It'll be business as usual in the Chicago futures exchanges.
After months of heated debate on Capitol Hill, the powerful futures and agricultural lobby has proven triumphant in beating back the efforts by Treasury Secretary Nicholas F. Brady and, more recently, by a coalition of five powerful senators to challenge the free-wheeling power of the Chicago markets.
The victory freed the futures markets, at least temporarily, from sweeping challenges to their operational powers and delayed enactment of tough new regulations designed to prevent fraud in the trading pits.
All of these issues are expected to be revisited in the 102nd Congress next year.
The end of the debate was signaled by Sen. Patrick J. Leahy, (D-Vt.), chairman of the Senate Agriculture Committee, who declared that the struggle over futures market issues had ended for this session of Congress, which is moving toward adjournment.
Leahy, angry over the failure of the bill containing the tough new trading pit rules, said: "Our failure to act on futures trading reform, like our failure to act efficiently on the budget, sends a strong message to the public that their cynicism toward government is justified."
The battle on Capitol Hill ended with the warring sides caught in a legislative gridlock of objections that prevented any of the parties from acting on any of the pending measures.
A compromise plan recently crafted by the five senators would have given the Federal Reserve authority over the margins, or down payments, that investors must make when trading in futures contracts traded on the Chicago exchanges.
Although the futures markets are regulated by the Commodity Futures Trading Commission (CFTC), the power over margins generally rests in the hands of the exchanges.
The futures markets frequently have been accused of setting margins so low that they encourage dangerous levels of speculation, a charge the markets have denied.
The second key feature of the compromise would have permitted securities that are a hybrid form of stocks and futures to trade in both futures and stock markets, thus ending a long battle between the markets over "exclusivity."
The senators who backed the compromise were drawn from the top ranks of both the Senate Agriculture and Banking Committees, which hold key roles in overseeing both the futures markets and the stock markets.
The senators included Leahy and Sen. Richard G. Lugar (R-Ind.), the ranking Republican on the Senate Agriculture Committee; Sen. Christopher J. Dodd (D-Conn.), chairman of the Senate Banking Committee's subcommittee on securities and Sen. John Heinz, (R-Pa.), ranking Republican on the securities subcommittee. Also, Sen. Christopher S. Bond (R-Mo.), who serves on the Agriculture Committee and Banking Committee.
The changes in trading pit regulations were contained in a legislative proposal dealing withe the powers of the CFTC. That measure was put on hold as Brady, Sen. Slade Gorton, (R-Wash.) and others sought to diminish the volatility of the stock and futures markets by transferring powers held by the CFTC and the futures markets to the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC).
The key shift would have given the SEC power to regulate futures contracts on baskets of stocks, called indexes. The Chicago markets, the agribusiness community and their supporters on the Hill rallied to fight off any incursions into the CFTC's authority.
John Damgard, president of the Futures Industry Association, said his Washington-based trade group had favored the new trading rules for the Chicago markets but thought the margin and hybrid products proposals were "flawed."