Rule G-30 Prices and Commissions

Upcoming Changes

This version of MSRB Rule G-30 will be effective May 14, 2018. View the approval notice. View the current rule.

(a) Principal Transactions.

No broker, dealer or municipal securities dealer shall purchase municipal securities for its own account from a customer, or sell municipal securities for its own account to a customer, except at an aggregate price (including any mark-up or mark-down) that is fair and reasonable.


(b) Agency Transactions.

(i) Each broker, dealer and municipal securities dealer, when executing a transaction in municipal securities for or on behalf of a customer as agent, shall make a reasonable effort to obtain a price for the customer that is fair and reasonable in relation to prevailing market conditions.

(ii) No broker, dealer or municipal securities dealer shall purchase or sell municipal securities as agent for a customer for a commission or service charge in excess of a fair and reasonable amount.

Supplementary Material

.01 General Principles.

(a) Each broker, dealer or municipal securities dealer (each, a “dealer,” and collectively, “dealers”), whether effecting a trade on an agency or principal basis, must exercise reasonable diligence in establishing the market value of the security and the reasonableness of the compensation received on the transaction.

(b) A dealer effecting an agency transaction must exercise the same level of care as it would if acting for its own account.

(c) A “fair and reasonable” price bears a reasonable relationship to the prevailing market price of the security.

(d) Dealer compensation on a principal transaction with a customer is considered to be a mark-up or mark-down that is computed from the prevailing market price at the time of the customer transaction, as described in Supplementary Material .06. As part of the aggregate price to the customer, the mark-up or mark-down also must be a fair and reasonable amount, taking into account all relevant factors.

(e) Reasonable compensation differs from fair pricing. A dealer could restrict its profit on a transaction to a reasonable level and still violate this rule if the dealer fails to consider market value. For example, a dealer may fail to assess the market value of a security when acquiring it from another dealer or customer and as a result may pay a price well above market value. It would be a violation of fair-pricing responsibilities for the dealer to pass on this misjudgement to another customer, as either principal or agent, even if the dealer makes little or no profit on the trade.

.02 Relevant Factors in Determining the Fairness and Reasonableness of Prices.

(a) The most important factor in determining whether the aggregate price to the customer is fair and reasonable is that the yield should be comparable to the yield on other securities of comparable quality, maturity, coupon rate, and block size then available in the market.

(b) Other factors include, but are not limited to:

(i) the best judgment of the dealer concerning the fair market value of the securities when the transaction occurs and, where applicable, of any securities exchanged or traded in connection with the transaction;

(ii) the expense involved in effecting the transaction;

(iii) that the dealer is entitled to a profit;

(iv) the total dollar amount of the transaction;

(A) To the extent that institutional transactions are often larger than retail transactions, this factor may enter into the fair and reasonable pricing of retail versus institutional transactions.

(v) the service provided in effecting the transaction;

(vi) the availability of the securities in the market;

(vii) the rating and call features of the security (including the possibility that a call feature may not be exercised);

(A) A dealer should consider the effect of information from rating agencies, both with respect to actual or potential changes in the underlying rating of a security and with respect to actual or potential changes in the rating of any bond insurance applicable to the security.

(B) A dealer pricing securities on the basis of yield to a specified call feature should consider the possibility that the call feature may not be exercised. Accordingly, the price to be paid by a customer should reflect this possibility and the resulting yield to maturity should bear a reasonable relationship to yields on securities of similar quality and maturity. Failure to price securities in this manner may constitute a violation of this rule because the price may not be “fair and reasonable” if the call feature is not exercised. That a customer in these circumstances may realize a yield greater than the yield at which the transaction was effected does not relieve a municipal securities professional of its responsibility under this rule.

(viii) the maturity of the security;

(ix) the nature of the dealer’s business; and

(x) the existence of material information about a security available through EMMA or other established industry sources.

.03 Relevant Factors in Determining the Fairness and Reasonableness of Commissions or Service Charges.

(a) A variety of factors may affect the fairness and reasonableness of a commission or service charge, including:

(i) the availability of the securities involved in the transaction;

(ii) the expense of executing or filling the customer’s order;

(iii) the value of the services rendered by the dealer;

(iv) the amount of any other compensation received or to be received by the dealer in connection with the transaction;

(v) that the dealer is entitled to a profit;

(vi) the total dollar amount and price of the transaction;

(vii) the best judgment of the dealer concerning the fair market value of the securities when the transaction occurs and of any securities exchanged or traded in connection with the transaction; and

(viii) for a dealer that sells municipal fund securities, whether the dealer’s commissions or other fees fall within the sales charge schedule specified in Rule 2830 of the National Association of Securities Dealers, Inc. (Such compliance with Rule 2830 may, depending upon the facts and circumstances, be a significant, though not dispositive, factor in determining whether a commission or other fee is fair and reasonable.)

.04 Fair-Pricing Responsibilities and Large Price Differentials.

(a) A transaction chain that results in a large difference between the price received by one customer and the price paid by another customer for the same block of securities on the same day, without market information or news accounting for the price volatility, raises the question as to whether each of these customers received a price reasonably related to the market value of the security, and whether the dealers effecting the customer transactions (and any broker’s brokers that may have acted on behalf of such dealers) made sufficient effort to establish the market value of the security when effecting their transactions.

(b) The lack of a well-defined and active market for an issue does not negate the need for diligence in determining the market value as accurately as reasonably possible when fair-pricing obligations apply. Although intra-day price differentials for obscure and illiquid issues might generally be larger than for more well-known and liquid issues, dealers must establish market value as accurately as possible using reasonable diligence under the facts and circumstances. For example, when a dealer is unfamiliar with a security, the efforts necessary to establish its value may be greater than if the dealer is familiar with the security.

(i) A dealer may need to review recent transaction prices for the issue or transaction prices for issues with similar credit quality and features as part of its duty to use diligence to determine the market value of municipal securities. When doing this, the dealer often will need to use its professional judgment and market expertise to identify comparable securities and to interpret the impact of recent transaction prices on the value of the block of municipal securities in question.

(ii) If the features and credit quality of the issue are unknown, it also may be necessary to obtain information on these factors directly or indirectly from an established industry source. For example, the current rating or other information on credit quality, the specific features and terms of the security, and any material information about the security such as issuer plans to call the issue, defaults, etc., all may affect the market value of securities.

(c) A bid-wanted procedure is not always a conclusive determination of market value. Therefore, particularly when the market value of an issue is unknown, a dealer may need to check the results of the bid-wanted process against other objective data to fulfill its fair-pricing obligations.

.05 Pricing Irregularities on Alternative Trading Systems.

Although the duty under section (b)(i) of this rule to evaluate the prices of certain individual transactions is eliminated under Rule G-48 when they are effected for sophisticated municipal market professionals, a dealer operating an alternative trading system must, under the general duty set forth in section (b)(i), act to investigate any alleged pricing irregularities on its system brought to its attention. Accordingly, a dealer operating an alternative trading system may be in violation of section (b)(i) if it fails to take actions to address system or participant pricing abuses.

.06 Mark-Up Policy

(a) Prevailing Market Price

 

(i) A dealer that is acting in a principal capacity in a transaction with a customer and is charging a mark-up or mark-down must mark-up or mark-down the transaction from the prevailing market price. Presumptively for purposes of this Supplementary Material .06, the prevailing market price for a municipal security is established by referring to the dealer's contemporaneous cost as incurred, or contemporaneous proceeds as obtained, consistent with applicable MSRB rules. (See, e.g., Rule G-18).

 

(ii) When the dealer is selling the municipal security to a customer, other evidence of the prevailing market price may be considered only where the dealer made no contemporaneous purchases of the security or can show that in the particular circumstances the dealer's contemporaneous cost is not indicative of the prevailing market price. When the dealer is buying the municipal security from a customer, other evidence of the prevailing market price may be considered only where the dealer made no contemporaneous sales of the security or can show that in the particular circumstances the dealer's contemporaneous proceeds are not indicative of the prevailing market price.

 

(iii) A dealer's cost is (or proceeds are) considered contemporaneous if the transaction occurs close enough in time to the subject transaction that it would reasonably be expected to reflect the current market price for the municipal security.

 

(iv) A dealer that effects a transaction in municipal securities with a customer and identifies the prevailing market price using a measure other than the dealer's own contemporaneous cost (or, in a mark-down, the dealer's own proceeds) must be prepared to provide evidence that is sufficient to overcome the presumption that such contemporaneous cost (or proceeds) provides the best measure of the prevailing market price. A dealer may be able to show that such contemporaneous cost is (or proceeds are) not indicative of prevailing market price, and thus overcome the presumption, in instances where: (A) interest rates changed after the dealer's contemporaneous transaction to a degree that such change would reasonably cause a change in municipal securities pricing; (B) the credit quality of the municipal security changed significantly after the dealer's contemporaneous transaction; or (C) news was issued or otherwise distributed and known to the marketplace that had an effect on the perceived value of the municipal security after the dealer's contemporaneous transaction.

 

(v) In instances where the dealer has established that the dealer's cost is (or, in a mark-down, proceeds are) not contemporaneous, or where the dealer has presented evidence that is sufficient to overcome the presumption that the dealer's contemporaneous cost (or proceeds) provides the best measure of the prevailing market price, such as those instances described in (a)(iv)(A), (B) and (C), the dealer must consider, in the order listed and subject to (a)(viii), the following types of pricing information to determine prevailing market price:

 

(A) Prices of any contemporaneous inter-dealer transactions in the municipal security in question;

 

(B) In the absence of transactions described in (A), prices of contemporaneous dealer purchases (sales) in the municipal security in question from (to) institutional accounts with which any dealer regularly effects transactions in the same municipal security; or

 

(C) In the absence of transactions described in (A) and (B), for actively traded municipal securities, contemporaneous bid (offer) quotations for the municipal security in question made through an inter-dealer mechanism, through which transactions generally occur at the displayed quotations.

 

(A dealer may consider a succeeding category of pricing information only when the prior category does not generate relevant pricing information (e.g., a dealer may consider pricing information under (B) only after the dealer has determined, after applying (A), that there are no contemporaneous inter-dealer transactions in the same security).) In reviewing the pricing information available within each category, the relative weight, for purposes of identifying prevailing market price, of such information (i.e., a particular transaction price or quotation) depends on the facts and circumstances of the comparison transaction or quotation (e.g., whether the dealer in the comparison transaction was on the same side of the market as the dealer in the subject transaction and timeliness of the information). Because of the lack of active trading in most municipal securities, it is not always possible to establish the prevailing market price for a municipal security based solely on contemporaneous transaction prices or contemporaneous quotations for the security. Accordingly, dealers may often need to consider other factors, consistent with (a)(vi) and (a)(vii) below.

 

(vi) In the event that, in particular circumstances, the above factors are not available, other factors that may be taken into consideration (not in any required order or combination) for the purpose of establishing the price from which a customer mark-up (mark-down) may be calculated, include but are not limited to:

 

• Prices, or yields calculated from prices, of contemporaneous inter-dealer transactions in a “similar” municipal security, as defined below;

 

• Prices, or yields calculated from prices, of contemporaneous dealer purchase (sale) transactions in a “similar” municipal security with institutional accounts with which any dealer regularly effects transactions in the “similar” municipal security with respect to customer mark-ups (mark-downs); and

 

• Yields calculated from validated contemporaneous inter-dealer bid (offer) quotations in “similar” municipal securities for customer mark-ups (mark-downs).

 

The relative weight, for purposes of identifying prevailing market price, of the pricing information obtained from the factors set forth above depends on the facts and circumstances surrounding the comparison transaction (i.e., whether the dealer in the comparison transaction was on the same side of the market as the dealer in the subject transaction, timeliness of the information, and, with respect to the final factor listed above, the relative spread of the quotations in the similar municipal security to the quotations in the subject security).

 

(vii) Finally, if information concerning the prevailing market price of the subject municipal security cannot be obtained by applying any of the above factors, dealers (and the regulatory agencies responsible for enforcing MSRB rules) may consider as a factor in assessing the prevailing market price of a municipal security the prices or yields derived from economic models (e.g., discounted cash flow models) that take into account measures such as reported trade prices, credit quality, interest rates, industry sector, time to maturity, call provisions and any other embedded options, coupon rate, and face value; and consider all applicable pricing terms and conventions (e.g., coupon frequency and accrual methods).

 

(viii) Because the ultimate evidentiary issue is the prevailing market price, isolated transactions or isolated quotations generally will have little or no weight or relevance in establishing prevailing market price. For example, in considering the pricing information described in (a)(v), a dealer may give little or no weight to pricing information derived from an isolated transaction or quotation, such as an off-market transaction. In addition, in considering yields of “similar” municipal securities, except in extraordinary circumstances, dealers may not rely exclusively on isolated transactions or a limited number of transactions that are not fairly representative of the yields of transactions in “similar” municipal securities taken as a whole.

 

(b) “Similar” Municipal Securities

(i) A “similar” municipal security should be sufficiently similar to the subject security that it would serve as a reasonable alternative investment to the investor. At a minimum, the municipal security or securities should be sufficiently similar that a market yield for the subject security can be fairly estimated from the yields of the “similar” security or securities. Where a municipal security has several components, appropriate consideration may also be given to the prices or yields of the various components of the security.

 

(ii) The degree to which a municipal security is “similar,” as that term is used in this Supplementary Material .06, to the subject security may be determined by all relevant factors, including but not limited to the following:

 

(A) Credit quality considerations, such as whether the municipal security is issued by the same or similar entity, bears the same or similar credit rating, or is supported by a similarly strong guarantee or collateral as the subject security (to the extent securities of other issuers are designated as “similar” securities, significant recent information concerning either the “similar” security’s issuer or subject security’s issuer that is not yet incorporated in credit ratings should be considered (e.g., changes to ratings outlooks));

 

(B) The extent to which the spread (i.e., the spread over an applicable index or U.S. Treasury securities of a similar duration) at which the “similar” municipal security trades is comparable to the spread at which the subject security trades;

 

(C) General structural characteristics and provisions of the issue, such as coupon, maturity, duration, complexity or uniqueness of the structure, callability, the likelihood that the municipal security will be called, tendered or exchanged, and other embedded options, as compared with the characteristics of the subject security;

 

(D) Technical factors such as the size of the issue, the float and recent turnover of the issue, and legal restrictions on transferability as compared with the subject security; and

 

(E) The extent to which the federal and/or state tax treatment of the “similar” municipal security is comparable to such tax treatment of the subject security.

 

(iii) When a municipal security's value and pricing is based substantially on, and is highly dependent on, the particular circumstances of the issuer, including creditworthiness and the ability and willingness of the issuer to meet the specific obligations of the security, in most cases other securities will not be sufficiently similar, and therefore, pricing information with respect to other securities may not be used to establish the prevailing market price.