Susan Phillips, named by President Reagan this week to a second term as head of the Commodities Futures Trading Commission, said today that the agency intends to push forward with a controversial plan to improve detection of market manipulation.
Speaking at the annual convention of the Futures Industry Association, she declared, "All the commissioners are committed to seeing the audit trail proposal through to its conclusion." However, she added that the CFTC would not insist on "one-minute time-stamping," a proposal that one industry official labeled "a Star Wars idea."
In another development, the advent of 24-hour global futures trading edged closer as the Commodity Exchange and the Sydney Futures Exchange announced a link between the two to trade gold contracts. Regulatory approval is needed both here and in Australia. If granted, the New York-Sidney connection will be added to those already in existence between exchanges in Chicago and Singapore, Chicago and London and Philadelphia and Hong Kong.
The criticized proposal for one-minute time-stamping on trades in commodity pits is an idea the CFTC tried unsuccessfully in the past to impose but dropped under industry pressure.
The current rule requires that trades be recorded every 30 minutes. However, this allows unscrupulous traders to trade for their own accounts before customer accounts. For example, a trader knowing of a large sell order by a customer could liquidate his own position beforehand and get a better price.
By requiring more frequent recording of trades, the regulators can spot illegal activity. However, the industry contends that recording trades at one-minute intervals would either be electronically impossible or would slow down market action too much.
Phillips denied today that the agency would seek a one-minute rule. Instead, she called for a performance standard on trade reconstruction that would be compatible with each individual exchange's existing accounting and record-keeping systems. The system could be manual, mechanical or electronic, she said, but it must be approved by the CFTC. Later, she added that several exchanges already have the electronic capability.
The industry agrees reform is necessary but disagrees on the remedy. FIA Chairman Arthur Marcus said he found nothing confrontational in Phillips' speech, but another convention participant, broker Donald Horwitz, called it "hard-line" and said the CFTC would not back down again.
With the decline in agricultural prices, trading in financial futures such as foreign currencies, precious metals and Treasury obligations has increased notably. Last year, for example, agricultural futures trading declined by 9 percent while financial instruments futures trading rose by 27.6 percent.
An obvious change at the 10th annual FIA convention is the presence of many foreign delegations from Europe and the Far East. They discussed plans for new exchanges and new products ranging from the creation of a financial futures market in Tokyo to a new freight futures index in Bermuda.