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Commodity Exchange Act (CEA)

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What Is The Commodity Exchange Act (CEA)?

The Commodity Exchange Act (CEA) is a law that regulates commodities and futures trading activities. The Act, passed in 1936, established the Commodity Futures Trading Commission (CFTC). It was designed to prevent and remove obstructions in the interstate commerce of commodities by regulating transactions on commodity futures exchanges. In addition, the CEA looked to limit or abolish the possibility of market manipulation, with later amendments designed to protect investors and the public through enhanced regulatory authority.

Key Takeaways

  • The Commodity Exchange Act regulates commodities and futures trading in the U.S.
  • The Act established the Commodity Futures Trading Commission (CFTC) to oversee commodity exchanges.
  • It is mainly responsible for agriculture, global markets, energy and environmental markets, and technology.
  • The CFTC was given additional oversight of the over-the-counter swaps market after the global financial crisis.

Understanding the Commodity Exchange Act (CEA)

​​​​​​​The Commodity Exchange Act (CEA) gives the Commodity Futures Trading Commission the authority to establish regulations as published in Chapter I, Title 17, of the Code of Federal Regulations. The CEA essentially replaced the Grain Futures Act of 1922 when it was passed in 1936. The CEA also addressed Depression-era concerns about speculation in the commodities markets and their role in the collapse in prices of key crops, such as cotton, wheat, and corn.

The CEA established the statutory framework under which the CFTC operates. The CFTC’s goals include:

  • The promotion of competitive and efficient futures markets 
  • Protection of investors against market manipulation
  • The policing of abusive and fraudulent trade practices

The CEA exists because market participants would be subject to fraud if the regulation didn’t exist. Without it, there would be a loss of faith in the country’s capital markets to the detriment of investors and the economy. The goal of capital markets is, after all, to efficiently allocate funds to the most meritorious systems of production and productive economic activities. 

The CFTC has five active advisory committees (and one inactive), each headed by a commissioner who is appointed by the president and approved by the Senate. These five committees focus on agriculture, global markets, energy and environmental markets, technology, and market risk. Each committee represents the interests of specific industries, traders, futures exchanges, commodities exchanges, consumers, and the environment.

Cryptocurrencies, defined as commodities by the CFTC, are providing a new challenge to trading regulators.

Special Considerations

The law that established the CFTC has been updated several times since it was created, most notably in the wake of the 2007-2008 financial crisis. The Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act gave the CFTC authority over the swaps market, which was previously unregulated. Swaps are a type of derivatives contract—a customized contract once traded between private parties rather than on an exchange.

Credit default swaps in particular were seen as a key instigator of the global financial crisis. Investors in mortgage debt protected themselves from default risk by entering into swaps. They paid regular premiums to other investors, who in return, agreed to reimburse them if the loans defaulted. This provided a kind of insurance from default risk. When the U.S. housing market collapsed, the buyers of the swaps were left holding the bag without enough capital to reimburse the swap sellers.

The CFTC now regulates this market, imposing the kind of restrictions that were already in force in other futures markets. These include requiring the swaps market to trade on regulated exchanges or “swap execution facilities” and imposing margin requirements to lower the risk of these investments.

Cryptocurrency Challenges for the Commodity Exchange Act

Financial technology such as cloud computing, algorithmic trading, distributed ledgers, and artificial intelligence pose new challenges for the CFTC. Virtual or digital currencies, which can function as a medium of exchange (among other functions), are another challenge. The derivatives exchange marketplace CME Group launched a Bitcoin futures contract in late 2017.

Virtual currencies, such as Bitcoin, are considered commodities under the CEA. However, there are limitations to its regulatory oversight over commodity cash markets. The CFTC has general enforcement authority to combat fraud and manipulation in the cryptocurrency cash markets. 

These new technologies can potentially have a significant or even transformational impact on CFTC-regulated markets and the agency itself. The CFTC plans to play an active role in overseeing this emerging innovation.

Who Is Subject to the Commodity Exchange Act?

Anyone who is associated with futures and commodities, such as futures merchants, introducing brokers, commodities trading advisors, swap dealers or participants, pool operators, customers, exchanges, or any other commodities market participants.

What’s the Difference Between the SEC and CFTC?

The Securities and Exchange Commission regulates securities exchanges and trading, while the Commodities Futures Trading Commission regulates futures, commodities, and their derivatives.

What Commodities Are Regulated by the CFTC?

The CFTC regulates the trading of commodities and derivatives markets in the U.S., which includes swaps, futures, and options.

The Bottom Line

The Commodity Exchange Act regulates futures and commodities exchange trading in the U.S. The act created the Commodities Futures Trading Commission, and the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act enhanced the commission’s authority to regulate the swap market and increase transparency in the derivatives trading market.

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