The Application of Rules G-8, G-12 and G-14 to Specific Electronic Trading Systems
The Municipal Securities Rulemaking Board (the “MSRB”) understands that, over time, the advent of new trading systems will present novel situations in applying MSRB uniform practice rules. The MSRB is prepared to provide interpretative guidance in these situations as they arise, and, if necessary, implement formal rule interpretations or rule changes to provide clarity or prevent unintended results in novel situations. The MSRB has been asked to provide guidance on the application of certain of its rules to transactions effected on a proposed electronic trading system with features similar to those described below.
Description of System
The system is an electronic trading system offering a variety of trading services and operated by an entity registered as a dealer under the Securities Exchange Act of 1934. The system is qualified as an alternative trading system under Regulation ATS. Trading in the system is limited to brokers, dealers and municipal securities dealers (“dealers”). Purchase and sale contracts are created in the system through various types of electronic communications via the system, including acceptance of priced offers, a bid-wanted process, and through negotiation by system participants with each other. System rules govern how the bid/offer process is conducted and otherwise govern how contracts are formed between buyers and sellers.
Participants are, or may be, anonymous during the bid/offer/negotiation process. After a sales contract is formed, the system immediately sends an electronic communication to the buyer and seller, noting the transaction details as well as the identity of the contra-party. The transaction is then sent by the buyer and seller to a registered securities clearing agency for comparison and is settled without involvement of the system operator.
The system operator does not take a position in the securities traded on the system, even for clearance purposes. Dealers trading on the system are required by system rules to clear and settle transactions directly with each other even though the parties do not know each other at the time the sale contract is formed. If a dealer using the system does not wish to do business with another specific contra-party using the system, it may direct the system operator to adjust the system so that contracts with that contra-party cannot be formed through the system.
Application of Certain Uniform Practice Rules to System
It appears to the MSRB that the dealer operating the system is effecting agency transactions for dealer clients. The system operator does not have a role in clearing the transactions and is not taking principal positions in the securities being traded. However, the system operator is participating in the transactions at key points by providing anonymity to buyers and sellers during the formation of contracts and by setting system rules for the formation of contracts. Consequently, all MSRB rules generally applicable to inter-dealer transactions would apply except to the extent that such rules explicitly, or by context, are limited to principal transactions.
One issue raised by the description of the system above is the planned method of clearance and settlement. Rule G-12(f)(i) requires that inter-dealer transactions be compared in an automated comparison system operated by a clearing corporation registered with the Securities and Exchange Commission. The purpose of rule G-12(f)(i) is to facilitate clearance and settlement of inter-dealer transactions. In this case, the system operator: (i) electronically communicates the transaction details to the buyer and seller; (ii) requires the buyer and seller to compare the transaction directly with each other in a registered securities clearing corporation; and (iii) is not otherwise involved in clearing or settling the transaction. The MSRB believes that under these circumstances, it is unnecessary for the system operator to obtain a separate comparison of its agency transactions with the buyer and seller.
Although automated comparison is not required between the system operator and the buyer and seller, the transaction details sent to each party by the system must conform to the information requirements for inter-dealer confirmations contained in rule G-12(c). Since system participants implicitly agree to receive this information in electronic form by participating in the system, a paper confirmation is not necessary. Also, the system operator may have an agreement with its participants that participants are not required to confirm the transactions back to the system operator, which normally would be required by rule G-12(c).
The system operator, which is subject to Regulation ATS, will be governed by the recordkeeping requirements of Regulation ATS for purposes of transaction records, including municipal securities transactions. However, the system operator also must comply with any applicable recordkeeping requirements in rule G-8(f), which relate to records specific to effecting municipal securities transactions. With respect to recordkeeping by dealers using the system, the specific procedures associated with this system require that transactions be recorded as principal transactions directly between buyer and seller, with notations of the fact that the transactions were effected through the system.
Rule G-14 requires inter-dealer transactions to be reported to the MSRB for the purposes of price transparency, market surveillance and fee assessment. The mechanism for reporting inter-dealer transactions is through National Securities Clearing Corporation (“NSCC”). In the system described above, the buyer and seller clear and settle transactions directly as principals with each other, and without the involvement of the dealer operating the system. The buyer and seller therefore will report transactions directly to NSCC. No transaction or pricing information will be lost if the system operator does not report the transaction. Consequently, it is not necessary for the system operator separately to report the transactions to the MSRB.
March 26, 2001
 This situation can be contrasted with the typical broker’s broker operation in which the broker’s broker effects riskless principal transactions for dealer clients. The nature of the transactions as either agency or principal is governed for purposes of MSRB rules by whether a principal position is taken with respect to the security. “Riskless principal” transactions in this context are considered to be principal transactions in which a dealer has a firm order on one side at the time it executes a matching transaction on the contra-side. For purposes of the uniform practice rules, the MSRB considers broker’s broker transactions to be riskless principal transactions even though the broker’s broker may be acting for one party and may have agency or fiduciary obligations toward that party.