General Conditions - 1992 ISDA Provision
1992 ISDA Master Agreement
Section 2(a) in a Nutshell™
Full text of Section 2(a)
Related agreements and comparisons
Content and comparisons
Section 2 contains the basic nuts and bolts of your obligations under the Transactions you execute. Pay or deliver what you’ve promised to pay or deliver, when you’ve promised to pay it or deliver it, and all will be well.
And then there’s the mighty flawed asset provision of Section 2(a)(iii). This won’t trouble ISDA negotiators on the way into a swap trading relationship — few enough people understand it sufficiently well to argue about it — but if, as it surely will, the great day of judgement should visit upon the financial markets again some time in the future, expect plenty of tasty argument, between highly-paid Queen’s Counsel who have spent exactly none of their careers considering derivative contracts, about what it means.
Section 2(a)(iii): Of these provisions, the one that generates the most controversy (chiefly among academics and scholars, it must be said) is Section 2(a)(iii). It generates a lot less debate between negotiators, precisely because its legal effect is nuanced, so its terms are more or less inviolate. Thus, should your counterparty take a pen to Section 2(a)(iii), a clinching argument against that inclination is “just don’t go there, girlfriend”.
Payments and deliveries
Payments are straightforward enough, we suppose — especially since they are stipulated to be made in “freely transferable funds and in the manner customary for payments in the required currency”: beyond that, money being money, you either pay or you don’t: there are not too many shades of meaning left for legal eagles to snuggle into.
Deliveries, though, open up more scope for confecting doubts one can then set about avoiding. what does it mean to deliver? What of assets in which another actor might have some claim, title or colour of interest? In financing documents you might expect at least a representation that “the delivering party beneficially owns and has absolute rights to deliver any required assets free from any competing interests other than customary liens and those arising under security documents”.
What better cue could there be for opposing combatants leap into their trenches, and thrash out this kind of language?
Less patient types — like yours truly — might wish to read all of that into the still, small voice of calm of the word “deliver” in the first place.
What else could it realistically mean, but to deliver outright, and free of competing claims? It is bound up with implications about what you are delivering, and whose the thing is that you are delivering. It would be absurd to suppose one could discharge a physical delivery obligation under a swap by “delivering” an item to which one had no title at all: it is surely implicit in the commercial rationale that one is transferring, outright, the value implicit in an asset and not just the formal husk of the asset itself, on terms that it may be whisked away at any moment at the whim of a bystander.
Swaps are exchanges in value, not pantomimes: one surrenders the value of the asset for whatever value one’s counterparty has agreed to provide in return. Delivery is not just some kind of performative exercise in virtue signalling. You have to give up what you got. As the bailiffs take leave of your counterparty with the asset you gave it strapped to their wagon, it would hardly do to say, “oh, well, I did deliver you that asset: it never said anywhere it had to be my asset, or that I was meant to be transferring any legal interest in it to you. It is all about my act of delivery, I handed something to you, and that is that.”
We think one could read that into the question of whether a delivery has been made at all. Should a third party assert title to or some claim over an asset delivered to you, your best tactic is not a vain appeal to representations your counterparty as to the terms of delivery, but to deny that it has “delivered” anything at all. “I was meant to have the asset. This chap has repossessed it; therefore I do not have it. If I don’t have it, it follows that you have failed to deliver it.”
Modern security as practical control
In any weather, nowadays much of this is made moot by the realities of how financial assets are transferred: that is, electronically, fungibly, in book-entry systems, and therefore, by definition, freely: a creditor takes security over accounts to which assets for the time being are credited, or by way of physical pledge where the surety resides in the pledgee holding and therefore controlling the securities for itself. It is presumed that, to come about, any transfer of assets naturally comes electronically and without strings attached. It would be difficult for such a security holder to mount a claim for an asset transferred electronically to a bona fide third party recipient for value and without notice: the practicalities of its security interest lie in its control over the asset in the first place: holding it, or at the least being entitled to stop a third party security trustee or escrow custodian delivering away the asset without the security holder’s prior consent.