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Interpretation on Priority of Orders for Securities in a Primary Offering under Rule G-17

On December 22, 1987, the MSRB published a notice[1] interpreting the fair practice principles of Rule G-17 as they apply to the priority of orders for new issue securities (the “1987 notice”). The MSRB wishes to update the guidance provided in the 1987 notice due to changes in the marketplace and subsequent amendments to Rule G-11.

Rule G-11(e) requires syndicates to establish priority provisions and, if such priority provisions may be changed, to specify the procedure for making changes. The rule also permits a syndicate to allow the syndicate manager, on a case-by-case basis, to allocate securities in a manner other than in accordance with the priority provisions if the syndicate manager determines in its discretion that it is in the best interests of the syndicate. Under Rule G-11(f), syndicate managers must furnish information, in writing, to the syndicate members about terms and conditions required by the issuer,[2] priority provisions and the ability of the syndicate manager to allocate away from the priority provisions, among other things. Syndicate members must promptly furnish this information, in writing, to others upon request. This requirement was adopted to allow prospective purchasers to frame their orders to the syndicate in a manner that would enhance their ability to obtain securities since the syndicate’s allocation procedures would be known.

In addition to traditional priority provisions found in syndicate agreements, municipal securities underwriters frequently agree to other terms and conditions specified by the issuer of the securities relating to the distribution of the issuer’s securities. Such provisions include, but are not limited to, requirements concerning retail order periods. MSRB Rule G-17 states that, in the conduct of its municipal securities business, each broker, dealer, and municipal securities dealer (“dealer”) shall deal fairly with all persons and shall not engage in any deceptive, dishonest or unfair practice. These requirements specifically apply to an underwriter’s activities conducted with a municipal securities issuer, including any commitments that the underwriter makes regarding the distribution of the issuer’s securities. An underwriter may violate the duty of fair dealing by making such commitments to the issuer and then failing to honor them. This could happen, for example, if an underwriter fails to accept, give priority to, or allocate to retail orders in conformance with the provisions agreed to in an undertaking to provide a retail order period. A dealer who wishes to allocate securities in a manner that is inconsistent with an issuer’s requirements must not do so without the issuer’s consent.

Except as otherwise provided in this notice, principles of fair dealing will require the syndicate manager to give priority to customer orders over orders for its own account, orders by other members of the syndicate for their own accounts, orders from persons controlling, controlled by, or under common control with any syndicate member (“affiliates”) for their own accounts, or orders for their respective related accounts,[3] to the extent feasible and consistent with the orderly distribution of securities in a primary offering. This principle may affect a wide range of dealers and their related accounts given changes in organizational structures due to consolidations, acquisitions, and other corporate actions that have, in many cases, resulted in increasing numbers of dealers, and their related dealer accounts, becoming affiliated with one another.

Rule G-17 does not require the syndicate manager to accord greater priority to customer orders over orders submitted by non-syndicate dealers (including selling group members). However, prioritization of customer orders over orders of non-syndicate dealers may be necessary to honor terms and conditions agreed to with issuers, such as requirements relating to retail orders.

The MSRB understands that syndicate managers must balance a number of competing interests in allocating securities in a primary offering and must be able quickly to determine when it is appropriate to allocate away from the priority provisions, to the extent consistent with the issuer’s requirements. Thus, Rule G-17 does not preclude the syndicate manager or managers from according equal or greater priority to orders by syndicate members for their own accounts, affiliates for their own accounts, or their respective related accounts if, on a case-by-case basis, the syndicate manager determines in its discretion that it is in the best interests of the syndicate. However, the syndicate manager shall have the burden of justifying that such allocation was in the best interests of the syndicate. Syndicate managers should ensure that all allocations, even those away from the priority provisions, are fair and reasonable and consistent with principles of fair dealing under Rule G-17.

It should be noted that all of the principles of fair dealing articulated in this notice extend to any underwriter of a primary offering, whether a sole underwriter, a syndicate manager, or a syndicate member.

[1] MSRB Notice of Interpretation Concerning Priority of Orders for New Issue Securities: Rule G-17 (December 22, 1987).

[2] The requirements of Rule G-11(f) with respect to issuer requirements were adopted by the MSRB in 1998. See Exchange Act Release No. 40717 (November 27, 1998) (File No. SR-MSRB-97-15).

[3] “Related account” has the meaning set forth in Rule G-11(a)(xi).