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Educational Notice on Bonds Subject to "Detachable" Call Features

New products are constantly being introduced into the municipal securities market. Dealers must ensure that, prior to effecting transactions with customers in municipal securities with new features, they obtain all necessary information regarding these features. The Board will attempt periodically through educational notices to describe new products or features of municipal securities and review the responsibilities of dealers to customers in these transactions. In this notice, the Board will review detachable call features.

Certain recent issues of municipal securities include a new feature called a detachable call right. This feature allows the issuer to sell its right to call the bond. Thus, upon the sale of this call right, the owner of the right has the ability, at certain times, to require the mandatory tender of the underlying municipal bond. The dates of mandatory tender of the underlying bonds generally correlate with the optional call dates. If the holder exercises such rights, the underlying bondholder tenders its bond to the issuer (just as if the issuer had called the bond) and the holder of the call right purchases the bond. In some instances, issuers already have issued municipal call rights and the underlying bonds in such cases are sometimes referred to as being subject to "detached" call rights.

Bonds subject to detachable call rights generally include a provision that permits an investor that owns both the detached call right and the underlying bond to link the two instruments together, subject to certain conditions. Such "linked" municipal securities would not be subject to being called at certain times by holders of call rights or the issuer. They may, however, be subject to other calls, such as sinking fund provisions. If a customer obtains a linked security, thereafter the customer has the option to de-link the security, again subject to certain conditions, into a municipal call right and an underlying bond subject to a right of mandatory tender.


Applicability of Board Rules

Of course, the Board’s rules apply to bonds subject to detachable call features and "linked" securities just as they apply to all other municipal securities. The Board, however, would like to remind dealers of certain Board rules that should be considered in transactions involving these municipal securities.

Rule G-15(a) on Customer Confirmations

Rule G-15(a)(i)(E)[*] requires customer confirmations to set forth "a description of the securities, including… if the securities are… subject to redemption prior to maturity…, an indication to such effect." Additionally, rule G-15(a)(iii)(F)[*] requires a legend to be placed on customer confirmations of transactions in callable securities which notes that "Call features may exist which could affect yield; complete information will be provided upon request."

Confirmations of transactions in bonds subject to detachable call rights, therefore, would have to indicate this information.[1] In addition, the details of the call provisions of such securities would have to be provided to the customer upon the customer’s request.

Confirmation disclosure, however, serves merely to support—not to satisfy—a dealer’s general disclosure obligations. More specifically, the disclosure items required on the confirmation do not encompass "all material facts" that must be disclosed to customers at the time of trade pursuant to rule G-17.

Rule G-17 on Fair Dealing

Rule G-17 of the Board’s rules of fair practice requires municipal securities dealers to deal fairly with all persons and prohibits them from engaging in any deceptive, dishonest, or unfair practice. The Board has interpreted this rule to require that a dealer must disclose, at or before the sale of municipal securities to a customer, all material facts concerning the transaction, including a complete description of the security, and must not omit any material facts which would render other statements misleading. Among other things, a dealer must disclose at the time of trade whether a security may be redeemed prior to maturity in-whole, in-part, or in extraordinary circumstances because this knowledge is essential to a customer’s investment decision.

Clearly, bonds subject to detachable calls must be described as callable at the time of the trade.[2] In addition, if a dealer is asked by a customer at the time of trade for specific information regarding call features, this information must be obtained and relayed promptly.

Although the Board requires dealers to indicate to customers at the time of trade whether municipal securities are callable, the Board has not categorized which, if any, specific call features it considers to be material and therefore also must be disclosed. Instead, the Board believes that it is the responsibility of the dealer to determine whether a particular feature is material.

With regard to detachable calls, dealers must decide whether the ability of a third party to call the bond is a material fact that should be disclosed to investors. Dealers should make this determination in the same way they determine whether other facets of a municipal securities transaction are material—is it a fact that a reasonable investor would want to know when making an investment decision? For example, would a reasonable investor who knows a bond is callable base an investment decision on whether someone other than the issuer can call the bond? Does this new feature affect the pricing of the bond?

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The Board is continuing its review of detachable call rights and may take additional related action at a later date. The Board welcomes the views of all persons on the application of Board rules to transactions in securities subject to detachable call rights.

[1] With regard to the confirmation requirement for linked securities, if these securities are subject to other call provisions such as sinking fund calls, the customer confirmation must indicate that these securities are callable.


[2] Similarly, when considering the application of rule G-17 to transactions in "linked" securities, as with other municipal securities, dealers have the obligation to ensure that investors understand the features of the security. In particular, if a linked security to other call provisions, dealers should ensure that retail customers do not mistakenly believe the bond is "non-callable."

[*] [Currently codified at rule G-15(a)(i)(C)(2)(a)]