This section contains interpretive guidance issued by the MSRB that establishes a regulatory standard and clarifies the application of the principles of an MSRB rule and may provide more information about the obligations and prohibited conduct under the rule. Learn about the differences between interpretive guidance and other resources the MSRB provides.

MSRB REMINDS FIRMS OF THEIR SALES PRACTICE AND DUE DILIGENCE OBLIGATIONS WHEN SELLING MUNICIPAL SECURITIES IN THE SECONDARY MARKET - September 20, 2010

Executive Summary

Brokers, dealers and municipal securities dealers (dealers or firms) must fully understand the bonds they sell in order to meet their disclosure, suitability and pricing obligations under the rules of the Municipal Securities Rulemaking Board (MSRB) and federal securities laws. These obligations are not limited to firms involved in primary offerings. Dealers must also obtain, analyze and disclose all material facts about secondary market transactions that are known to the dealer, or that are reasonably accessible to the market through established industry sources.

Those sources include, among other things, official statements, continuing disclosures, trade data, and other information made available through the MSRB’s Electronic Municipal Market Access system (EMMA). Firms may also have a duty to obtain and disclose information that is not available through EMMA, if it is material and available through other public sources. The public availability of material information, through EMMA or otherwise, does not relieve a firm of its duty to disclose that information. Firms must also have reasonable grounds for determining that a recommendation is suitable based on information available from the issuer of the security or otherwise. Firms must also use this information to determine the prevailing market price of a security as the basis for establishing a fair price in a transaction with a customer. To meet these requirements, firms must perform an independent analysis of the bonds they sell, and may not rely solely on a bond’s credit rating.

Continuing disclosures made by issuers to the MSRB via EMMA are part of the information that dealers must obtain, disclose and consider in meeting their regulatory obligations. The Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) has recently approved amendments to Securities Exchange Act Rule 15c2-12, governing continuing disclosures. Firms that sell municipal securities should review and, if necessary, update their procedures to reflect the amendments, which have a compliance date of December 1, 2010.  

Background and Discussion

MSRB Disclosure, Suitability and Pricing Rules

MSRB Rule G-17 provides that, in the conduct of its municipal securities activities, each dealer must deal fairly with all persons and may not engage in any deceptive, dishonest or unfair practice. The MSRB has interpreted Rule G-17 to require a dealer, in connection with any transaction in municipal securities, to disclose to its customer, at or prior to the sale, all material facts about the transaction known by the dealer, as well as material facts about the security that are reasonably accessible to the market.[1] This includes the obligation to give customers a complete description of the security, including a description of the features that likely would be considered significant by a reasonable investor and facts that are material to assessing the potential risks of the investment.

Such disclosures must be made at the “time of trade,” which the MSRB defines as at or before the point at which the investor and the dealer agree to make the trade. Rule G-17 applies to all sales of municipal securities, whether or not a transaction was recommended by a broker-dealer.[2] This means that municipal securities dealers must disclose all information required to be disclosed by the rule even if the trade is self-directed.[3]

MSRB Rule G-19 requires that a dealer that recommends a municipal securities transaction have reasonable grounds for believing that the recommendation is suitable for the customer based upon information available from the issuer of the security or otherwise and the facts disclosed by, or otherwise known about, the customer.[4]

MSRB Rule G-30 requires that dealers trade with customers at prices that are fair and reasonable, taking into consideration all relevant factors.[5] The MSRB has stated that the concept of a “fair and reasonable” price includes the concept that the price must “bear a reasonable relationship to the prevailing market price of the security.” The impetus for the MSRB’s Real-time Transaction Reporting System (RTRS), which was implemented in January 2005, was to allow market participants to monitor market price levels on a real-time basis and thus assist them in identifying changes in market prices that may have been caused by news or market events.[6] The MSRB now makes the transaction data reported to RTRS available to the public through EMMA.

In meeting these disclosure, suitability and pricing obligations, firms must take into account all material information that is known to the firm or that is available through “established industry sources,” including official statements, continuing disclosures, and trade data, much of which is now available through EMMA. Resources outside of EMMA may include press releases, research reports and other data provided by independent sources. Established industry sources can also include material event notices and other data filed with former nationally recognized municipal securities information repositories (NRMSIRs) before July 1, 2009.[7] Therefore, firms should review their policies and procedures for obtaining material information about the bonds they sell to make sure they are reasonably designed to access all material information that is available, whether through EMMA or other established industry sources. The MSRB has also noted that the fact that material information is publicly available through EMMA does not relieve a firm of its duty to specifically disclose it to the customer at the time of trade, or to consider it in determining the suitability of a bond for a specific customer.[8] Importantly, the dealer may not simply direct the customer to EMMA to fulfill its time-of-trade disclosure obligations under Rule G-17.[9]

Amendments to Rule 15c2-12 Concerning Continuing Disclosure

Securities Exchange Act Rule 15c2-12 requires underwriters participating in municipal bond offerings that are subject to that rule[10] to receive, review, and distribute official statements of issuers of primary municipal securities offerings, and prohibits underwriters from purchasing or selling municipal securities covered by the rule unless they have first reasonably determined that the issuer or an obligated person[11] has contractually agreed to make certain continuing disclosures to the MSRB, including certain financial information and notice of certain events. The MSRB makes such disclosure public via EMMA.

Financial information to be disclosed under the rule consists of the following:

  • Annual financial information updating the financial information in the official statement;
  • Audited financial statements, if available and not included within the annual financial information; and
  • Notices of failure to provide such financial information on a timely basis.

Currently, the rule enumerates the following as notice events, if material:

  • Principal and interest payment delinquencies;
  • Non-payment related defaults;
  • Unscheduled draws on debt service reserves reflecting financial difficulties;
  • Unscheduled draws on credit enhancements reflecting financial difficulties;
  • Substitution of credit or liquidity providers or their failure to perform;
  • Adverse tax opinions or events affecting the tax-exempt status of the security;
  • Modifications to rights of security holders;
  • Bond calls;
  • Defeasances;
  • Release, substitution or sale of property securing repayment of the securities; and
  • Rating changes.

Rule 15c2-12(c) also prohibits any dealer from recommending the purchase or sale of a municipal security unless it has procedures in place that provide reasonable assurance that it will receive prompt notice of any event notice reported pursuant to the rule. Firms should review any applicable continuing disclosures made available through EMMA and other established industry sources and take such disclosures into account in undertaking its suitability and pricing determinations. 

On May 26, 2010, the SEC amended the rule’s disclosure obligations, with a compliance date of December 1, 2010, to: (1) apply continuing disclosure requirements to new primary offerings of certain variable rate demand obligations (VRDOs); (2) add four new notice events;[12] (3) remove the materiality standard for certain notice events;[13] and (4) require that event notices be filed in a timely manner but no later than 10 business days after their occurrence. With respect to the tax status of the security, the rule has been broadened to require disclosure of adverse tax opinions, issuance by the IRS of proposed or final determinations of taxability and other material notices, and determinations or events affecting the tax status of the bonds (including a Notice of Proposed Issue). Firms that deal in municipal securities should familiarize themselves with these amendments, and, if necessary, modify their policies and procedures to incorporate this additional disclosure accordingly. 

The Financial Industry Regulatory Authority (FINRA) noted in its Regulatory Notice 09-35 that, if a firm discovers through its Rule 15c2-12 procedures or otherwise that an issuer has failed to make filings required under its continuing disclosure agreements, the firm must take this information into consideration in meeting its disclosure obligations under MSRB Rule G-17 and in assessing the suitability of the issuer’s bonds under MSRB Rule G-19.

Credit Ratings

In order to meet their obligations under MSRB Rules G-17 and G-19, firms must analyze and disclose to customers the risks associated with the bonds they sell, including, but not limited to, the bond’s credit risk. A credit rating is a third-party opinion of the of the credit quality of a municipal security. While the MSRB generally considers credit ratings and rating changes to be material information for purposes of disclosure, suitability and pricing, they are only one factor to be considered, and dealers should not solely rely on credit ratings as a substitute for their own assessment of a bond’s credit risk. [14]  Moreover, different agencies use different quantitative and qualitative criteria and methodologies to determine their rating opinions.  Dealers should familiarize themselves with the rating systems used by rating agencies in order to understand and assess the relevance of a particular rating to the firm’s overall assessment of the bond.[15]. With respect to credit or liquidity enhanced securities, the MSRB has stated that material information includes the following, if known to the dealer or if reasonably available from established industry sources: (i) the credit rating of the issue or lack thereof; (ii) the underlying credit rating or lack thereof, (iii) the identity of any credit enhancer or liquidity provider; and (iv) the credit rating of the credit provider and liquidity provider, including potential rating actions (e.g., downgrade).[16]  Additionally, material terms of the credit facility or liquidity facility should be disclosed (e.g., any circumstances under which a standby bond purchase agreement would terminate without a mandatory tender).

Other Material Information 

In addition to a bond’s credit quality, firms must obtain, analyze and disclose other material information about a bond, including but not limited to whether the bond may be redeemed prior to maturity in-whole, in-part or in extraordinary circumstances,[17] whether the bond has non-standard features that may affect price or yield calculations,[18] whether the bond was issued with original issue discount or has other features that would affect its tax status,[19] and other key features likely to be considered significant by a reasonable investor.  For example, for VRDOs, auction rate securities or other securities for which interest payments may fluctuate, firms should explain to customers the basis on which periodic interest rate resets are determined.[20] The MSRB has stated that firms should take particular care with respect to new products that may be introduced into the municipal securities market, existing products that may have complex structures that can differ materially from issue to issue, and outstanding securities that may trade infrequently, may be issued by less well-known issuers, or may have unusual features.[21]

Supervision

Firms are reminded that MSRB Rule G-27 requires firms to supervise their municipal securities business, and to ensure that they have adequate policies and procedures in place for monitoring the effectiveness of their supervisory systems. Specifically, firms must:

  • Supervise the conduct of the municipal securities activities of the firm and associated persons to ensure compliance with all MSRB rules, the Exchange Act and the rules there under;
  • Have adequate written supervisory procedures; and
  • Implement supervisory controls to ensure that their supervisory procedures are adequate.

Rule G-27 requires that a firm’s supervisory procedures provide for the regular and frequent review and approval by a designated principal of customer accounts introduced or carried by the dealer in which transactions in municipal securities are effected, with such review being designed to ensure that transactions are in accordance with all applicable rules and to detect and prevent irregularities and abuses. Although the rule does not establish a specific procedure for ensuring compliance with the requirement to provide disclosures to customers pursuant to Rule G-17, firms should consider including in their procedures for reviewing accounts and transactions specific processes for documenting or otherwise ascertaining that such disclosures have been made.  

Questions to Consider

Before selling any municipal bond, dealers should make sure that they fully understand the bonds they are selling in order to make adequate disclosure to customers under Rule G-17, to ensure that recommendations are suitable under Rule G-19, and to ensure that they are fairly priced under Rule G-30. Among other things, dealers should ask and be able to answer the following questions: 

  • What are the bond’s key terms and features and structural characteristics, including but not limited to its issuer, source of funding (e.g., general obligation or revenue bond), repayment priority, and scheduled repayment rate? (Much of this information will be in the Official Statement, which for many municipal bonds can be obtained by entering the CUSIP number in the MuniSearch box at www.emma.msrb.org). Be aware, however, data in the Official Statement may have been superseded by the issuer’s on-going disclosures.
  • Does information available through EMMA or other established industry sources indicate that an issuer is delinquent in  its material event notice and other continuing disclosure filings?  Delinquencies should be viewed as a red flag.
  • What other public material information about the bond or its issuer is available through established industry sources other than EMMA?
  • What is the bond’s rating? Has the issuer of the bond recently been downgraded? Has the issuer filed any recent default or other event notices, or has any other information become available through established industry sources that might call into question whether the published rating has been revised to take such event into consideration?
  • Is the bond insured, or does it benefit from liquidity support, a letter of credit or is it otherwise supported by a third party? If so, check the credit rating of the bond insurer or other backing, and the bond’s underlying rating (without third party support). If supported by a third party, review the terms and conditions under which the third party support may terminate.
  • How is it priced? Be aware that the price of a bond can be priced above or below its par value for many reasons, including changes in the creditworthiness of a bond's issuer and a host of other factors, including prevailing interest rates.
  • How and when will interest on the bond be paid? Most municipal bonds pay semiannually, but zero coupon municipal bonds pay all interest at the time the bond matures. Variable rate bonds typically will pay interest more frequently, usually on a monthly basis in variable amounts.
  • What is the bond’s tax status, under both state and federal laws? Is it subject to the Federal Alternate Minimum Tax? Is it fully taxable (e.g., Build America Bonds)?
  • What are its call provisions? Call provisions allow the issuer to retire the bond before it matures. How would a call affect expected future income?

[1] MSRB Rule G-17 applies to all transactions in municipal securities, including those in both the primary and secondary market. MSRB Rule G-32 specifically addresses the delivery of the official statement in connection with primary offerings.

[2] See MSRB Notice 2009-42 (July 14, 2009).

[3] A dealer’s specific investor protection obligations, including its disclosure, fair practice and suitability obligations under Rules G-17 and G-19, may be affected by the status of an institutional investor as a Sophisticated Municipal Market Professional (“SMMP”). See Rule G-17 Interpretation – Notice Regarding the Application of MSRB Rules to Transactions with Sophisticated Municipal Market Professionals (April 30, 2002).

[4] See MSRB Notice 2009-42, supra n.2.

[5] Rule G-18 requires that a dealer effecting an agency trade with a customer make a reasonable effort to obtain a price for the customer that is fair and reasonable in relation to prevailing market conditions.

[6] See MSRB Notice 2004-3 (January 26, 2004).

[7] Since July 1, 2009, material event notices are required to be filed through EMMA, which has replaced Bloomberg Municipal Repository; DPC DATA Inc.; Interactive Data Pricing and Reference Data, Inc.; and Standard & Poor’s Securities Evaluations, Inc. as the sole NRMSIR.

[8] The MSRB has also stated that providing adequate disclosure does not relieve a firm of its suitability obligations. See MSRB Notice 2007-17 (March 30, 2007).

[9] Rule G-32 does allow a dealer to satisfy its obligation to deliver an official statement to its customer during the primary offering disclosure period no later than the settlement of the transaction by advising the customer of how to obtain it on EMMA, unless the customer requests a paper copy.  The delivery obligation under Rule G-32 is distinct from the duty to disclose material information under Rule G-17, which applies to all primary and secondary market transactions.

[10] Certain limited offerings, variable rate demand obligations, and small issues are exempt from Rule 15c2-12.

[11] “Obligated person” is defined as “any person, including an issuer of municipal securities, who is either generally or through an enterprise, fund or account of such person committed by contract or other arrangement to support payment of all, or part of the obligations of the municipal securities to be sold in the offering (other than providers of municipal bond insurance, letters of credit, or other liquidity facilities).”

[12] The new notice events are (1) tender offers, (2) bankruptcy, insolvency, receivership, or similar events, (3) consummation of mergers, consolidations, acquisitions, or asset sales, or entry into or termination of a definitive agreement related to do the same, if material, and (4) appointment of a successor or additional trustee or a change in the name of the trustee, if material.

[13] The amendments removed the materiality standard and require notices for the following events: (1) principal and interest payment delinquencies with respect to the securities being offered ; (2) unscheduled draws on debt service reserves reflecting financial difficulties; (3) unscheduled draws on credit enhancements reflecting financial difficulties; (4) substitution of credit or liquidity providers, or their failure to perform; (5) defeasances: and (6) rating changes. The amendments retained the materiality standard for the following events: (1) non-payment related defaults; (2) modifications to rights of security holders; (3) bond calls; and (4) release, substitution, or sale of property securing repayment of the securities.

[14] See MSRB Notice 2009-42, supra n.2. Ratings changes are reportable events under Rule 15c2-12.

[15]
 Not all municipal bonds are rated. While an absence of a credit rating is not, by itself, a determinant of low credit quality, it is a factor that the dealers should consider, and may warrant additional due diligence of the bond and its issuer by the dealer. In addition, MSRB Rule G-15 requires confirmation statements for customer trades in unrated municipal securities to disclose that the securities are not rated.

[16] See MSRB Notice 2009-42.  The SEC has approved the MSRB’s proposal to require dealers to submit copies of credit enhancement and liquidity facility documents to EMMA pursuant to amended MSRB Rule G-34(c), which may increase the availability of such information to dealers.  See Securities Exchange Act Release No. 62755, August 20, 2010 (File No. SR-MSRB-2010-02).

[17] See Notice Concerning Disclosure of Call Information to Customers of Municipal Securities, MSRB Interpretation of March 4, 1986.

[18] See Transactions in Municipal Securities With Non-Standard Features Affecting Price/Yield Calculations, MSRB Interpretation of June 12, 1995.

[19] See MSRB Notice 2005-01 (January 5, 2005); MSRB Notice 2009-41 (July 10, 2009).

[20] See MSRB Notice 2008-09 (February 19, 2008).

[21] See MSRB Notice 2009-42, supra n.2.

INTERPRETIVE NOTICE ON COMMISSIONS AND OTHER CHARGES, ADVERTISEMENTS AND OFFICIAL STATEMENTS RELATING TO MUNICIPAL FUND SECURITIES - December 19, 2001

The Municipal Securities Rulemaking Board ("MSRB") has received various inquiries regarding commissions, disclosures (including delivery of disclosure materials to the MSRB) and advertisements relating to municipal fund securities, particularly in connection with sales of interests in so-called Section 529 college savings plans.[1] The nature of the commissions and other program fees that may exist with respect to municipal fund securities may differ significantly from such charges that typically may exist for traditional debt securities sold in the municipal securities market. In many cases, commissions and other fees may more closely resemble those charged in connection with investment company securities registered under the Investment Company Act of 1940 (the "Investment Company Act").[2] Although commissions and fees charged by brokers, dealers and municipal securities dealers ("dealers") effecting transactions in municipal fund securities are subject to MSRB rules, the nature and level of fees and charges collected by other parties in connection with such securities generally are not subject to regulation. However, under certain circumstances, a dealer selling municipal fund securities may be obligated to disclose to customers such fees and charges collected by other parties.

Amount of Dealer's Commissions or Service Charges

Rule G-30(b), on prices and commissions in agency transactions, prohibits dealers from selling municipal securities to a customer for a commission or service charge in excess of a fair and reasonable amount. In assessing the fairness and reasonableness of the commission or service charge, the rule permits the dealer to take into consideration all relevant factors, including the availability of the securities involved in the transaction, the expense of executing or filling the customer's order, the value of the services rendered by the dealer, and the amount of any other compensation received or to be received by the dealer in connection with the transaction. The MSRB has received inquiries as to whether the sales charge schedule set out in Rule 2830 of the National Association of Securities Dealers, Inc. ("NASD") applies to or otherwise is indicative of the levels of commissions and other fees that dealers may charge in connection with sales of municipal fund securities.

MSRB rules, not those of the NASD, apply to sales by dealers of municipal securities, including municipal fund securities. NASD Rule 2830 provides that no member firm may offer or sell shares in investment companies registered under the Investment Company Act if the sales charges are excessive. The NASD rule then sets forth various levels of aggregate sales charges to which member firms must conform, depending upon the nature of the investment company's sales charges, in order to ensure that such sales charges are not deemed excessive. The MSRB notes that the NASD derives its authority for the sales charge provisions of Rule 2830 from Section 22(b)(1) of the Investment Company Act, which expressly exempts such provisions from the limitation that Section 15A(b)(6) of the Securities Exchange Act of 1934 (the "Exchange Act") places on the NASD's ability to adopt rules that "impose any schedule or fix rates of commissions, allowances, discounts, or other fees to be charged by its members." In sharp contrast, no exemption exists from the limitations that Section 15B(b)(2)(C) of the Exchange Act places on the MSRB's ability to adopt rules that "impose any schedule or fix rates of commissions, allowances, discounts, or other fees to be charged by municipal securities brokers or municipal securities dealers."The MSRB believes that it could not, by rule or interpretation, in effect impose such a schedule for the sale of municipal fund securities.

Nonetheless, the MSRB believes that the charges permitted by the NASD under its Rule 2830 in connection with the sale of registered investment company securities may, depending upon the facts and circumstances, be a significant factor in determining whether a dealer selling municipal fund securities is charging a commission or other fee that is fair and reasonable. For example, the MSRB believes that charges for municipal fund securities transactions in excess of those permitted for comparable mutual fund shares under NASD Rule 2830 may be presumed to not meet the fair and reasonable standard under MSRB rule G-30(b), although the totality of the facts and circumstances relating to a particular transaction in municipal fund securities may rebut such presumption. Further, depending upon the specific facts and circumstances, a sales charge for a transaction in a municipal fund security that would be deemed in compliance with NASD Rule 2830 if charged in connection with a transaction in a substantially identical registered investment company security often will be in compliance with rule G-30(b).

However, the NASD schedule is not dispositive nor is it always the principal factor in determining compliance with rule G-30. The MSRB believes that the factors enunciated in rule G-30(b) and other relevant factors must be given due weight in determining whether a commission is fair and reasonable. These factors include, but are not limited to, the value of the services rendered by the dealer and the amount of any other compensation received or to be received by the dealer in connection with the transaction from other sources (such as the issuer). A dealer may not exclusively rely on the fact that its commissions fall within the NASD schedule, particularly where commission levels in the marketplace for similar municipal fund securities sold by other dealers providing similar levels of services are generally substantially lower than those charged by such dealer, taking into account any other compensation.

Disclosure of Program Fees and Charges of Other Parties

MSRB rules do not explicitly require disclosure by dealers of fees and charges received by other parties to a transaction. These can include, among other things, administrative fees of the issuer, investment adviser and other parties payable from trust assets or directly by the customer. However, depending upon the facts and circumstances, certain MSRB rules may have the practical effect of requiring some level of disclosure of such fees and charges to the extent that they are material. For example, rule G-32(a)(i) generally obligates the dealer to provide an official statement to its customer in connection with sales of municipal fund securities. Although MSRB rules do not govern the content of the disclosures included by the issuer in the official statement, the MSRB believes that an official statement prepared by an issuer of municipal fund securities that is in compliance with Exchange Act Rules 10b-5 and 15c2-12 generally would provide disclosure of any fees or other charges imposed in connection with such securities that are material to investors. The MSRB further believes that, in most respects, the disclosures provided by the issuer in the official statement would provide the dealer with the type of information it is required to disclose to customers under the MSRB's fair dealing rule, rule G-17.

Advertisements

Dealer advertisements of municipal fund securities must comply with the requirements of rule G-21.[3] This rule prohibits dealers from publishing advertisements concerning municipal securities which they know or have reason to know are materially false or misleading. The MSRB has previously stated that any use of historical yields in an advertisement would be subject to this prohibition. Thus, a dealer advertisement of municipal fund securities that refers to yield typically would require a description of the nature and significance of the yield shown in the advertisement in order to assure that such advertisement is not false or misleading. Further, depending upon the facts and circumstances, a dealer may be required to disclose information regarding a fee or other charge relating to municipal fund securities that may have a material effect on such advertised yield, to the extent that such disclosure is necessary to ensure that the advertisement is not materially false or misleading with respect to such yield.

The MSRB understands that advertisements and other sales material relating to registered investment company securities are, depending upon the nature of the advertisement, subject to the requirements of Securities Act Rule 156, on investment company sales literature, Securities Act Rule 482, on advertising by an investment company as satisfying requirements of section 10, and NASD Rule 2210, on communications with the public (including IM-2210-3, on use of rankings in investment companies advertisements and sales literature), among others. The MSRB notes that both Securities Act Rule 156(a) and NASD Rule 2210(d)(1)(A) include general standards for advertisements that are substantially the same as the standard set forth in MSRB rule G-21. As a result, the MSRB believes that a dealer advertisement of municipal fund securities that would be compliant with Securities Act Rules 156 and 482 if such securities were registered investment company securities also would be in compliance with MSRB rule G-21. Further, the MSRB believes that a dealer advertisement of municipal fund securities that would be compliant with NASD Rule 2210 and IM-2210-3 if such securities were registered investment company securities also would be in compliance with MSRB rule G-21.

Submission of Official Statements to the MSRB

Dealers selling municipal fund securities are subject to the requirement under rule G-36 that they submit copies of the official statement, together with completed Form G-36(OS), to the MSRB. In some cases, a dealer that has been engaged by an issuer of municipal fund securities to serve as its primary distributor ("primary distributor") has in turn entered into relationships with one or more other dealers to provide further channels for distribution. These other dealers may include dealers that effect transactions directly with customers ("selling dealers") or dealers that provide "wholesale" distribution services but do not effect transactions directly with customers ("intermediary dealers").

The MSRB believes that, regardless of whether a formal syndicate or similar account has been formed among a primary distributor, the selling dealers and any intermediary dealers in a multi-tiered distribution system for a particular offering of municipal fund securities, the primary distributor for such offering has the responsibility set forth in rule G-36(f) to undertake all actions required under the provisions of rule G-36 and the corresponding recordkeeping requirements under rule G-8(a)(xv). These obligations include, but are not limited to, the submission of official statements (including amendments and updates) and completed Form G-36(OS) to the MSRB on a timely basis. The MSRB further believes that any selling or intermediary dealers for such offering that might be considered underwriters of the securities may rely upon the primary distributor to undertake these actions to the same extent as if they had in fact formed an underwriting syndicate as described in rule G-36(f).


[1] Section 529 college savings plans are higher education savings plan trusts established by states under section 529(b) of the Internal Revenue Code as "qualified state tuition programs" through which individuals make investments for the purpose of accumulating savings for qualifying higher education costs of beneficiaries.

[2] Municipal fund securities are exempt from the registration and other provisions of the Investment Company Act.

[3] Rule G-21 defines advertisement as any material (other than listings of offerings) published or designed for use in the public, including electronic, media or any promotional literature designed for dissemination to the public, such as notices, circulars, reports, market letters, form letters, telemarketing scripts or reprints or excerpts of the foregoing. The term does not apply to official statements but does apply to abstracts or summaries of official statements, offering circulars and other similar documents prepared by dealers.



MSRB INTERPRETIVE LETTER – RULES G-21, G-30 AND G-32
- December 11, 2001

Differential re-offering prices. This is in response to your letter in which you ask us to provide interpretive guidance on MSRB rules G-21, G-30 and G-32 in the context of a proposed new system (the “System”) to be established by your client (the “Company”) for pricing and distribution of primary market municipal securities to retail investors. You provide a description of the System, including a discussion of incremental changes through various versions of the System. We have included below a brief summary of the MSRB’s understanding of certain key features of the System that may be relevant in responding to your questions. This should not be construed as meaning that the MSRB has “approved” the System, or even reviewed the System description which you provided, except for the limited purpose of addressing your specific questions on the three rules noted above. The MSRB expresses no views and has not considered whether the System as you describe it, or whether a broker-dealer using the System, would be in compliance with MSRB rules or other applicable law, rules or regulations, beyond the specific statements set forth herein on these three rules.

As you describe it, the System consists of an internet-based electronic primary market order matching process that will provide (1) electronic notices (“Electronic Notices”) to registered representatives at subscribing broker-dealer firms and (2) an ability to establish a range of acceptable reoffering prices for each order of primary market municipal securities. Registered representatives will provide to the System profiles (“Retail Inquiries”) that describe the features of municipal securities that the registered representative’s customers wish to purchase. The System will then automatically advise the registered representatives of the availability for purchase of a new municipal security issue that matches the Retail Inquiry by sending an Electronic Notice by fax or e-mail. The Company intends to register with the Securities and Exchange Commission as a broker-dealer prior to charging subscription fees for the services provided by the System. We understand that, for purposes of the System, a retail investor is characterized solely by the size of the order, rather than by the identity of an investor as a retail or institutional customer.

Municipal securities available for purchase through the System will be sold using a structure that establishes a range of acceptable retail reoffering prices. For each new issue, the underwriter and the issuer will establish a maximum and minimum yield and a maximum and minimum price to be entered into the System. For all Retail Inquiries that match the basic parameters of the issue (e.g., maturity, rating, state of issuer), the System will send an Electronic Notice to each registered representative that adjusts the price to include the least of the registered representative’s desired mark-up, the maximum mark-up established by the registered representative’s broker-dealer firm, or the maximum issue mark-up established by the underwriter. In the System’s initial stages, a registered representative may place an order for amounts up to $500,000 to purchase the securities upon receiving an Electronic Notice. You note that use of the System will permit sales of municipal securities of the same maturity and order size to different buyers at different prices.

You state that you believe that the business and operating plan for the System will be in compliance with all published MSRB rules and that broker-dealers subscribing to the System will not violate any MSRB rules by virtue of their use of the System. You request clarification regarding the applicability of certain provisions of rules G-21, G-30 and G-32 to broker-dealers using the System. As noted above, the MSRB cannot provide an “approval” of a proposed system or of its use by broker-dealers. We can, however, provide some guidance regarding your specific rule-related interpretive requests. Since the application of rules to particular factual situations is, by its nature, fundamentally dependent upon the specific facts and circumstances, you should be cognizant of the precise nature of our guidance and of the potential for seemingly small factual variances resulting in different conclusions regarding compliance with our rules.

Rule G-30, on Prices and Commissions

You ask us whether we view use of the System by broker-dealers to establish a range of reoffering prices (instead of a single reoffering price) as compliant with the requirement under rule G-30, on prices and commissions, that municipal securities prices be fair and reasonable. We cannot provide you with assurance that under all circumstances prices charged to customers by broker-dealers using the System will comply with rule G-30. However, the following discussion should provide some guidance in assessing whether broker-dealers using the System will be able to comply with rule G-30.

Rule G-30(a) provides that no broker-dealer shall sell municipal securities to a customer in a principal transaction except at a price that is fair and reasonable, taking into consideration all relevant factors.[1] The rule cites, as relevant factors, the best judgment of the broker-dealer as to the fair market value of the securities at the time of the transaction, the expense involved in effecting the transaction, the fact that the broker-dealer is entitled to a profit, and the total dollar amount of the transaction.[2] In addition, the MSRB has identified a number of other factors which might be relevant in determining the fairness and reasonableness of prices in municipal securities transactions. These additional factors include, but are not limited to, the availability of the security in the market, the price or yield of the security, the maturity of the security, and the nature of the professional’s business.[3] The MSRB firmly believes that the resulting yield to the customer is the most important factor in determining the fairness and reasonableness of a price in any given transaction. The MSRB previously has stated that such yield should be comparable to the yield on other securities of comparable quality, maturity, coupon rate, and block size then available in the market.

Although a comparative yield assessment is the most important factor in determining whether a transaction price is fair and reasonable, rule G-30 states that other facts and circumstances of a specific transaction may also enter into the final determination of whether the transaction price is fair and reasonable. Thus, rule G-30 clearly contemplates the possibility that, depending upon the facts and circumstances of two contemporaneous transactions in identical securities, both transactions may be priced in compliance with rule G-30 even though the prices are not identical. It is not possible to state a specific percentage of variance between prices on contemporaneous transactions that would create a presumption of a violation of rule G-30 with respect to the higher priced transaction since a number of different factors may be relevant to the individual transactions.[4] However, the degree to which price variances may occur without raising the presumption of a rule G-30 violation generally would parallel the level of variance in the relevant factors under rule G-30 from transaction to transaction in the same security. For example, a large difference in the par value of two transactions could potentially justify a larger price difference than would a small difference in the par value of the two transactions.

The MSRB has stated that, although rule G-30 does not specifically mention new issue offering prices which may be set by the syndicate or the issuer, compliance with rule G-30 in this context also is determined by whether the price of a municipal security is fair and reasonable, taking into account all relevant factors.[5] As noted above, a comparative yield assessment is the most important factor in determining the fairness and reasonableness of a transaction price. Although it is the ultimate responsibility of the broker-dealer effecting a transaction with a customer to ensure that the price is in compliance with rule G-30, the issuer and underwriter may help broker-dealers using the System to avoid possible violations of rule G-30 by carefully reviewing the ranges of yields and prices entered by the underwriter into the System to ensure that the net yield to customers[6] would be comparable to that of similar securities regardless of where within the established ranges a transaction is executed by a broker-dealer using the System.

Rule G-32, on Disclosures in Connection with New Issues

You provide us with a sample of proposed language to be included in the official statement for new issue municipal securities to be sold using the System. This language indicates the lowest price at which any of the securities in the new issue are offered and also indicates a range of maximum prices at which the securities are offered based on various lot sizes of the securities sold in a particular transaction. The language further states that, subject to the practices of each broker-dealer firm in the selling group, investors may have purchased the securities at prices lower than those shown in the range of maximum prices included in the official statement. Finally, the language provides a specific dollar amount representing the total compensation paid to the underwriter as representative of the selling group. You ask us whether inclusion of such language in the official statement by issuers using the System complies with rule G-32.

Rule G-32(a)(ii) provides that, in connection with new issue municipal securities purchased by the underwriter in a negotiated sale, any broker-dealer selling such securities to a customer must deliver to the customer by no later than settlement information regarding, among other things, the underwriting spread and the initial offering price for each maturity in the issue, including maturities that are not reoffered.[7] The MSRB has stated that the obligation to disclose the underwriting spread requires that the broker-dealer disclose the difference between the initial offering price of the new issue and the amount paid by the underwriter to the issuer, expressed either in dollars or points per bond.[8] The MSRB has prohibited broker-dealers from merely disclosing to customers the offering prices and amount paid to the issuer and describing how the underwriting spread can be calculated from these figures.[9] The MSRB has stated that initial offering prices may be expressed either in terms of dollar price or yield.[10]

The MSRB recognizes that disclosure of initial offering prices and underwriting spread is more complicated in circumstances where securities of the same maturity may be offered at a number of different prices, as compared to the typical situation where each maturity is stated to be offered at a single price. The MSRB believes that, under these circumstances, the initial offering prices and underwriting spread may be expressed as a range of values.

In expressing the initial offering prices as a range of values, broker-dealers must ensure that the prices at which the securities are initially offered to customers will fall within the expressed range. At the same time, the MSRB believes that the disclosure of a range of prices must not be misleading to customers. For example, a range that implies that a market may exist at prices where in fact no transactions are likely to occur could be misleading. In addition, a range that includes prices that are not fair and reasonable for purposes of rule G-30 could mislead customers with regard to what would in fact constitute a fair and reasonable price. These and other practices arising in connection with the disclosure of a range of initial offering prices could constitute violations of rule G-17[11] and would not satisfy the disclosure obligation under rule G-32. Broker-dealers are cautioned, when using a range to disclose initial offering prices, to make such range as narrow as reasonably possible in order to avoid violations of rules G-17 and G-32. For example, if broker-dealers have established discrete price ranges for specific securities within the issue (e.g., separate maturities) or for specific types of transactions (e.g., different lot sizes), they should include such discrete ranges in the disclosure made to customers. The initial offering price range must be expressed either in terms of dollar prices or yields.

In expressing the underwriting spread as a range of values, the range must be no broader than would be obtained by calculating the lowest possible spread based on all of the lowest initial offering price values and the highest possible spread based on all of the highest initial offering price values. This range should be further refined based on specific information available to the broker-dealer (e.g., minimum or maximum spreads agreed to between the issuer and the underwriter, fixed components of the gross spread, known levels of transactions at particular prices, etc.).[12] Broker-dealers may show this spread range either as a range of a total amount or as a listing of the components of the spread range. If components of the spread range are listed, that portion of the range which represents compensation to the underwriter must be clearly identified as such. The spread range must be expressed either in dollars or points per bond.

Rule G-21, on Advertising

You state that you do not believe that Electronic Notices constitute advertisements within the meaning of rule G-21, which sets forth certain requirements with respect to advertisements of municipal securities. An advertisement is defined as any material (other than listings of offerings) published or designed for use in the public, including electronic, media or any promotional literature designed for dissemination to the public, including any notice, circular, report, market letter, form letter, telemarketing script or reprint or excerpt of the foregoing. The rule covers communications that are intended to reach a broad segment of the public rather than individually tailored communications between two specific parties and communications between broker-dealers. Thus, if the use of Electronic Notices is limited in the manner you describe in your letter, it appears that such Electronic Notices would not constitute advertisements within the meaning of rule G-21. However, we express no opinion as to whether Electronic Notices might constitute advertisements if they were to be disseminated to investors.

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I must emphasize once again that the guidance provided in this letter cannot be considered an “approval” of the System. Further, this guidance cannot be considered to provide or imply that broker-dealers using the System will, under all circumstances, be in compliance with the rules discussed herein. Nor can this guidance be considered to provide or imply that the operation of the System or the use of the System by broker-dealers is in compliance with any other rules of the MSRB or the laws, rules or regulations of any other entity. MSRB interpretation of December 11, 2001.



[1] In the case of an agency transaction, rule G-30 prohibits a broker-dealer from selling a municipal security to a customer for a commission or service charge in excess of a fair and reasonable amount, taking into consideration all relevant factors. In addition, rule G-18, on execution of transactions, requires that a broker-dealer in an agency transaction make a reasonable effort to obtain a price for the customer that is fair and reasonable in relation to prevailing market conditions. Since we understand that broker-dealers that use the System ultimately will effect transactions with their customers on a principal basis, we do not address potential compliance issues with respect to agency transactions arising under rules G-18 and G-30.

[2] With respect to total dollar amount of a transaction, the MSRB has stated that, 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. See Rule G-30 Interpretive Letter – Factors in pricing, November 29, 1993, MSRB Rule Book (July 1, 2001) at 163 (the “Pricing Letter”).

[3] See Rule G-30 Interpretation – Republication of September 1980 Report on Pricing, MSRB Rule Book (July 1, 2001) at 161 (the “Pricing Report”).

[4] Of course, the existence of a variance in the prices of two contemporaneous sale transactions in the same security would be less likely to raise a presumption that the higher priced transaction violates rule G-30 if the yields for both transactions are generally higher than for most other comparable securities in the market.

[5] See Pricing Letter. It is worth noting that the rules of the National Association of Securities Dealers regarding fixed-price offerings do not apply to transactions in municipal securities. The MSRB is not aware of any law or regulation which purports to require fixed-price offerings for new issue municipal securities. See Rule G-11 Interpretive Letter – Fixed-price offerings, March 16, 1984, MSRB Rule Book (July 1, 2001) at 60.

[6] The net yield to a customer is based on actual money paid by the customer, including the effect of any remuneration paid to the broker-dealer, other than certain miscellaneous transaction fees. See Rule G-15 Interpretation – Notice Concerning Flat Transaction Fees, June 13, 2001, MSRB Rule Book (July 1, 2001) at 114; Rule G-15 Interpretation – Notice Concerning Confirmation Disclosure of Miscellaneous Transaction Charges, May 14, 1990, MSRB Rule Book (July 1, 2001) at 113.

[7] This information may be disclosed in the official statement if it is delivered to the customer in a timely manner at or prior to settlement. This information may also be provided in a separate written statement.

[8] Spread may be shown as a single figure or as a listing of the components of the spread. If components are listed, the portion of the proceeds representing compensation to the underwriter must be clearly identified as such. See Rule G-32 Interpretation – Notice Regarding the Disclosure Obligations of Brokers, Dealers and Municipal Securities Dealers in Connection with New Issue Municipal Securities Under Rule G-32, MSRB Rule Book (July 1, 2001) at 166 (the “Disclosure Notice”); Rule G-32 Interpretive Letter – Disclosure of underwriting spread, March 9, 1981, MSRB Rule Book (July 1, 2001) at 173.

[9] See Disclosure Requirements for New Issue Securities: Rule G-32, MSRB Reports, Vol. 7, No. 2 (March 1987) at 11.

[10] See Disclosure Notice; Rule G-32 Interpretive Letter – Disclosures in connection with new issues, December 22, 1993, MSRB Rule Book (July 1, 2001) at 174.

[11] Rule G-17 requires broker-dealers to deal fairly with all persons and not to engage in any deceptive, dishonest or unfair practice.

[12] Of course, if the new issue has been fully sold and all initial offering prices are known at the time the disclosure information is prepared, an exact amount rather than a range should be used in disclosing the underwriting spread.