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Interpretive Guidance - Interpretive Notices
Publication date:
Notice to Dealers That Use the Services of Broker’s Brokers
Rule Number:

Rule G-13, Rule G-43

Introduction 

In view of the important role that broker’s brokers play in the provision of secondary market liquidity for municipal securities owned by retail investors, MSRB Rule G-43 sets forth particular rules to which broker’s brokers are subject.  Rule G-43(a)(i) provides:

Each dealer acting as a "broker’s broker"[1] with respect to the execution of a transaction in municipal securities for or on behalf of another dealer shall make a reasonable effort to obtain a price for the dealer that is fair and reasonable in relation to prevailing market conditions.  The broker’s broker must employ the same care and diligence in doing so as if the transaction were being done for its own account.[2]

In guidance on broker’s brokers issued in 2004,[3] the MSRB noted the role of some broker’s brokers in large intra-day price differentials of infrequently traded municipal securities with credits that were relatively unknown to most market participants, especially in the case of “retail” size blocks of $5,000 to $100,000.  In certain cases, differences between the prices received by the selling customers as a result of a broker’s broker bid-wanted and the prices paid by the ultimate purchasing customers on the same day were 10% or more.  After the securities were purchased from the broker’s broker, they were sold to other dealers in a series of transactions until they eventually were purchased by other customers.  The abnormally large intra-day price differentials were attributed in major part to the price increases found in the inter-dealer market occurring after the broker’s brokers’ trades.

Rule G-43 addresses the role of broker’s brokers, including their role in such a series of transactions.  It is the role of the broker’s broker to conduct a properly run bid-wanted or offering and thereby satisfy its duty to make a reasonable effort to obtain a price for the dealer that is fair and reasonable in relation to prevailing market conditions.  The MSRB believes that a bid-wanted or offering conducted in the manner provided in Rule G-43 will be an important element in the establishment of a fair and reasonable price for municipal securities in the secondary market.  This notice addresses the roles of other transaction participants, specifically the brokers, dealers, and municipal securities dealers (“dealers”) that sell, and bid for, municipal securities in bid-wanteds and offerings conducted by broker’s brokers.  Those selling dealers (“sellers”) and bidding dealers (“bidders”) also have pricing duties under MSRB rules and their failure to satisfy those duties could negate the reasonable efforts of a broker’s broker to achieve fair pricing.

Duties of Bidders

Rule G-13(b)(i) provides that, in general, “no broker, dealer or municipal securities dealer shall distribute or publish, or cause to be distributed or published, any quotation relating to municipal securities, unless the quotation represents a bona fide bid[4] for, or offer of, municipal securities by such broker, dealer or municipal securities dealer.”  Rule G-13(b)(ii) provides that “[n]o broker, dealer or municipal securities dealer shall distribute or publish, or cause to be distributed or published, any quotation relating to municipal securities, unless the price stated in the quotation is based on the best judgment of such broker, dealer or municipal securities dealer of the fair market value of the securities which are the subject of the quotation at the time the quotation is made.”

Dealers that submit bids to broker’s brokers that they believe are below the fair market value of the securities or that submit “throw-away” bids to broker’s brokers do so in violation of Rule G-13.  While bidders are entitled to make a profit, Rule G-13 does not permit them to do so by “picking off” other dealers at off-market prices.  Throw-away bids, by definition, violate Rule G-13, because throw-away bids are arrived at without an analysis by the bidder of the fair market value of the municipal security that is the subject of the bid.  A conclusion by the bidder that a security must be worth “at least that much,” without any knowledge of the security or comparable securities and without any effort to analyze the security’s value is not based on the best judgment of such bidder of the fair market value of the securities within the meaning of Rule G-13(b)(ii).  When the MSRB first proposed Rule G-13, it explained in a February 24, 1977 letter from Frieda Wallison, Executive Director and General Counsel, MSRB, to Lee Pickard, Director, Division of Market Regulation, Securities and Exchange Commission that, among the activities that Rule G-13 was designed to prevent was the placing of a bid that is “pulled out of the air,” which is another way to describe a throw-away bid.

Furthermore, when a dealer’s bid is accepted and a transaction in the securities is executed, that transaction price (and accordingly the bid itself) will be disseminated within the meaning of Rule G-13(a)(i) on the MSRB’s Electronic Municipal Market Access (EMMA®) platform within 15 minutes after the time of trade.  At that point, if the bid is off-market, it will create a misperception in the municipal marketplace of the true fair market value of the security.  The fact that the bid price that wins a bid-wanted or offering may well not represent the true fair market value of the security is evidenced by the trade activity observed by enforcement agencies following such auctions.  Enforcement agencies have informed the MSRB that they continue to observe the same kinds of series of transactions in municipal securities that prompted the MSRB’s 2004 pricing guidance.  They have also informed the MSRB about their observations of other trading patterns that indicate some market participants may misuse the role of the broker’s broker in the provision of secondary market liquidity and may cause retail customers who liquidate their municipal securities by means of broker’s brokers to receive unfair prices.

Duties of Sellers

Dealers that use the services of broker’s brokers to sell municipal securities for their customers also have significant fair pricing duties under Rule G-30 when they act as a principal.  As the MSRB noted in its request for comment on Draft Rule G-43,[5]

the information about the value of municipal securities provided to a selling dealer by a broker’s broker is only one factor that the dealer must take into account in determining a fair and reasonable price for its customer.  In fact, in 2004, the National Association of Securities Dealers (“NASD”) announced that it had fined eight dealers for relying solely on prices obtained in bid-wanteds conducted by broker’s brokers, which the NASD found to be significantly below fair market value.[6]  In that same year, the MSRB said that “particularly when the market value of an issue is not known, a dealer . . . may need to check the results of the bid wanted process against other objective data to fulfill its fair pricing obligations . . . .”

Under those circumstances where broker’s brokers seeks to satisfy their fair pricing obligations in bid-wanteds conducted pursuant to Rule G-43(b), Rule G-43(b)(v) provides for notice by broker’s brokers to sellers when bids in bid-wanteds are below predetermined parameters that are designed to identify possible off-market bids (e.g., those based on yield curves, pricing services, recent trades reported to the MSRB’s RTRS System, or bids received by broker’s brokers in prior bid-wanteds or offerings).  Once a seller has received such notice, it must direct the broker’s broker as to whether to execute the trade at that price.  That notice by the broker’s broker and required action on the part of the seller should put the seller on notice that it must take additional steps to ascertain whether the high bid provided to it by the broker’s broker is, in fact, a fair and reasonable price for the securities.  Rule G-30 mandates that the seller, if acting as a principal, must not buy municipal securities from its customer at a price that is not fair and reasonable (taking any mark-down into account), taking into consideration all relevant factors, including those listed in the rule.

The MSRB notes that Rule G-8(a)(xxv)(E) requires broker’s brokers to keep records when they have provided the seller with the notice described in Rule G-43(b)(v).  Among the required records are the full name of the person at the seller who received the notice, the direction given by the seller firm following the notice, and the full name of the person at the seller who provided that direction.

Rule G-43(b)(i) permits a broker’s broker to limit the audience for a bid-wanted at the selling dealer’s direction, a practice sometimes referred to as “screening” or “filtering,” because the MSRB recognizes that there may be legitimate reasons for this practice.  However, the MSRB notes that such screening may reduce the likelihood that the high bid represents a fair and reasonable price.  Selling dealers should, therefore, be able to demonstrate a reason that is not anti-competitive (e.g., credit, legal, or regulatory concerns), rather than trying to eliminate access by a competitor, for directing broker’s brokers to screen certain bidders from the receipt of bid-wanteds or offerings.  For example, a selling dealer might maintain a list of the firms it would be unwilling to accept as a counterparty and the reasons why.

The MSRB recognizes that there may be circumstances under which customers may need to liquidate their municipal securities quickly and that there are limitations on the ability of a bid-wanted or offering to achieve a price that is comparable to recent trade prices under certain circumstances, particularly in view of its timing and the presence or absence of regular buyers in the marketplace.  Nevertheless, the MSRB urges sellers not to assume that their customers need to liquidate their securities immediately without inquiring as to their customers’ particular circumstances and discussing with their customers the possible improved pricing benefit associated with taking additional time to liquidate the securities.

Rule G-17 requires dealers, in the conduct of their municipal securities activities, to deal fairly with all persons and to not engage in any deceptive, dishonest, or unfair practice.  Broker’s brokers have informed the MSRB that many dealers place bid-wanteds and offerings with broker’s brokers with no intention of selling the securities through the broker’s brokers.  Some have noted that shortly thereafter they see the same securities purchased by dealers for their own accounts at prices that exceed the high bid obtained by the broker’s brokers by only a very small amount.  Other dealers have told the MSRB that they are skeptical of many of the bid-wanteds they see, because they think the bid-wanteds are only being used for price discovery by the selling dealers and are not real.  Accordingly, in many cases, they do not bid.  This use of broker’s brokers solely for price discovery purposes harms the bid-wanted and offering process by reducing bidders, thereby reducing the likelihood that the high bid in a bid-wanted will represent the fair market value of the securities.  Additionally, it causes broker’s brokers to work without reasonable expectation of compensation.  For those reasons, depending upon the facts and circumstances, the use of bid-wanteds solely for price discovery purposes may be an unfair practice within the meaning of Rule G-17.


[1] Rule G-43(d)(iii) defines a “broker’s broker” as “a dealer, or a separately operated and supervised division or unit of a dealer, that principally effects transactions for other dealers or that holds itself out as a broker’s broker.” Certain alternative trading systems are excepted from the definition of “broker’s broker.”
 
[2] A bid-wanted conducted in accordance with Rule G-43(b) will satisfy the pricing obligation of a broker’s broker.
 
 
[4] Rule G-13(b)(iii) provides that:

a quotation shall be deemed to represent a "bona fide bid for, or offer of, municipal securities" if the broker, dealer or municipal securities dealer making the quotation is prepared to purchase or sell the security which is the subject of the quotation at the price stated in the quotation and under such conditions, if any, as are specified at the time the quotation is made.

[5] MSRB Notice 2011-18 (February 24, 2011).

[6] See http://www.finra.org/Newsroom/NewsReleases/2004/P011465.

Interpretive Guidance - Interpretive Notices
Publication date:
Published Quotations
Rule Number:

Rule G-13

The Board has received complaints regarding published quotations, such as those appearing in The Blue List. The complaints, which have been referred to the appropriate enforcement agency, state that municipal securities offerings published by dealers often do not reflect prices and amounts of securities that currently are being offered by the quoting dealer.

Board rule G-13, on quotations, prohibits the dissemination of a quotation relating to municipal securities unless the quotation represents a bona fide bid for, or offer of, municipal securities. The term quotation is defined to mean any bid for, or offer of, municipal securities. A quotation is deemed to be bona fide if the dealer on whose behalf the quotation is made is prepared to purchase or sell the municipal securities at the price stated and in the amount specified at the time the quotation is made.

Under rule G-13, the price stated in a quotation for municipal securities must be based on the best judgment of the dealer making the quotation as to the fair market value of such securities at the time the quotation is made. The Board has stated that the price must have a reasonable relationship to the fair market value of the securities, and may take into account relevant factors such as the dealer's current inventory position, overall and in respect to a particular security, and the dealer's anticipation of the direction of the market price for the securities.

Rule G-13 also prohibits a dealer from entering a quotation on behalf of another dealer if the dealer entering the quotation has any reason to believe that the quotation does not represent a bona fide bid for, or offer of, municipal securities. In addition, participants in a joint account are prohibited from entering quotations relating to municipal securities which are the subject of the joint account, if such quotations indicate more than one market for the same securities. Rule G-13 does not prohibit giving "nominal" bids or offers or giving indications of price solely for informational purposes as long as an indication of the price given is clearly shown to be for such purposes.

A dealer that publishes a quote in a daily or other listing must stand ready to purchase or sell the securities at the stated price and amount until the securities are sold or the dealer subsequently changes its price. If either of these events occur, the dealer must withdraw or update its published quotation in the next publication. Stale or invalid quotations violate rule G-13. Rule G-13 does permit a dealer to publish a quotation for a security it does not own if the dealer is prepared to sell the security at the price stated in the quotation. If the dealer knows that the security is not available in the market or is not prepared to sell the security at the stated price, the quotation would violate rule G-13.

Interpretive Guidance - Interpretive Notices
Publication date:
Application of Board Rules to Transactions in Municipal Securities Subject to Secondary Market Insurance or Other Credit Enhancement Features

It has come to the Board’s attention that insurance companies are offering to insure whole maturities of issues of municipal securities outstanding in the secondary market. The Board understands that municipal securities professionals must apply for the insurance which, once issued, will remain in effect for the life of the security. The Board further understands that other credit enhancement devices also may be developed for secondary market issues.

The Board wishes to remind the industry of the application of rule G-17, the Board’s fair dealing rule, in connection with transactions with customers in securities that are subject to secondary market insurance or other credit enhancement devices or in securities for which arrangements for such insurance or device have been initiated.[1] The Board is of the view that facts, for example, that a security has been insured or arrangements for insurance have been initiated, that will affect the market price of the security are material and must be disclosed to a customer at or before execution of a transaction in the security. In addition, the Board believes that a dealer should advise a customer if evidence of insurance or other credit enhancement feature must be attached to the security for effective transference of the insurance or device.[2]

The Board also wishes to remind the industry that under rule G-13, concerning quotations, all quotations relating to municipal securities made by a dealer must be based on the dealer’s best judgment of the fair market value of the securities at the time the quotation is made. Offers to buy securities that are insured or otherwise have a credit enhancement feature, or for which arrangements for insurance or other credit enhancement have been initiated, must comply with rule G-13. Similarly, the prices at which these securities are purchased or sold by a municipal securities dealer must be fair and reasonable to its customers under Board rule G-30 on prices and commissions.


 

 

[1] Rule G-17 provides:

In the conduct of its municipal securities business, each broker, dealer, and municipal securities dealer shall deal fairly with all persons and shall not engage in any deceptive, dishonest, or unfair practice.

[2] The Board has adopted amendments to rule G-15 which, among other things, require that deliveries to customers of insured securities be accompanied by some evidence of the insurance.

Interpretive Guidance - Interpretive Letters
Publication date:
Quotation of municipal securities
Rule Number:

Rule G-13

Quotation of municipal securities. This will acknowledge receipt of your letter dated February 9, 1977 concerning the Board’s proposed rule G-13 on quotations relating to municipal securities. In your letter you raise certain questions concerning the intent and application of paragraph (b)(ii) of proposed rule G-13, which prohibits a municipal securities professional from distributing or publishing a municipal securities quotation, or causing such a quotation to be distributed or published, unless the quotation is based upon the professional’s best judgment as to the fair market value of the security.

While the provision in question would undoubtedly apply to situations involving outright fraud, the Board believes the rule to have appropriate application in other circumstances as well.  Thus, the Board has attempted in paragraph (b)(ii) to proscribe conduct which, in the Board’s opinion, constitutes bad business practice but may not, depending on the circumstances, constitute fraud. The Board firmly believes that as a matter of just and equitable principles of trade in the municipal securities industry and with a view to promoting free and open markets in municipal securities, certain practices should not be condoned, even though they do not necessarily rise to the level of fraud or cannot be proven to constitute fraud.

Some examples of how paragraph (b)(ii) would operate may be useful.  First, assume that a dealer submits a bid for bonds, knowing that they have been called by the issuer.  The bonds are not general market bonds and the fact that they have been called is not widely known. While called bonds ordinarily trade at a premium, the dealer’s bid is based on the value of the bonds as though they had not been called and is accepted by the dealer on the other side of the trade who is unaware of the called status of the bonds.  In these circumstances, the bid clearly would not have been based upon the best judgment of the dealer making it as to the fair market value of the bonds. While one might argue that the dealer accepting the bid should have known of the called status of the bonds, the dealer making the bid acted unethically and in a manner not conducive to free and open markets in municipal securities. In the Board’s view, the actions of the dealer making the bid should not be condoned, although a charge of fraud might be difficult to sustain in dealings between professionals and might be inappropriate. The improper nature of the dealer’s conduct would be exacerbated, of course, if the person on the other side of the transaction is a non-professional.  However, difficulties in proof that the conduct of the dealer was fraudulent suggest that the best judgment rule would provide an appropriate alternative basis for enforcement action.

Another situation that would be covered by the best judgment rule is one in which a dealer submits a bid for bonds based on valuations obtained from independent sources, which in turn are based on mistaken assumptions concerning the nature of the securities in question.  The circumstances indicate that the dealer submitting the bid knows that the securities have a substantially greater market value than the price bid, but the fact that independent valuations were obtained, albeit based on mistaken facts, clouds the dealer’s culpability.

A third situation to which the best judgment rule would apply is one in which a dealer makes a bid for or offer of a security without any knowledge as to the value of the security or the value of comparable securities. While the Board does not intend that the best judgment of a dealer as to the fair market value of a security be second-guessed for purposes of the proposed rule, the Board does intend that the dealer be required to act responsibly and to exercise some judgment in submitting a quotation.  In other words, a quotation which has been “pulled out of the air” is not based on the best judgment of the dealer and, in the interests of promoting free and open markets in municipal securities, should not be encouraged.

Given the manner in which the Board intends the “best judgment” rule to operate, the Board concluded that it would not have an anti-competitive impact on the municipal markets. The proposed rule is not intended to prohibit legitimate price discounts or mark-ups, as the case may be, based upon a dealer’s anticipation of the direction of the movement of the markets and other factors. The Board does not intend to interfere with legitimate pricing mechanisms and recognizes that there may be a variety of quotations with respect to a given security, each of which would comply with the terms of the proposed rule.

While it is not possible to anticipate all of the specific fact situations that might run afoul of the “best judgment” rule, I would like to make some general observations concerning the operation of the proposed rule. As you know, one of Congress’ principal purposes in calling for the establishment of the Board was to promote the development of a body of rules for the municipal securities industry that would furnish quidelines for good business conduct. The Senate Committee on Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs observed in its Report on the Securities Acts Amendments of 1975 that prior to the legislation, the conduct of municipal market professionals could be controlled only after the fact through enforcement by the Commission of the fraud prohibitions of the federal securities laws.  The Senate Committee expressed hope that a self-regulatory body like the Board would develop prophylactic rules for the industry which would deter unethical and fraudulent practices in the first instance. See Senate Report 94-75, 94thCong., 1st Sess., 42-43. MSRB interpretation of February 24, 1977.