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Notice on Bank Tying Arrangements, Underpricing of Credit and Rule G-17 on Fair Dealing

The Municipal Securities Rulemaking Board is concerned that the recent increase in demand for liquidity facilities in the municipal securities market due to the downgrade of the monoline insurers and the conversion of auction rate securities programs may result in certain activities that could violate federal bank tying and underpricing of credit prohibitions.  The MSRB wishes to remind dealers of these prohibitions as well as the fact that any broker, dealer or municipal securities dealer (dealer) that aids and abets a violation of federal bank tying or underpricing of credit prohibitions also would violate Rule G-17 on fair dealing.

Section 106 of the Bank Holding Company Act Amendments of 1970 prohibits commercial banks from imposing certain types of tying arrangements on their customers, a practice known as “tying.”  Tying includes conditioning the availability or terms of loans or other credit products on the purchase of certain other products and services.  It is legal for banks to tie credit and traditional banking products, such as cash management, but it is not legal for banks to tie credit and debt underwriting from the bank or from the bank’s investment affiliate.  For example, a bank would violate Section 106 if the bank informs a customer seeking a liquidity facility from the bank that the bank will provide the liquidity facility only if the customer commits to hire the bank’s securities affiliate to underwrite an upcoming bond offering for the customer.  Section 106, however, does not prohibit a customer from deciding on its own to award some of its business to a bank or an affiliate as a reward for the bank previously providing credit or other business to the customer.  So too, if a bank provides a reduced rate on a liquidity facility because of an illegal tie in with an underwriting, that may also constitute an underpricing of credit (i.e., an extension of credit below market rates). The underpricing could violate Section 23B of the Federal Reserve Act of 1913 which generally requires that certain transactions between a bank and its affiliates occur on market terms and applies to any transaction by a bank with a third party if an affiliate has a financial interest in the third party or if an affiliate is a participant in the transaction.

The MSRB encourages all interested parties to provide information concerning any arrangement in which the provision of liquidity facilities may have been illegally tied to investment banking services.  Such information may be provided to the appropriate bank regulatory authority or, if provided to the MSRB, the MSRB will forward it to the  appropriate bank regulatory authority.  In addition, the MSRB cautions that any dealer that aids or abets a violation of bank tying or the underpricing of credit prohibitions also would violate Rule G-17.  A dealer would be deemed to have aided and abetted a violation of the bank tying prohibition or underpricing of credit if it knew or had reason to know that the purchase of investment banking services had been tied to the provision and/or pricing of a liquidity facility by an affiliated bank in violation of the federal banking laws.