Rule G-25 Improper Use of Assets

Retroactive price adjustment for early redemption - January 31, 1986

Retroactive price adjustment for early redemption.  This is in response to your letter dated January 15, 1986, regarding the application of Board rules to a plan to guarantee a minimum return to customers who purchase certain municipal securities. You note that many [state deleted] municipalities issue General Obligation Temporary Notes with maturities of approximately one year. The municipalities also reserve the right to redeem at par any or all of the notes at any time prior to maturity. Historically, few notes are actually redeemed prior to their stated maturity.

You state that, acting as a municipal securities dealer, you desire to bid on these notes with the intent of selling them to your customers. The notes would be sold at a premium to generate trading profits. Because the notes can be redeemed by the issuer at any time at par, it is conceivable that someone who pays a premium for the notes could incur an actual return on their investment that is extremely small - even negative.

You ask whether, under Board rules, a municipal securities dealer may sell notes as described above, with the provision that if the notes are redeemed by the issuer prior to maturity, the dealer will adjust the original purchase price retroactively to provide a minimum return to the purchaser for the time held. The minimum return would be negotiated with the purchaser and confirmed in writing at the time of purchase from the dealer. You cite the following example:

The XYZ Bank, a municipal securities dealer, purchases from the City of Anywhere, $100,000 par value of its 6% General Obligation Temporary Notes, dated 1-1-86, maturing 1-1-87 at par, redeemable at anytime at the option of the issuer.

The XYZ Bank sells the notes to its customer, the ABC Bank, for settlement 1-1-86 to yield 5.75%. Can the XYZ bank agree that if the notes are redeemed prior to maturity by the issuer, it will adjust the original price at which the ABC Bank purchased the notes to provide a minimum return of at least 5% for the time held?

Board rule G-25(b) generally prohibits a municipal securities dealer from guaranteeing a customer against loss. Under the rule, put options and repurchase agreements are not deemed to be guarantees against loss if their terms are provided in writing to the customer with or on the confirmation of the transaction and recorded in accordance with rule G-8(a)(v). The rule is anti-manipulative in purpose and was designed, in part, to prevent a dealer from artificially stimulating the market in a security by selling securities to customers who assume no market risk.  In addition, rule G-25(c) prohibits a municipal securities dealer from sharing, directly or indirectly, in the profits or losses of a transaction in municipal securities with or for a customer. Finally, rule G-30 requires municipal securities dealers to effect transactions with customers at fair and reasonable prices, taking into consideration, among other matters, the price of securities of comparable quality.

The arrangement you pose may be viewed as a guarantee against loss because the dealer would guarantee the customer a minimum return on his investment. In addition, the arrangement may be viewed as a sharing of loss arising from the customer's transaction because the dealer would participate in any loss sustained by the customer when it retroactively readjusts the price of the securities downward to grant the customer the promised return. Finally, rule G-30, on prices and commissions, requires that the price charged the customer for the securities at the time of sale, without taking into account any readjustment to the price at some future date, must be fair. MSRB interpretation of January 31, 1986.


Indemnity agreement - March 26, 1981

Indemnity agreement. This is in response to your letter dated March 18, 1981, regarding your client's (the "Bank") proposal to sell participations in industrial development bonds to one or more unit investment trusts or closed-end investment company (the "trust"), which bonds would be insured against default by the American Municipal Bond Assurance Corporation (AMBAC). Specifically you ask whether an agreement by the Bank to indemnify AMBAC to the extent of 25 percent of any losses suffered in the event of default would violate Board rule G-25(b) which generally prohibits a municipal securities dealer from guaranteeing a customer against loss in municipal securities transactions.

As you note in your letter, the Board has taken the position that a municipal securities bank dealer issuing a letter of credit which is publicly disclosed and for the benefit of all holders of the security would not violate the provisions of rule G-25(b). You state that the Bank’s agreement to indemnify AMBAC would be disclosed to and, at least indirectly would be for the benefit, of all investors.

Based upon the facts contained in your letter, it appears that the proposed agreement would not be prohibited by rule G-25(b). MSRB interpretation of March 26, 1981.


Letters of credit - March 6, 1981

Letters of credit. This is in response to your letter dated August 1, 1980, requesting the Board’s views on the application of rule G-25 to bank standby letters of credit issued in connection with new issues of securities which the dealer department of the bank intends to underwrite. Specifically, you have asked our views on whether such transactions would violate rule G-25(b), which generally prohibits a municipal securities dealer from guaranteeing a customer against loss in municipal securities transactions.

For the reasons discussed below, rule G-25(b) would not prohibit a municipal securities bank dealer from issuing a letter of credit which is publicly disclosed and for the benefit of all holders of the security.

Rule G-25(b) is an antimanipulation rule which is primarily designed to prevent a municipal securities dealer from artificially stimulating the market in a security, for example, by "parking" it with a customer who has assumed no market risk. It does not appear that the issuance of a fully disclosed letter of credit provided by a bank dealer for the benefit of all bondholders could be used to serve a market manipulative purpose, even though the letter would also serve to protect the bank’s own customers. Generally, such letters of credit protect bondholders from particular risks of loss, such as the inability of the issuer to make payments of principal or interest. Bondholders are not protected from general market risks, however, and, like all bona fide purchasers of securities, they incur gains or losses as the market price of the bonds fluctuates. Moreover, unlike the situation contemplated by rule G-25 which addresses guarantees made by dealers to their customers, the bondholders for whose benefit a letter of credit is issued would not necessarily have a customer relationship with the bank dealer issuing the letter. MSRB interpretation of March 6, 1981.