dtcc: One of the allegations made in some of the lawsuits is that the Stock Borrow program counterfeits shares, creating many more shares than actually exist. True?
Thompson: Absolutely false. Under the Stock Borrow program, NSCC only borrows shares from a lending member if the member actually has the shares on deposit in its account at the DTC and voluntarily offers them to NSCC. If the member doesn’t have the shares, it can’t lend them.
Once a loan is made, the lent shares are deducted from the lender’s DTC account and credited to the DTC account of the member to whom the shares are delivered. Only one NSCC member can have the shares credited to its DTC account at any one time.
The assertion that the same shares are lent over and over again with each new recipient acquiring ownership of the same shares is either an intentional misrepresentation of the SEC-approved system, or a profoundly ignorant characterization of this component of the process of clearing and settling transactions.
@dtcc: Another allegation is that the Stock Borrow program has become “a reliable source of income” for NSCC? Some articles have said we make almost $1 billion from it.
Thompson: This statement is purposely misleading. One billion dollars represents our total revenue from all our operations of all subsidiaries. The fact is that there are NO separate fees for transactions processed through the Stock Borrow program. There is just the normal fee for delivery of the shares, which is 30 cents per delivery. If you assume we make an average of 22,000 deliveries through Stock Borrow a day, there would be about $6,600 extra a day in revenue over 253 trading days, or about $1.67 million a year in additional revenue, out of $1 billion.
All of our members know that DTCC and all its subsidiaries operate on a “not for profit” basis. What that means is that we aim to price our services so that our revenues cover our expenses.
@dtcc: Just how big is the fail to delivers, and how much of those fails does the Stock Borrow program address?
Thompson: Currently, fails to deliver are running about 24,000 transactions daily, and that includes both new and aged fails, out of an average of 23 million new transactions processed daily by NSCC, or about one-tenth of one percent. In dollar terms, fails to deliver and receive amount to about $6 billion daily, again including both new fails and aged fails, out of just under $400 billion in trades processed daily by NSCC, or about 1.5% of the dollar volume. The Stock Borrow program is able to resolve about $1.1 billion of the “fails to receive,” or about 20% of the total fail obligation.
The Stock Borrow program was created in 1981 with the approval of the SEC to help reduce potential problems caused by fails, by enabling NSCC to make deliveries of shares to brokers who bought them when there is a “fail to deliver” by the delivering broker. However, it doesn’t in any way relieve the broker who fails to deliver from that obligation. Even if a “fail to receive” is handled by Stock Borrow, the “fail to deliver” continues to exist, and is counted as part of the total “fails to deliver.” If the total fails to deliver for that issue exceeds 10,000 shares, it gets reported to the markets and the SEC.
@dtcc: If the volume in the Stock Borrow program is so small, why are these companies suggesting it is a major issue?
Thompson: Frankly, we believe that the allegations are attempting to purposely mislead those who are not familiar with this program. A number of small OTCBB and so-called “pink sheet” companies have contended that this practice is driving down the price of their shares and driving them out of business.
According to their own 10K and 10Q reports financial auditor’s disclosure statements, many of these firms have admitted that “factors raise substantial doubt about the company’s ability to continue as a going concern.” They have had little or no revenue, according to their financial reports, and substantial losses, for periods of seven or eight years. One of these companies has been cited for failing to file financial statements since 2001. Another has been cited by the SEC for press releases that misled investors on expanding business contracts that didn’t exist. They will do anything they can do that takes people’s attention off that kind of record, especially if they can convince a law firm to take the case on a contingency basis, which is what has happened.
@dtcc: Who are the law firms bringing these suits?
Thompson: The main law firms engaged in these lawsuits, and they have been behind virtually all of them, were principally involved with the tobacco class action lawsuit. They like to bring suits in multiple jurisdictions in an attempt to find any jurisdiction where they might be successful in winning large judgments.
@dtcc: What causes a fail to deliver in a trade? Is it all naked short selling?
Thompson: There can be any number of reasons for a “fail to deliver,” many of them the result of investor actions. An investor can get a physical certificate to his broker too late for settlement. An investor might not have signed the certificate, or signed in the wrong place. There may have been human error, in that the wrong stock (or CUSIP) was sold, so the delivery can’t be made. Last year, 1.7 million physical certificates were lost, and sometimes that isn’t discovered until after an investor puts in an order to sell the security. There are literally dozens of reasons for a “fail to deliver,” and most of them are legal. Reg SHO also allows market makers to legally “naked short” shares in the course of their market making responsibilities, and those obviously result in fails. We can’t do anything about them but what we are doing: that is, report all fails of more than 10,000 shares in any issue to the marketplaces and the SEC for their action.
@dtcc: What happens then?
Thompson: The markets check to see if the amount of fails to deliver is more than 1/2 of 1% of the total outstanding shares in that security. If it is, then it goes on a “Threshold List.” If it is then on the Threshold List for 13 consecutive settlement days, restrictions on short selling then apply. The “close-out” requirement forces a participant of a registered clearing agency to close out any “fail to deliver” position in a threshold security that has remained for 13 consecutive settlement days by purchasing securities of like kind and quantity. If the participant does not take action to close out the open fail to deliver position, the participant is prohibited from making further short sales in that security without first borrowing or arranging to borrow the security. Even market makers are not exempt from this requirement.
@dtcc: So Reg SHO doesn’t force them to close out the position, but if they don’t, they are prohibited from making any additional short sales without borrowing the shares first?
Thompson: That’s right.
@dtcc: Does DTCC have a regulatory role in naked short selling? What authority does it have to force companies to settle a fail?
Thompson: Naked short selling, or short selling, is a trading activity. We don’t have any power or legal authority to regulate or stop short selling, naked or otherwise. We also have no power to force member firms to close out or resolve fails to deliver. That power is reserved for the SEC and the markets, be it the NYSE, Nasdaq, Amex, or any of the other markets. The fact is, we don’t even see whether a sale is short or not. That’s something only the markets see. NSCC just gets “buys” and “sells,” and it’s our job to try and clear and settle those trades.
@dtcc: Why won’t you reveal the number of fails to deliver in each position to the issuer of the security?
Thompson: There are a couple of reasons. First, we provide that information to regulators and the SROs so they can investigate fails and determine whether there are violations of law going on. Releasing that information might jeopardize those investigations, and we feel they are the appropriate organizations to get that information since they can act on it. Second, NSCC rules prohibit release of trading data, or any reports based on the trading data, to anyone other than participant firms, regulators, or self-regulatory bodies such as the NYSE or Nasdaq. We do that for the obvious reason that the trading data we receive could be used to manipulate the market, as well as reveal trading patterns of individual firms.
@dtcc: How does DTCC respond to claims that shares from cash accounts and/or retirement accounts and/or institutional accounts are being put into the lending pool of the Stock Borrow program?
Thompson: It is our broker and bank members who control their DTC accounts. They can and do segregate shares that they are not permitted to lend out. Neither NSCC nor DTC monitor or regulate that activity. It is done by the SROs and the SEC. However, there is no requirement that brokers or banks participate in the Stock Borrow program, and neither DTC nor NSCC can take shares from an account unless those shares are voluntarily offered by the broker or bank member.
@dtcc: Do you think there is illegal naked shorting going on?
Thompson: Certainly there have been cases in the past where it has, and those cases have been prosecuted by the SEC and other appropriate enforcement agencies. I suppose there will be cases where someone else will try to break the law in the future. But I also don’t believe that there is the huge, systemic, illegal naked shorting that some have charged is going on. To say that there are trillions of dollars involved in this is ridiculous. The fact is that fails, as a percentage of total trading, hasn’t changed in the last 10 years. @
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