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Interpretive Guidance - Interpretive Notices
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Interpretive Notice Concerning the Application of MSRB Rule G-17 to Underwriters of Municipal Securities
Rule Number:

Rule G-17

Under Rule G-17 of the Municipal Securities Rulemaking Board (MSRB), brokers, dealers, and municipal securities dealers (“dealers”) must, in the conduct of their municipal securities activities, deal fairly with all persons and must not engage in any deceptive, dishonest, or unfair practice. This rule is most often cited in connection with duties owed by dealers to investors; however, it also applies to their interactions with other market participants, including municipal entities[1] such as states and their political subdivisions that are issuers of municipal securities (“issuers”).

The MSRB has previously observed that Rule G-17 requires dealers to deal fairly with issuers.[2] With the passage of the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act,[3] the MSRB was expressly directed by Congress to protect municipal entities. Accordingly, in 2012, the MSRB provided additional interpretive guidance that addressed how Rule G-17 applies to dealers acting in the capacity of underwriters in the municipal securities transactions described therein (the “2012 Interpretive Notice”).[4]

This notice supersedes the MSRB’s 2012 Interpretive Notice, dated August 2, 2012, concerning the application of Rule G-17 to underwriters of municipal securities, as well as the related implementation guidance, dated July 18, 2012, and frequently-asked questions, dated March 25, 2013 (the “prior guidance”).[5] The prior guidance will remain applicable to underwriting relationships commencing prior to March 31, 2021. Underwriters will be subject to the amended guidance provided by this notice for all of their underwriting relationships beginning on or after that date. For purposes of this notice, an underwriting relationship is considered to have begun at the time the delivery of the first disclosure is triggered as described under “Timing and Manner of Disclosures” below (i.e., the earliest stages of an underwriter’s relationship with an issuer with respect to an issue, such as in a response to a request for proposal or in promotional materials provided to an issuer).

Applicability of the Notice

Except where a competitive underwriting is specifically mentioned, this notice applies to negotiated underwritings only.[6] This notice does not apply to a dealer acting as a primary distributor in a continuous offering of municipal fund securities, such as interests in 529 savings plans and Achieving a Better Life Experience (ABLE) programs. It does not apply to selling group members. This notice does not address a dealer’s duties when the dealer is serving as an advisor to a municipal entity. This notice applies to a primary offering of a new issue of municipal securities that is placed with investors by a dealer serving as placement agent, although certain disclosures may be omitted as described below.

The fair practice duties outlined in this notice are those duties that a dealer owes to a municipal entity when the dealer underwrites a new issue of municipal securities. This notice does not set out the underwriter’s fair-practice duties to other parties to a municipal securities financing (e.g., conduit borrowers). The MSRB notes, however, that Rule G-17 does require that an underwriter deal fairly with all persons in the course of the dealer’s municipal securities activities. What actions are considered fair will, of necessity, be dependent on the nature of the relationship between a dealer and such other parties, the particular actions undertaken, and all other relevant facts and circumstances. Although this notice does not address what an underwriter’s fair-dealing duties may be with respect to other parties, it may serve as one of many bases for an underwriter to consider how to establish appropriate policies and procedures for ensuring that it meets such fair-practice obligations, in light of its relationship with such other participants and their particular roles.

The examples discussed in this notice are illustrative only and are not meant to encompass all obligations of dealers to municipal entities under Rule G-17. Furthermore, when municipal entities are customers[7] of dealers, they are subject to the same protections under MSRB rules, including Rule G‑17, that apply to other customers.[8] The MSRB notes that an underwriter has a duty of fair dealing to investors in addition to its duty of fair dealing to issuers. An underwriter also has a duty to comply with other MSRB rules as well as other federal and state securities laws.

Basic Fair Dealing Principle

As noted above, Rule G-17 precludes a dealer, in the conduct of its municipal securities activities, from engaging in any deceptive, dishonest, or unfair practice with any person, including an issuer. The rule contains an anti-fraud prohibition. Thus, an underwriter must not misrepresent or omit the facts, risks, potential benefits, or other material information about municipal securities activities undertaken with a municipal issuer. However, Rule G-17 does not merely prohibit deceptive conduct on the part of the dealer; it also establishes a general duty of a dealer to deal fairly with all persons (including, but not limited to, issuers), even in the absence of fraud.

Role of Underwriters and Conflicts of Interest

In negotiated underwritings, underwriters’ Rule G-17 duty to deal fairly with an issuer requires certain disclosures to the issuer in connection with an issue or proposed issue of municipal securities, as provided below.[9]

  • The disclosures discussed under “Disclosures Concerning the Underwriters’ Role” and “Disclosures Concerning Underwriters’ Compensation” (the “standard disclosures”) must be provided by the sole underwriter or the syndicate manager[10] to the issuer as described below.
  • The disclosures discussed under “Required Disclosures to Issuers” (the “transaction-specific disclosures”) must be provided to the issuer by the underwriter who has recommended a financing structure or product to the issuer as described below.[11]
  • The disclosures discussed under “Other Conflicts Disclosures” (the “dealer-specific disclosures”) must be provided by the sole underwriter or each underwriter in a syndicate (as applicable) as described below.[12]

Disclosures Concerning the Underwriter’s Role.  The sole underwriter or the syndicate manager[13] must disclose to the issuer that:

   (i)    Municipal Securities Rulemaking Board Rule G-17 requires an underwriter to deal fairly at all times with both issuers and investors;
 
  (ii)   the underwriter’s primary role is to purchase securities with a view to distribution in an arm’s-length commercial transaction with the issuer and it has financial and other interests that differ from those of the issuer;[14]
 
  (iii)   unlike a municipal advisor, the underwriter does not have a fiduciary duty to the issuer under the federal securities laws and is, therefore, not required by federal law to act in the best interests of the issuer without regard to its own financial or other interests;[15]
 
  (iv)   the issuer may choose to engage the services of a municipal advisor with a fiduciary obligation to represent the issuer’s interests in the transaction;
 
  (v)   the underwriter has a duty to purchase securities from the issuer at a fair and reasonable price, but must balance that duty with its duty to sell municipal securities to investors at prices that are fair and reasonable; and
 
  (vi)   the underwriter will review the official statement for the issuer’s securities in accordance with, and as part of, its responsibilities to investors under the federal securities laws, as applied to the facts and circumstances of the transaction.[16]

Underwriters also must not recommend that issuers not retain a municipal advisor. Accordingly, underwriters may not discourage issuers from using a municipal advisor or otherwise imply that the hiring of a municipal advisor would be redundant because the sole underwriter or underwriting syndicate can provide the services that a municipal advisor would.

Disclosure Concerning the Underwriters’ Compensation. The sole underwriter or syndicate manager must disclose to issuers whether underwriting compensation will be contingent on the closing of a transaction. Sole underwriters or syndicate managers must also disclose that compensation that is contingent on the closing of a transaction or the size of a transaction presents a conflict of interest, because it may cause underwriters to recommend a transaction that is unnecessary or to recommend that the size of a transaction be larger than is necessary.

Other Conflicts Disclosures. The sole underwriter or each underwriter in a syndicate must also, when and if applicable, disclose other dealer-specific actual material conflicts of interest and potential material conflicts of interest,[17] including, but not limited to, the following:

   (i)    any payments described below under “Conflicts of Interest/Payments to or from Third Parties”;[18]
 
  (ii)   any arrangements described below under “Conflicts of Interest/Profit-Sharing with Investors”;
 
  (iii)   the credit default swap disclosures described below under “Conflicts of Interest/Credit Default Swaps”; and
 
  (iv)   any incentives for the underwriter to recommend a complex municipal securities financing and other associated conflicts of interest (as described below under “Required Disclosures to Issuers”).[19]

These categories of conflicts of interest are not mutually exclusive and, in some cases, a specific conflict may reasonably be viewed as falling into two or even more categories. An underwriter making disclosures of dealer-specific conflicts of interest to an issuer should concentrate on making them in a complete and understandable manner and need not necessarily organize them according to the categories listed above, particularly if adhering to a strict categorization process might interfere with the clarity and conciseness of disclosures.

Where there is a syndicate, each underwriter in the syndicate has a duty to provide its dealer-specific disclosures to the issuer. In general, dealer-specific disclosures for one dealer cannot be satisfied by disclosures made by another dealer (e.g., the syndicate manager) because such disclosures are, by their nature, not uniform, and must be prepared by each dealer. However, a syndicate manager may deliver each of the dealer-specific disclosures to the issuer as part of a single package of disclosures, as long as it is clear to which dealer each disclosure is attributed. An underwriter in the syndicate is not required to notify an issuer if it has determined that it does not have any dealer-specific disclosures to make. However, the obligation to provide dealer-specific disclosures includes material conflicts of interest arising after the time of engagement with the issuer, as noted below.

Timing and Manner of Disclosures.  The standard disclosures, transaction-specific disclosures, and dealer-specific disclosures must be made in writing to an official of the issuer identified by the issuer as a primary contact for that issuer for the receipt of the foregoing disclosures. In the absence of such identification, an underwriter may make such disclosures in writing to an official of the issuer that the underwriter reasonably believes has the authority to bind the issuer by contract with the underwriter and that, to the knowledge of the underwriter, is not a party to a disclosed conflict.[20] If provided within the same document as the dealer-specific disclosures and/or transaction-specific disclosures, the standard disclosures must be identified clearly as such and provided apart from the other disclosures (e.g., in an appendix).

Disclosures must be made in a clear and concise manner designed to make clear to such official the subject matter of such disclosures and their implications for the issuer in accordance with the following timelines.

  • A sole underwriter or syndicate manager must make the standard disclosure concerning the arm’s-length nature of the underwriter-issuer relationship at the earliest stages of the underwriter’s relationship with the issuer with respect to an issue (e.g., in a response to a request for proposals or in promotional materials provided to an issuer).[21]
  • A sole underwriter or syndicate manager must make the other standard disclosures regarding the underwriter’s role and compensation at or before the time the underwriter is engaged to perform underwriting services (e.g., in an engagement letter), not solely in a bond purchase agreement.
  • An underwriter must make the dealer-specific disclosures at or before the time the underwriter has been engaged to perform the underwriting services.[22] Thereafter, an underwriter must make any applicable dealer-specific disclosures discovered or arising after being engaged as an underwriter as soon as practicable after being discovered and with sufficient time for the issuer to fully evaluate any such conflict and its implications.[23]
  • An underwriter who recommends a financing structure or product to an issuer must make the transaction-specific disclosures in sufficient time before the execution of a commitment by an issuer (which may include a bond purchase agreement) relating to the financing, and with sufficient time to allow the issuer to fully evaluate the features of the financing.

Unless directed otherwise by an issuer, an underwriter may update selected portions of disclosures previously provided so long as such updates clearly identify the additions or deletions and are capable of being read independently of the prior disclosures.[24]

Acknowledgement of Disclosures. When delivering a disclosure, the underwriter must attempt to receive written acknowledgement[25] from an official of the issuer identified by the issuer as a primary contact for the issuer’s receipt of the foregoing disclosures.[26] In the absence of such identification, an underwriter may seek acknowledgement from an official of the issuer whom the underwriter reasonably believes has the authority to bind the issuer by contract with the underwriter and that, to the knowledge of the underwriter, is not party to a disclosed conflict. This notice does not specify the particular form of acknowledgement, but may include, for example, an e-mail read receipt.[27] An underwriter may proceed with a receipt of a written acknowledgement that includes an issuer’s reservation of rights or other self-protective language. If the official of the issuer agrees to proceed with the underwriting engagement after receipt of the disclosures but will not provide written acknowledgement of receipt, the underwriter responsible for making the requisite disclosure may proceed with the engagement after documenting with specificity why it was unable to obtain such written acknowledgement. Additionally, an underwriter must be able to produce evidence (including, for example, by automatic e-mail delivery receipt) that the disclosures were delivered with sufficient time for evaluation by the issuer before proceeding with the transaction. An issuer’s written acknowledgement of the receipt of disclosure is not dispositive of whether such disclosures were made with an appropriate amount of time. The analysis of whether disclosures were provided with sufficient time for an issuer’s review is based on the totality of the facts and circumstances.

Representations to Issuers

All representations made by underwriters to issuers in connection with municipal securities underwritings, whether written or oral, must be truthful and accurate and must not misrepresent or omit material facts. Underwriters must have a reasonable basis for the representations and other material information contained in documents they prepare and must refrain from including representations or other information they know or should know is inaccurate or misleading. For example, in connection with a certificate signed by the underwriter that will be relied upon by the issuer or other relevant parties to an underwriting (e.g., an issue price certificate), the dealer must have a reasonable basis for the representations and other material information contained therein.[28] In addition, an underwriter’s response to an issuer’s request for proposals or qualifications must fairly and accurately describe the underwriter’s capacity, resources, and knowledge to perform the proposed underwriting as of the time the proposal is submitted and must not contain any representations or other material information about such capacity, resources, or knowledge that the underwriter knows or should know to be inaccurate or misleading.[29] Matters not within the personal knowledge of those preparing the response (e.g., pending litigation) must be confirmed by those with knowledge of the subject matter. An underwriter must not represent that it has the requisite knowledge or expertise with respect to a particular financing if the personnel that it intends to work on the financing do not have the requisite knowledge or expertise.

Required Disclosures to Issuers

Many municipal securities are issued using financing structures that are routine and well understood by the typical municipal market professional, including most issuer personnel that have the lead responsibilities in connection with the issuance of municipal securities. For example, absent unusual circumstances or features, the typical fixed rate offering may be presumed to be well understood. Nevertheless, in the case of issuer personnel that the underwriter reasonably believes lack the requisite knowledge or experience to fully understand or assess the implications of a financing structures or products recommended by an underwriter, the underwriter making such recommendation must provide disclosures on the material aspects of such financing structures or product that it recommends (i.e., the “transaction-specific disclosures”).[30]

In some cases, issuer personnel responsible for the issuance of municipal securities would not be well positioned to fully understand or assess the implications of a recommended financing structure in its totality, because it is structured in a unique, atypical, or otherwise complex manner or incorporates unique, atypical, or otherwise complex features or products (a “complex municipal securities financing”).[31] Examples of complex municipal securities financings include, but are not limited to, variable rate demand obligations (“VRDOs”), financings involving derivatives (such as swaps), and financings in which interest rates are benchmarked to an index (such as LIBOR, SIFMA, or SOFR).[32] When a recommendation regarding a complex municipal securities financing structure has been made by an underwriter in a negotiated offering,[33] the underwriter making the recommendation has an obligation under Rule G-17 to communicate more particularized transaction-specific disclosures than those that may be required in the case of the recommendation of routine financing structures or products.[34] The underwriter making the recommendation must also disclose the material financial characteristics of the complex municipal securities financing, as well as the material financial risks of the financing that are known to the underwriter and reasonably foreseeable at the time of the disclosure.[35] It must also disclose any incentives for the recommendation of the complex municipal securities financing and other associated material conflicts of interest.[36] Such disclosures must be made in a fair and balanced manner based on principles of fair dealing and good faith.

The level of transaction-specific disclosure required may vary according to the issuer’s knowledge or experience with the proposed financing structure or similar structures, capability of evaluating the risks of the recommended financing structure or product, and financial ability to bear the risks of the recommended financing structure or product, in each case based on the reasonable belief of the underwriter.[37] Consequently, the level of transaction-specific disclosure to be provided to a particular issuer also can vary over time. In all events, the underwriter must disclose any incentives for the recommendation of the complex municipal securities financing and other associated conflicts of interest.

As previously mentioned, the transaction-specific disclosures must be made in writing to an official of the issuer identified by the issuer as a primary contact for the issuer for the receipt of such disclosures, or, in the absence of such identification, an underwriter may make such disclosures in writing to an issuer official whom the underwriter reasonably believes has the authority to bind the issuer by contract with the underwriter(s), and that, to the knowledge of the underwriter delivering the disclosure, is not a party to a disclosed conflict: (i) in sufficient time before the execution of a contract with the underwriter to allow the official to evaluate the recommendation (including consultation with any of its counsel or advisors) and (ii) in a manner designed to make clear to such official the subject matter of such disclosures and their implications for the issuer.

The disclosures concerning a complex municipal securities financing must address the specific elements of, and/or relevant products incorporated, into the recommended financing structure, rather than being general in nature.[38] An underwriter making a Complex Municipal Securities Financing Recommendation to an issuer cannot satisfy its fair dealing obligations by providing an issuer a single document setting out general descriptions of the various financing structures and/or products that may be recommended from time to time to various issuer clients that would effectively require issuer personnel to discover which disclosures apply to a particular recommendation and to the particular circumstances of that issuer. Underwriters can create, in anticipation of making such a recommendation, individualized descriptions, with appropriate levels of detail, of the material financial characteristics and risks for each of the various complex municipal securities financing structures and/or products (including any typical variations) they may recommend from time to time to various issuer clients, with such standardized descriptions serving as the base for more particularized disclosures for the specific complex financing the underwriter recommends to particular issuers.[39] In making a recommendation, an underwriter could incorporate, to the extent applicable, any refinements to the base description needed to fully describe the material financial features and risks unique to that financing.[40]

If the underwriter who has made a recommendation does not reasonably believe that the official to whom the disclosures are addressed is capable of independently evaluating the disclosures, the underwriter must make additional efforts reasonably designed to inform the official or its employees or agent. The underwriter also must make an independent assessment that such disclosures are appropriately tailored to the issuer’s level of sophistication.

Underwriter Duties in Connection with Issuer Disclosure Documents

Underwriters often play an important role in assisting issuers in the preparation of disclosure documents, such as preliminary official statements and official statements.[41] These documents are critical to the municipal securities transaction, because investors rely on the representations contained in such documents in making their investment decisions. Moreover, investment professionals, such as municipal securities analysts and ratings services, rely on the representations in forming an opinion regarding the credit. A dealer’s duty to have a reasonable basis for the representations it makes, and other material information it provides, to an issuer and to ensure that such representations and information are accurate and not misleading, as described above, extends to representations and information provided by the underwriter in connection with the preparation by the issuer of its disclosure documents (e.g., cash flows).

Underwriter Compensation and New Issue Pricing

Excessive Compensation. An underwriter’s compensation for a new issue (including both direct compensation paid by the issuer and other separate payments, values, or credits received by the underwriter from the issuer or any other party in connection with the underwriting), in certain cases and depending upon the specific facts and circumstances of the offering, may be so disproportionate to the nature of the underwriting and related services performed as to constitute an unfair practice with regard to the issuer that it is a violation of Rule G-17. Among the factors relevant to whether an underwriter’s compensation is disproportionate to the nature of the underwriting and related services performed, are the credit quality of the issue, the size of the issue, market conditions, the length of time spent structuring the issue, and whether the underwriter is paying the fee of the underwriter’s counsel or any other relevant costs related to the financing.

Fair Pricing. The duty of fair dealing under Rule G-17 includes an implied representation that the price an underwriter pays to an issuer is fair and reasonable, taking into consideration all relevant factors, including the best judgment of the underwriter as to the fair market value of the issue at the time it is priced.[42] In general, a dealer purchasing bonds in a competitive underwriting for which the issuer may reject any and all bids will be deemed to have satisfied its duty of fairness to the issuer with respect to the purchase price of the issue as long as the dealer’s bid is a bona fide bid (as defined in MSRB Rule G‑13)[43] that is based on the dealer’s best judgment of the fair market value of the securities that are the subject of the bid. In a negotiated underwriting, the underwriter has a duty under Rule G-17 to negotiate in good faith with the issuer. This duty includes the obligation of the dealer to ensure the accuracy of representations made during the course of such negotiations, including representations regarding the price negotiated and the nature of investor demand for the securities (e.g., the status of the order period and the order book). If, for example, the dealer represents to the issuer that it is providing the “best” market price available on the new issue, or that it will exert its best efforts to obtain the “most favorable” pricing, the dealer may violate Rule G-17 if its actions are inconsistent with such representations.[44]

Conflicts of Interest

Payments to or from Third Parties. In certain cases, compensation received by an underwriter from third parties, such as the providers of derivatives and investments (including affiliates of an underwriter), may color the underwriter’s judgment and cause it to recommend products, structures, and pricing levels to an issuer when it would not have done so absent such payments. The MSRB views the failure of an underwriter to disclose to the issuer the existence of payments, values, or credits received by an underwriter in connection with its underwriting of the new issue from parties other than the issuer, and payments made by the underwriter in connection with such new issue to parties other than the issuer (in either case including payments, values, or credits that relate directly or indirectly to collateral transactions integrally related to the issue being underwritten), to be a violation of an underwriter’s obligation to the issuer under Rule G-17.[45] For example, it would be a violation of Rule G-17 for an underwriter to compensate an undisclosed third party in order to secure municipal securities business. Similarly, it would be a violation of Rule G-17 for an underwriter to receive undisclosed compensation from a third party in exchange for recommending that third party’s services or product to an issuer, including business related to municipal securities derivative transactions. This notice does not require that the amount of such third-party payments be disclosed. The underwriter must also disclose to the issuer whether it has entered into any third-party arrangements for the marketing of the issuer’s securities.

Profit-Sharing with Investors. Arrangements between the underwriter and an investor purchasing new issue securities from the underwriter (including purchases that are contingent upon the delivery by the issuer to the underwriter of the securities) according to which profits realized from the resale by such investor of the securities are directly or indirectly split or otherwise shared with the underwriter also would, depending on the facts and circumstances (including in particular if such resale occurs reasonably close in time to the original sale by the underwriter to the investor), constitute a violation of the underwriter’s fair dealing obligation under Rule G-17.[46] Such arrangements could also constitute a violation of Rule G‑25(c), which precludes a dealer from sharing, directly or indirectly, in the profits or losses of a transaction in municipal securities with or for a customer. An underwriter should carefully consider whether any such arrangement, regardless of whether it constitutes a violation of Rule G-25(c), may evidence a potential failure of the underwriter’s duty with regard to new issue pricing described above.

Credit Default Swaps. The issuance or purchase by a dealer of credit default swaps for which the reference is the issuer for which the dealer is serving as underwriter, or an obligation of that issuer, may pose a conflict of interest, including a dealer-specific conflict of interest, because trading in such municipal credit default swaps has the potential to affect the pricing of the underlying reference obligations, as well as the pricing of other obligations brought to market by that issuer. Rule G-17 requires, therefore, that a dealer disclose the fact that it engages in such activities to the issuers for which it serves as underwriter. Activities with regard to credit default swaps based on baskets or indexes of municipal issuers that include the issuer or its obligation(s) need not be disclosed, unless the issuer or its obligation(s) represents more than 2% of the total notional amount of the credit default swap or the underwriter otherwise caused the issuer or its obligation(s) to be included in the basket or index.

Retail Order Periods

Rule G-17 requires an underwriter that has agreed to underwrite a transaction with a retail order period to, in fact, honor such agreement.[47]A dealer that wishes to allocate securities in a manner that is inconsistent with an issuer’s requirements must not do so without the issuer’s consent. In addition, Rule G-17 requires an underwriter that has agreed to underwrite a transaction with a retail order period to take reasonable measures to ensure that retail clients are bona fide. An underwriter that knowingly accepts an order that has been framed as a retail order when it is not (e.g., a number of small orders placed by an institutional investor that would otherwise not qualify as a retail customer) would violate Rule G-17 if its actions are inconsistent with the issuer’s expectations regarding retail orders. In addition, a dealer that places an order that is framed as a qualifying retail order but in fact represents an order that does not meet the qualification requirements to be treated as a retail order (e.g., an order by a retail dealer without “going away” orders[48] from retail customers, when such orders are not within the issuer’s definition of “retail”) violates its Rule G-17 duty of fair dealing. The MSRB will continue to review activities relating to retail order periods to ensure that they are conducted in a fair and orderly manner consistent with the intent of the issuer and the MSRB’s investor protection mandate.

Dealer Payments to Issuer Personnel

Dealers are reminded of the application of MSRB Rule G-20, on gifts, gratuities, and non-cash compensation, and Rule G-17, in connection with certain payments made to, and expenses reimbursed for, issuer personnel during the municipal bond issuance process.[49]  These rules are designed to avoid conflicts of interest and to promote fair practices in the municipal securities market.

Dealers should consider carefully whether payments they make in regard to expenses of issuer personnel in the course of the bond issuance process, including in particular, but not limited to, payments for which dealers seek reimbursement from bond proceeds or issuers, comport with the requirements of Rule G‑20. For example, a dealer acting as a financial advisor or underwriter may violate Rule G-20 by paying for excessive or lavish travel, meal, lodging and entertainment expenses in connection with an offering (such as may be incurred for rating agency trips, bond closing dinners, and other functions) that inure to the personal benefit of issuer personnel and that exceed the limits or otherwise violate the requirements of the rule.[50] 

 

[1] For purposes of this notice, the term “municipal entity” is used as defined by Section 15B(e)(8) of the Securities Exchange Act of 1934 (the “Exchange Act”), 17 CFR 240.15Ba1-1(g), and other rules and regulations thereunder.

[2] See Reminder Notice on Fair Practice Duties to Issuers of Municipal Securities, MSRB Notice 2009-54 (September 29, 2009); Rule G-17 Interpretive Letter – Purchase of new issue from issuer, MSRB interpretation of December 1, 1997, reprinted in MSRB Rule Book (“1997 Interpretation”).

[3] Pub. L. No. 111-203 § 975, 124 Stat. 1376 (2010).

[4] See Interpretive Notice Concerning the Application of MSRB Rule G-17 to Underwriters of Municipal Securities (Aug. 2, 2012) (superseded upon the effective date of this notice as described below).

[5] See MSRB Notice 2012-38 (July 18, 2012); MSRB Notice 2013-08 (Mar. 25, 2013).

[6] The MSRB has always viewed competitive offerings narrowly to mean new issues sold by the issuer to the underwriter on the basis of the lowest price bid by potential underwriters – that is, the fact that an issuer publishes a request for proposals and potential underwriters compete to be selected based on their professional qualifications, experience, financing ideas, and other subjective factors would not be viewed as representing a competitive offering for purposes of this notice. In light of this meaning of the term “competitive underwriting,” it should be clear that, although most of the examples relating to misrepresentations and fairness of financial aspects of an offering consist of situations that would only arise in a negotiated offering, Rule G-17 should not be viewed as allowing an underwriter in a competitive underwriting to make misrepresentations to the issuer or to act unfairly in regard to the financial aspects of the new issue.

[7] MSRB Rule D-9 defines the term “customer” as follows: “Except as otherwise specifically provided by rule of the Board, the term ‘Customer’ shall mean any person other than a broker, dealer, or municipal securities dealer acting in its capacity as such or an issuer in transactions involving the sale by the issuer of a new issue of its securities.”

[8] See MSRB Reminds Firms of Their Sales Practice and Due Diligence Obligations When Selling Municipal Securities in the Secondary Market, MSRB Notice 2010-37 (September 20, 2010).

[9] For purposes of this notice, underwriters are only required to provide written disclosure of their applicable conflicts and are not required to make any written disclosures on the part of issuer personnel or any other parties to the transaction as part of the standard disclosures, dealer-specific disclosures, or the transaction-specific disclosures.

[10] For purposes of this notice, the term “syndicate manager” refers to the lead manager, senior manager, or bookrunning manager of the syndicate. In circumstances where an underwriting syndicate is formed, only that single syndicate manager is obligated to make the standard disclosures under this notice. In the event that there are joint-bookrunning senior managers, only one of the joint-bookrunning senior managers would be obligated under this notice to make the standard disclosures. Unless otherwise agreed to, such as pursuant to an agreement among underwriters, the joint-bookrunning senior manager responsible for maintaining the order book of the syndicate would be responsible for providing the standard disclosures. Notwithstanding the fair dealing obligation of a syndicate manager to deliver the standard disclosures under this notice, nothing herein would prohibit an underwriter from making a disclosure in order to, for example, comply with another regulatory or statutory obligation.

[11] Where an underwriting syndicate is formed, the syndicate manager has the sole responsibility hereunder for providing the standard disclosures. Consistent with this obligation placed on the syndicate manager, only the syndicate manager must maintain and preserve records of the standard disclosures in accordance with MSRB rules. Further, the MSRB acknowledges that an underwriter may not know if a syndicate will form at the time that certain disclosures are sent. In instances in which an underwriter has provided a standard disclosure prior to or concurrent with the formation of a syndicate, it shall suffice that the then-underwriter (later syndicate manager) has delivered a standard disclosure, and no affirmative statement is necessary that a disclosure is being made on behalf of any existing or future syndicate members for the syndicate manager to have met its fair dealing obligations in this regard. Notwithstanding the obligation of a syndicate manager to deliver the standard disclosures, nothing herein would prohibit, or should be construed as prohibiting, another underwriter from delivering a standard disclosure in order to, for example, comply with another regulatory or statutory obligation.

[12] Each underwriter, whether a sole underwriter, syndicate manager, or other member of the underwriting syndicate, has a fair dealing obligation under this notice to deliver transaction-specific disclosures where such underwriter has made a recommendation to an issuer regarding a financing structure or product. The fair dealing obligation to deliver such a transaction-specific disclosure, includes, but is not limited to, determining the level of disclosure required based on the type of financing structure or product recommended and a reasonable belief of the issuer’s knowledge and experience regarding that particular type of financing structure or product. In such cases, as further discussed below, a sole underwriter, syndicate manager, or other member of the underwriting syndicate who has not made such a recommendation would not need to deliver transaction-specific disclosures in order to meet its fair dealing obligation under this notice.

[13] See also note 30 infra.

[14] As a threshold matter, the disclosures delivered by an underwriter to an issuer must not be inaccurate or misleading, and nothing in this notice should be construed as requiring an underwriter to make a disclosure to an issuer that is false. For example, in a private placement where a dealer acting as an agent to place securities on behalf of an issuer does not take a principal position (including not taking a “riskless principal” position) in the securities being placed, the standard disclosure relating to an “arm’s length” relationship may be inapplicable and in such case may be omitted due to the agent-principal relationship between the dealer and issuer that commonly gives rise to other duties as a matter of common law or another statutory or regulatory regime – whether termed as a fiduciary or other obligation of trust. See Exchange Act Release No. 66927 (May 4, 2012), 77 FR 27509 (May 10, 2012) (SR-MSRB-2011-09). In certain other contexts, depending on the specific facts and circumstances, a dealer acting as an underwriter may take on, either through an agency arrangement or other purposeful understanding, a fiduciary relationship with the issuer. In such case, it would be appropriate for an underwriter to omit those disclosures deemed inapplicable as a result of such relationship.

A dealer acting as a placement agent in the primary offering of a new issuance of municipal securities should also consider how the scope of its activities may interact with the registration and record-keeping requirements for municipal advisors adopted by the Securities and Exchange Commission (the “Commission”) under Section 15B of the Exchange Act (15 U.S.C. 78o-4), including the application of the exclusion from the definition of “municipal advisor” applicable to a dealer acting as an underwriter pursuant to Exchange Act Rule 15Ba1-1(d)(2)(i). See Registration of Municipal Advisors, Exchange Act Release No. 70462 (September 20, 2013), 78 FR 67467 (hereinafter, the “MA Rule Adopting Release”), at 67515 – 67516 (November 12, 2013) (available at http://www.sec.gov/rules/final/2013/34-70462.pdf) (stating: “The Commission does not believe that the underwriter exclusion should be limited to a particular type of underwriting or a particular type of offering. Therefore, if a registered broker-dealer, acting as a placement agent, performs municipal advisory activities that otherwise would be considered within the scope of the underwriting of a particular issuance of municipal securities as discussed [therein], the broker-dealer would not have to register as a municipal advisor.”); see also the MA Rule Adopting Release, 78 FR at 67513 – 67514 (discussing activities within and outside the scope of serving as an underwriter of a particular issuance of municipal securities for purposes of the underwriter exclusion).

[15] Id.

[16] In many private placements, as well as in certain other types of new issue offerings, no official statement may be produced, so that, to the extent that such an offering occurs without the production of an official statement, a dealer would not be required to disclose its role with regard to the review of an official statement.

[17] For purposes hereof, a potential material conflict of interest must be disclosed if, but only if, it is reasonably likely to mature into an actual material conflict of interest during the course of the transaction between the issuer and the underwriter.

[18] The third-party payments to which the disclosure standard would apply are those that give rise to actual material conflicts of interest or potential material conflicts of interest only.

[19] The specific standard with respect to complex financings does not obviate a dealer’s fair dealing obligation to disclose the existence of payments, values, or credits received by the underwriter or of other material conflicts of interest in connection with any negotiated underwriting, whether it be complex or routine.

[20] Absent red flags, an underwriter may reasonably rely on a written statement from an issuer official that he or she is not a party to a disclosed conflict. The reasonableness of an underwriter’s reliance on such a written statement will depend on all the relevant facts and circumstances, including the facts revealed in connection with the underwriter’s due diligence in regards to the transaction generally or in determining whether the underwriter itself has any actual material conflicts of interest or potential material conflicts of interest that must be disclosed.

[21] See also note 30 infra.

[22] In offerings where a syndicate is formed, the disclosure obligation for an underwriter to make its dealer-specific disclosures is triggered – if any such actual material conflicts of interest or potential material conflicts of interest must be so disclosed – when such underwriter becomes engaged as a member of the underwriting syndicate (except with regard to conflicts discovered or arising after such co-managing underwriter has been engaged). Consistent with the obligation of sole underwriters and syndicate managers, each underwriter in the syndicate must make any applicable dealer-specific disclosures discovered or arising after being engaged as an underwriter in the syndicate as soon as practicable after being discovered and with sufficient time for the issuer to fully evaluate such a conflict and its implications.

[23] For example, an actual material conflict of interest or potential material conflict of interest may not be present until an underwriter has recommended a particular financing structure. In that case, the disclosure must be provided in sufficient time before the execution of a contract with the underwriter to allow the issuer official to fully evaluate the recommendation, as described under “Required Disclosures to Issuers.”

[24] The MSRB acknowledges that not all transactions proceed along the same timeline or pathway. The timeframes expressed herein should be viewed in light of the overarching goals of Rule G-17 and the purposes that the disclosures are intended to serve as further described in this notice. The various timeframes set out in this notice are not intended to establish strict, hair-trigger tripwires resulting in mere technical rule violations, so long as an underwriter acts in substantial compliance with such timeframes and meets the key objectives for providing disclosure under the notice. Nevertheless, an underwriter’s fair dealing obligation to an issuer in particular facts and circumstances may demand prompt adherence to the timelines set out in this notice. Stated differently, if an underwriter does not timely deliver a disclosure and, as a result, the issuer: (i) does not have clarity throughout all substantive stages of a financing regarding the roles of its professionals, (ii) is not aware of conflicts of interest promptly after they arise and well before the issuer effectively becomes fully committed – either formally (e.g., through execution of a contract) or informally (e.g., due to having already expended substantial time and effort ) – to completing the transaction with the underwriter, and/or (iii) does not have the information required to be disclosed with sufficient time to take such information into consideration and, thereby, to make an informed decision about the key decisions on the financing, then the underwriter generally will have violated its fair-dealing obligations under Rule G-17, absent other mitigating facts and circumstances.

[25] An underwriter delivering a disclosure in order to meet a fair dealing obligation must obtain (or attempt to obtain) proper acknowledgement. When there is an underwriting syndicate, only the syndicate manager, as the dealer responsible for delivering the standard disclosures to the issuer, must obtain (or attempt to obtain) proper acknowledgement from the issuer for such disclosures.

[26] Absent red flags, and subject to an underwriter’s ability to reasonably rely on a representation from an issuer official that he or she has the authority to bind the issuer by contract with the underwriter, an underwriter may reasonably rely on a written delegation by an authorized issuer official in, among other things, the issuer’s request for proposals to another issuer official to receive and acknowledge receipt of a disclosure. The reasonableness of an underwriter’s reliance upon an issuer’s representation as to these matters will depend on all of the relevant facts and circumstances, including the facts revealed in connection with the underwriter’s due diligence in regards to the transaction generally.

[27] For purposes of this notice, the term “e-mail read receipt” means an automatic response generated by a recipient issuer official confirming that an e-mail has been opened. While an e-mail read receipt may generally be an acceptable form of an issuer’s written acknowledgement under this notice, an underwriter may not rely on such an e-mail read receipt as an issuer’s written acknowledgement where such reliance is unreasonable under all of the facts and circumstances, such as where the underwriter is on notice that the issuer official to whom the e-mail is addressed has not in fact received or opened the e-mail.

[28] The need for underwriters to have a reasonable basis for representations and other material information provided to issuers extends to the reasonableness of assumptions underlying the material information being provided. If an underwriter would not rely on any statements made or information provided for its own purposes, it should refrain from making the statement or providing the information to the issuer, or should provide any appropriate disclosures or other information that would allow the issuer to adequately assess the reliability of the statement or information before relying upon it. Further, underwriters should be careful to distinguish statements made to issuers that represent opinion rather than factual information and to ensure that the issuer is aware of this distinction.

[29] As a general matter, a response to a request for proposal should not be treated as merely a sales pitch without regulatory consequence, but instead should be treated with full seriousness that issuers have the expectation that representations made in such responses are true and accurate.

[30] In the circumstance where a dealer proposing to act as an underwriter in a negotiated offering recommends a financing structure or product prior to the time at which an underwriting syndicate is formed, such dealer shall have the same obligations to make any applicable standard disclosures, as if it were a sole underwriter or syndicate manager for purposes of the obligations described under “Required Disclosure to the Issuer” (e.g., to make the standard disclosure concerning the arm’s-length nature of the underwriter-issuer relationship at the earliest stages of the underwriter’s relationship with the issuer with respect to an issue), including complying with corresponding requirements to maintain and preserve records.

[31] If a complex municipal securities financing consists of an otherwise routine financing structure that incorporates a unique, atypical, or complex element or product and the issuer personnel have knowledge or experience with respect to the routine elements of the financing, the disclosure of material risks and characteristics may be limited to those relating to such specific element or product and any material impact such element or product may have on other features that would normally be viewed as routine.

[32] Respectively, the London Inter-bank Offered Rate (i.e., “LIBOR”), the SIFMA Municipal Swap Index (i.e., “SIFMA”), and Secured Overnight Financing Rate (“SOFR”). The MSRB notes that its references to LIBOR, SIFMA, and SOFR are illustrative only and non-exclusive. Any financings involving a benchmark interest rate index may be complex, particularly if an issuer is unlikely to fully understand the components of that index, its material risks, or its possible interaction with other indexes.

[33] For purposes of determining when an underwriter recommends a financing structure in a negotiated offering or recommends a complex municipal securities financing in a negotiated offering (a “Complex Municipal Securities Financing Recommendation”), the MSRB’s guidance on the meaning of “recommendation” for dealers in MSRB Notice 2014-07: SEC Approves MSRB Rule G-47 on Time-of-Trade Disclosure Obligations, MSRB Rules D-15 and G-48 on Sophisticated Municipal Market Professionals, and Revisions to MSRB Rule G-19 on Suitability of Recommendations and Transactions (March 12, 2014) is applicable by analogy. For example, whether an underwriter has made a Complex Municipal Securities Financing Recommendation is not susceptible to a bright line definition but turns on the facts and circumstances of the particular situation. An important factor in determining whether a Complex Municipal Securities Financing Recommendation has been made is whether – given its content, context, and manner of presentation— a particular communication from an underwriter to an issuer regarding a financing structure or product reasonably would be viewed as a call to action or reasonably would influence an issuer to engage in a such a financing structure or product deemed a complex municipal securities financing structure. In general, the more individually tailored the underwriter’s communication is to a specific issuer about a complex municipal securities financing structure, the greater the likelihood that the communication reasonably would be viewed as a Complex Municipal Securities Financing Recommendation.

[34] An underwriter must make reasonable judgments regarding whether it has recommended a financing structure or product to an issuer and whether a particular financing structure or product recommended by the underwriter to the issuer is complex, understanding that the fact that a structure or product has become relatively common in the market does not reduce its complexity. Not all negotiated offerings involve a recommendation by the underwriter(s), such as where a sole underwriter merely executes a transaction already structured by the issuer or its municipal advisor.

[35] For example, when a Complex Municipal Securities Financing Recommendation for a VRDO is made, the underwriter who recommends a VRDO should inform the issuer of the risk of interest rate fluctuations and material risks of any associated credit or liquidity facilities (e.g., the risk that the issuer might not be able to replace the facility upon its expiration and might be required to repay the facility provider over a short period of time). As an additional example, if the underwriter recommends that the issuer swap the floating rate interest payments on the VRDOs to fixed rate payments under a swap, the underwriter must disclose the material financial risks (including market, credit, operational, and liquidity risks) and material financial characteristics of the recommended swap (e.g., the material economic terms of the swap, the material terms relating to the operation of the swap, and the material rights and obligations of the parties during the term of the swap), as well as the material financial risks associated with the VRDO. Such disclosure should be sufficient to allow the issuer to assess the magnitude of its potential exposure as a result of the complex municipal securities financing. Such disclosures must also inform the issuer that there may be accounting, legal, and other risks associated with the swap and that the issuer should consult with other professionals concerning such risks. If the underwriter who has made a Complex Municipal Financing Securities Recommendation is affiliated with the swap dealer proposed to be the executing swap dealer, the underwriter may satisfy its disclosure obligation with respect to the swap if such disclosure has been provided to the issuer by the affiliated swap dealer or the issuer’s swap or other financial advisor that is independent of such underwriter and the swap dealer, as long as the underwriter has a reasonable basis for belief in the truthfulness and completeness of such disclosure. If the issuer decides to enter into a swap with another dealer, the underwriter is not required to make disclosures with regard to that swap product under this notice. The MSRB notes that a dealer who recommends a swap or security-based swap to a municipal entity may also be subject to rules of the Commodity Futures Trading Commission or those of the Securities and Exchange Commission (“SEC”).

[36] For example, a conflict of interest may exist when the underwriter who makes a Complex Municipal Securities Financing Recommendation to an issuer is also the provider, or an affiliate of the provider, of a swap used by an issuer to hedge a municipal securities offering or when an underwriter receives compensation from a swap provider for recommending the swap. See also “Conflicts of Interest/Payments to or from Third Parties” herein.

[37] Even a financing in which the interest rate is benchmarked to an index that is commonly used in the municipal marketplace (e.g., SIFMA) may be complex to an issuer that does not understand the components of that index or its possible interaction with other indexes.

[38] See note 19 supra.

[39] Page after page of complex legal jargon in small print would not be consistent with an underwriter’s fair dealing obligation under this notice.

[40] Underwriters should be able to leverage such materials for internal training and risk management purposes.

[41] Underwriters that assist issuers in preparing official statements must remain cognizant of their duties under federal securities laws. With respect to primary offerings of municipal securities, the SEC has noted, “By participating in an offering, an underwriter makes an implied recommendation about the securities.” See Exchange Act Release No. 26100 (Sept. 22, 1988) (proposing Exchange Act Rule 15c2-12) at text following fn. 70. The SEC has stated that “this recommendation itself implies that the underwriter has a reasonable basis for belief in the truthfulness and completeness of the key representations made in any disclosure documents used in the offerings.” Furthermore, pursuant to Exchange Act Rule 15c2-12(b)(5), an underwriter may not purchase or sell municipal securities in most primary offerings unless the underwriter has reasonably determined that the issuer or an obligated person has entered into a written undertaking to provide certain types of secondary market disclosure and has a reasonable basis for relying on the accuracy of the issuer’s ongoing disclosure representations. Exchange Act Release No. 34961 (Nov. 10, 1994) (adopting continuing disclosure provisions of Exchange Act Rule 15c2-12) at text following fn. 52.

[42]The MSRB has previously observed that whether an underwriter has dealt fairly with an issuer for purposes of Rule G-17 is dependent upon all of the facts and circumstances of an underwriting and is not dependent solely on the price of the issue. See MSRB Notice 2009-54 (Sept. 29, 2009) and the 1997 Interpretation (note 2 supra). See also “Retail Order Periods” herein.

[43] Rule G-13(b)(iii) provides: “For purposes of subparagraph (i), 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.”

[44]See 1997 Interpretation (note 2 supra).

[45] See also “Required Disclosures to Issuers” herein.

[46] Underwriters should be mindful that, depending on the facts and circumstances, such an arrangement may be inferred from a purposeful but not otherwise justified pattern of transactions or other course of action, even without the existence of a formal written agreement.

[47]See MSRB Interpretation on Priority of Orders for Securities in a Primary Offering under Rule G-17, MSRB interpretation of October 12, 2010, reprinted in MSRB Rule Book. The MSRB also reminds underwriters of previous MSRB guidance on the pricing of securities sold to retail investors. See Guidance on Disclosure and Other Sales Practice Obligations to Individual and Other Retail Investors in Municipal Securities, MSRB Notice 2009-42 (July 14, 2009).

[48] In general, a “going away” order is an order for new issue securities for which a customer is already conditionally committed. See Exchange Act Release No. 62715, File No. SR-MSRB-2009-17 (August 13, 2010).

[50]See In the Matter of RBC Capital Markets Corporation, Exchange Act Release No. 59439 (Feb. 24, 2009) (settlement in connection with broker-dealer alleged to have violated MSRB Rules G-20 and G‑17 for payment of lavish travel and entertainment expenses of city officials and their families associated with rating agency trips, which expenditures were subsequently reimbursed from bond proceeds as costs of issuance); In the Matter of Merchant Capital, L.L.C., Exchange Act Release No. 60043 (June 4, 2009) (settlement in connection with broker-dealer alleged to have violated MSRB rules for payment of travel and entertainment expenses of family and friends of senior officials of issuer and reimbursement of the expenses from issuers and from proceeds of bond offerings).

Interpretive Guidance - Interpretive Notices
Publication date:
Excerpt from Notice of Application of MSRB Rules to Solicitor Municipal Advisors
Rule Number:

Rule G-17

The MSRB amended Rule G-17, regarding fair dealing, to require that, in the conduct of their municipal advisory activities, municipal advisors, including solicitor municipal advisors, and their associated persons must deal fairly with all persons and not engage in any deceptive, dishonest, or unfair practice. (Previously, the rule applied only to dealers and their associated persons.) Rule G-17 became applicable to all municipal advisors, including solicitor municipal advisors, and their associated persons, on December 22, 2010.

Rule G-17 contains an anti-fraud prohibition similar to the standard set forth in Rule 10b-5 adopted by the SEC under the Exchange Act. Thus, all municipal advisors must refrain from engaging in certain conduct and must not misrepresent or omit the facts, risks, or other material information about municipal advisory activities undertaken. However, Rule G-17 does not merely prohibit deceptive conduct on the part of a municipal advisor. The rule also establishes a general duty of a municipal advisor to deal fairly with all persons, even in the absence of fraud.

Rule G-17 imposes a duty of fair dealing on solicitor municipal advisors when they are soliciting business from municipal entities and obligated persons on behalf of third parties. Again, municipal advisors are reminded that the term “municipal entity” also includes certain entities that do not issue municipal securities. Thus, in addition to owing the specific obligations discussed below to issuers of municipal securities, solicitor municipal advisors also owe such obligations to, for example, state and local government sponsored public pension plans and local government investment pools.

The duty of fair dealing includes, but is not limited to, a duty to disclose to the municipal entity or obligated person being solicited material facts about the solicitation, such as the name of the solicitor’s client; the type of business being solicited; the amount and source of all of the solicitor’s compensation; payments (including in-kind) made by the solicitor to another solicitor municipal advisor (including an affiliate, but not an employee) to facilitate the solicitation regardless of characterization; and any relationships of the solicitor with any employees or board members of the municipal entity or obligated person being solicited or any other persons affiliated with the municipal entity or obligated person or its officials who may have influence over the selection of the solicitor’s client.

Additionally, if a solicitor municipal advisor is engaged by its client to present information about a product or service offered by the third-party client to the municipal entity or obligated person, the solicitor municipal advisor must disclose all material risks and characteristics of the product or service. The solicitor municipal advisor must also advise the municipal entity or obligated person of any incentives received by the solicitor (that are not already disclosed as part of the solicitor municipal advisor’s compensation from its client) to recommend the product or service, as well as any other conflicts of interest regarding the product or service, and must not make material misstatements or omissions when discussing the product or service.

Under the Exchange Act, municipal advisors and their associated persons are deemed to owe a fiduciary duty to their municipal entity clients.[*] Similarly, Rule G-42 (which applies only to non-solicitor municipal advisors) follows the Exchange Act in deeming municipal advisors to owe a fiduciary duty, for purposes of Rule G-42, to such municipal entity clients. However, because a solicitor municipal advisor’s clients are not the municipal entities that they solicit, but rather the third parties that retain or engage the solicitor municipal advisor to solicit such municipal entities, solicitor municipal advisors do not owe a fiduciary duty under the Exchange Act or MSRB rules to their clients (or the municipal entity) in connection with such activity. Nonetheless, as noted above, solicitor municipal advisors are subject to the fair dealing standards under Rule G-17 (including with respect to their clients and the entities that they solicit).


[*] See Order Adopting SEC Final Rule [Release No. 34-70462 (September 20, 2013), 78 FR 67467 (November 12, 2013) (File No. S7-45-10)], at n. 100 (noting that the fiduciary duty of a municipal advisor, as set forth in Section 15B(c)(1) of the Exchange Act, extends only to its municipal entity clients).

Interpretive Guidance - Interpretive Notices
Publication date:
Interpretive Notice Concerning the Application of MSRB Rule G-17 to Underwriters of Municipal Securities
Rule Number:

Rule G-17

Under Rule G-17 of the Municipal Securities Rulemaking Board (the “MSRB”), brokers, dealers, and municipal securities dealers (“dealers”) must, in the conduct of their municipal securities activities, deal fairly with all persons and must not engage in any deceptive, dishonest, or unfair practice.  This rule is most often cited in connection with duties owed by dealers to investors; however, it also applies to their interactions with other market participants, including municipal entities[1] such as states and their political subdivisions that are issuers of municipal securities (“issuers”).

The MSRB has previously observed that Rule G-17 requires dealers to deal fairly with issuers in connection with the underwriting of their municipal securities.[2]  More recently, with the passage of the Dodd-Frank Act,[3] the MSRB was expressly directed by Congress to protect municipal entities.  Accordingly, the MSRB is providing additional interpretive guidance that addresses how Rule G-17 applies to dealers acting in the capacity of underwriters in the municipal securities transactions described below.  Except where a competitive underwriting is specifically mentioned, this notice applies to negotiated underwritings only.  Furthermore, it does not apply to selling group members.

The examples discussed in this notice are illustrative only and are not meant to encompass all obligations of dealers to municipal entities under Rule G-17.  The notice also does not address a dealer’s duties when the dealer is serving as an advisor to a municipal entity.  Furthermore, when municipal entities are customers[4] of dealers they are subject to the same protections under MSRB rules, including Rule G-17, that apply to other customers.[5]  The MSRB notes that an underwriter has a duty of fair dealing to investors in addition to its duty of fair dealing to issuers.  An underwriter also has a duty to comply with other MSRB rules as well as other federal and state securities laws.

Basic Fair Dealing Principle

As noted above, Rule G-17 precludes a dealer, in the conduct of its municipal securities activities, from engaging in any deceptive, dishonest, or unfair practice with any person, including an issuer of municipal securities.  The rule contains an anti-fraud prohibition. Thus, an underwriter must not misrepresent or omit the facts, risks, potential benefits, or other material information about municipal securities activities undertaken with a municipal issuer.  However, Rule G-17 does not merely prohibit deceptive conduct on the part of the dealer.  It also establishes a general duty of a dealer to deal fairly with all persons (including, but not limited to, issuers of municipal securities), even in the absence of fraud.

Role of the Underwriter/Conflicts of Interest

In a negotiated underwriting, the underwriter’s Rule G-17 duty to deal fairly with an issuer of municipal securities requires the underwriter to make certain disclosures to the issuer to clarify its role in an issuance of municipal securities and its actual or potential material conflicts of interest with respect to such issuance.

Disclosures Concerning the Underwriter’s Role.  The underwriter must disclose to the issuer that:

(i)         Municipal Securities Rulemaking Board Rule G-17 requires an underwriter to deal fairly at all times with both municipal issuers and investors;

(ii)        the underwriter’s primary role is to purchase securities with a view to distribution in an arm’s-length commercial transaction with the issuer and it has financial and other interests that differ from those of the issuer;

(iii)       unlike a municipal advisor, the underwriter does not have a fiduciary duty to the issuer under the federal securities laws and is, therefore, not required by federal law to act in the best interests of the issuer without regard to its own financial or other interests;

(iv)       the underwriter has a duty to purchase securities from the issuer at a fair and reasonable price, but must balance that duty with its duty to sell municipal securities to investors at prices that are fair and reasonable; and

(v)        the underwriter will review the official statement for the issuer’s securities in accordance with, and as part of, its responsibilities to investors under the federal securities laws, as applied to the facts and circumstances of the transaction.

The underwriter also must not recommend that the issuer not retain a municipal advisor.

Disclosure Concerning the Underwriter’s Compensation.  The underwriter must disclose to the issuer whether its underwriting compensation will be contingent on the closing of a transaction.  It must also disclose that compensation that is contingent on the closing of a transaction or the size of a transaction presents a conflict of interest, because it may cause the underwriter to recommend a transaction that it is unnecessary or to recommend that the size of the transaction be larger than is necessary.

Other Conflicts Disclosures.  The underwriter must also disclose other potential or actual material conflicts of interest, including, but not limited to, the following:

(i)         any payments described below under “Conflicts of Interest/ Payments to or from Third Parties”;

(ii)        any arrangements described below under “Conflicts of Interest/Profit-Sharing with Investors”;

(iii)       the credit default swap disclosures described below under “Conflicts of Interest/Credit Default Swaps”; and

(iv)       any incentives for the underwriter to recommend a complex municipal securities financing and other associated conflicts of interest (as described below under “Required Disclosures to Issuer”).

Disclosures concerning the role of the underwriter and the underwriter’s compensation may be made by a syndicate manager on behalf of other syndicate members.  Other conflicts disclosures must be made by the particular underwriters subject to such conflicts.

Timing and Manner of Disclosures.  All of the foregoing disclosures must be made in writing to an official of the issuer that the underwriter reasonably believes has the authority to bind the issuer by contract with the underwriter and that, to the knowledge of the underwriter, is not a party to a disclosed conflict.  Disclosures must be made in a manner designed to make clear to such official the subject matter of such disclosures and their implications for the issuer.  The disclosure concerning the arm’s-length nature of the underwriter-issuer relationship must be made in the earliest stages of the underwriter’s relationship with the issuer with respect to an issue (e.g., in a response to a request for proposals or in promotional materials provided to an issuer).  Other disclosures concerning the role of the underwriter and the underwriter’s compensation generally must be made when the underwriter is engaged to perform underwriting services (e.g., in an engagement letter), not solely in a bond purchase agreement.  Other conflicts disclosures must be made at the same time, except with regard to conflicts discovered or arising after the underwriter has been engaged.  For example, a conflict may not be present until an underwriter has recommended a particular financing.  In that case, the disclosure must be provided in sufficient time before the execution of a contract with the underwriter to allow the official to evaluate the recommendation, as described below under “Required Disclosures to Issuers.”

Acknowledgement of Disclosures.  The underwriter must attempt to receive written acknowledgement (other than by automatic e-mail receipt) by the official of the issuer of receipt of the foregoing disclosures.  If the official of the issuer agrees to proceed with the underwriting engagement after receipt of the disclosures but will not provide written acknowledgement of receipt, the underwriter may proceed with the engagement after documenting with specificity why it was unable to obtain such written acknowledgement.

Representations to Issuers

All representations made by underwriters to issuers of municipal securities in connection with municipal securities underwritings, whether written or oral, must be truthful and accurate and must not misrepresent or omit material facts.  Underwriters must have a reasonable basis for the representations and other material information contained in documents they prepare and must refrain from including representations or other information they know or should know is inaccurate or misleading.  For example, in connection with a certificate signed by the underwriter that will be relied upon by the issuer or other relevant parties to an underwriting (e.g., an issue price certificate), the dealer must have a reasonable basis for the representations and other material information contained therein.  In addition, an underwriter’s response to an issuer’s request for proposals or qualifications must fairly and accurately describe the underwriter’s capacity, resources, and knowledge to perform the proposed underwriting as of the time the proposal is submitted and must not contain any representations or other material information about such capacity, resources, or knowledge that the underwriter knows or should know to be inaccurate or misleading.  Matters not within the personal knowledge of those preparing the response (e.g., pending litigation) must be confirmed by those with knowledge of the subject matter.  An underwriter must not represent that it has the requisite knowledge or expertise with respect to a particular financing if the personnel that it intends to work on the financing do not have the requisite knowledge or expertise.

Required Disclosures to Issuers

Many municipal securities are issued using financing structures that are routine and well understood by the typical municipal market professional, including most issuer personnel that have the lead responsibilities in connection with the issuance of municipal securities.  For example, absent unusual circumstances or features, the typical fixed rate offering may be presumed to be well understood.  Nevertheless, in the case of issuer personnel that the underwriter reasonably believes lack knowledge or experience with such structures, the underwriter must provide disclosures on the material aspects of such structures that it recommends.

However, in some cases, issuer personnel responsible for the issuance of municipal securities would not be well positioned to fully understand or assess the implications of a financing in its totality, because the financing is structured in a unique, atypical, or otherwise complex manner (a “complex municipal securities financing”).[6]  Examples of complex municipal securities financings include variable rate demand obligations (“VRDOs”) and financings involving derivatives (such as swaps).  An underwriter in a negotiated offering that recommends a complex municipal securities financing to an issuer has an obligation under Rule G-17 to make more particularized disclosures than those that may be required in the case of routine financing structures.  The underwriter must disclose the material financial characteristics of the complex municipal securities financing, as well as the material financial risks of the financing that are known to the underwriter and reasonably foreseeable at the time of the disclosure.[7]  It must also disclose any incentives for the underwriter to recommend the financing and other associated conflicts of interest.[8]  Such disclosures must be made in a fair and balanced manner based on principles of fair dealing and good faith.

The level of disclosure required may vary according to the issuer’s knowledge or experience with the proposed financing structure or similar structures, capability of evaluating the risks of the recommended financing, and financial ability to bear the risks of the recommended financing, in each case based on the reasonable belief of the underwriter.[9]  In all events, the underwriter must disclose any incentives for the underwriter to recommend the complex municipal securities financing and other associated conflicts of interest.

The disclosures described in this section of this notice must be made in writing to an official of the issuer whom the underwriter reasonably believes has the authority to bind the issuer by contract with the underwriter (i) in sufficient time before the execution of a contract with the underwriter to allow the official to evaluate the recommendation and (ii) in a manner designed to make clear to such official the subject matter of such disclosures and their implications for the issuer.  The disclosures concerning a complex municipal securities financing must address the specific elements of the financing, rather than being general in nature.  If the underwriter does not reasonably believe that the official to whom the disclosures are addressed is capable of independently evaluating the disclosures, the underwriter must make additional efforts reasonably designed to inform the official or its employees or agent.

Underwriter Duties in Connection with Issuer Disclosure Documents

Underwriters often play an important role in assisting issuers in the preparation of disclosure documents, such as preliminary official statements and official statements.[10]  These documents are critical to the municipal securities transaction, in that investors rely on the representations contained in such documents in making their investment decisions.  Moreover, investment professionals, such as municipal securities analysts and ratings services, rely on the representations in forming an opinion regarding the credit.  A dealer’s duty to have a reasonable basis for the representations it makes, and other material information it provides, to an issuer and to ensure that such representations and information are accurate and not misleading, as described above, extends to representations and information provided by the underwriter in connection with the preparation by the issuer of its disclosure documents (e.g., cash flows).

Underwriter Compensation and New Issue Pricing

Excessive Compensation.  An underwriter’s compensation for a new issue (including both direct compensation paid by the issuer and other separate payments, values, or credits received by the underwriter from the issuer or any other party in connection with the underwriting), in certain cases and depending upon the specific facts and circumstances of the offering, may be so disproportionate to the nature of the underwriting and related services performed as to constitute an unfair practice with regard to the issuer that it is a violation of Rule G-17.  Among the factors relevant to whether an underwriter’s compensation is disproportionate to the nature of the underwriting and related services performed, are the credit quality of the issue, the size of the issue, market conditions, the length of time spent structuring the issue, and whether the underwriter is paying the fee of the underwriter’s counsel or any other relevant costs related to the financing.

Fair Pricing.  The duty of fair dealing under Rule G-17 includes an implied representation that the price an underwriter pays to an issuer is fair and reasonable, taking into consideration all relevant factors, including the best judgment of the underwriter as to the fair market value of the issue at the time it is priced.[11]  In general, a dealer purchasing bonds in a competitive underwriting for which the issuer may reject any and all bids will be deemed to have satisfied its duty of fairness to the issuer with respect to the purchase price of the issue as long as the dealer’s bid is a bona fide bid (as defined in Rule G-13)[12] that is based on the dealer’s best judgment of the fair market value of the securities that are the subject of the bid.  In a negotiated underwriting, the underwriter has a duty under Rule G-17 to negotiate in good faith with the issuer.  This duty includes the obligation of the dealer to ensure the accuracy of representations made during the course of such negotiations, including representations regarding the price negotiated and the nature of investor demand for the securities (e.g., the status of the order period and the order book).  If, for example, the dealer represents to the issuer that it is providing the “best” market price available on the new issue, or that it will exert its best efforts to obtain the “most favorable” pricing, the dealer may violate Rule G-17 if its actions are inconsistent with such representations.[13]

Conflicts of Interest

Payments to or from Third Parties.  In certain cases, compensation received by the underwriter from third parties, such as the providers of derivatives and investments (including affiliates of the underwriter), may color the underwriter’s judgment and cause it to recommend products, structures, and pricing levels to an issuer when it would not have done so absent such payments.  The MSRB views the failure of an underwriter to disclose to the issuer the existence of payments, values, or credits received by the underwriter in connection with its underwriting of the new issue from parties other than the issuer, and payments made by the underwriter in connection with such new issue to parties other than the issuer (in either case including payments, values, or credits that relate directly or indirectly to collateral transactions integrally related to the issue being underwritten), to be a violation of the underwriter’s obligation to the issuer under Rule G-17.[14]  For example, it would be a violation of Rule G-17 for an underwriter to compensate an undisclosed third party in order to secure municipal securities business.  Similarly, it would be a violation of Rule G-17 for an underwriter to receive undisclosed compensation from a third party in exchange for recommending that third party’s services or product to an issuer, including business related to municipal securities derivative transactions.  This notice does not require that the amount of such third-party payments be disclosed.  The underwriter must also disclose to the issuer whether it has entered into any third-party arrangements for the marketing of the issuer’s securities.

Profit-Sharing with Investors.  Arrangements between the underwriter and an investor purchasing new issue securities from the underwriter (including purchases that are contingent upon the delivery by the issuer to the underwriter of the securities) according to which profits realized from the resale by such investor of the securities are directly or indirectly split or otherwise shared with the underwriter also would, depending on the facts and circumstances (including in particular if such resale occurs reasonably close in time to the original sale by the underwriter to the investor), constitute a violation of the underwriter’s fair dealing obligation under Rule G-17.  Such arrangements could also constitute a violation of Rule G-25(c), which precludes a dealer from sharing, directly or indirectly, in the profits or losses of a transaction in municipal securities with or for a customer.

Credit Default Swaps.  The issuance or purchase by a dealer of credit default swaps for which the reference is the issuer for which the dealer is serving as underwriter, or an obligation of that issuer, may pose a conflict of interest, because trading in such municipal credit default swaps has the potential to affect the pricing of the underlying reference obligations, as well as the pricing of other obligations brought to market by that issuer.  Rule G-17 requires, therefore, that a dealer disclose the fact that it engages in such activities to the issuers for which it serves as underwriter.  Activities with regard to credit default swaps based on baskets or indexes of municipal issuers that include the issuer or its obligation(s) need not be disclosed, unless the issuer or its obligation(s) represents more than 2% of the total notional amount of the credit default swap or the underwriter otherwise caused the issuer or its obligation(s) to be included in the basket or index.

Retail Order Periods

Rule G-17 requires an underwriter that has agreed to underwrite a transaction with a retail order period to, in fact, honor such agreement.[15]  A dealer that wishes to allocate securities in a manner that is inconsistent with an issuer’s requirements must not do so without the issuer’s consent.  In addition, Rule G-17 requires an underwriter that has agreed to underwrite a transaction with a retail order period to take reasonable measures to ensure that retail clients are bona fide.  An underwriter that knowingly accepts an order that has been framed as a retail order when it is not (e.g., a number of small orders placed by an institutional investor that would otherwise not qualify as a retail customer) would violate Rule G-17 if its actions are inconsistent with the issuer’s expectations regarding retail orders.  In addition, a dealer that places an order that is framed as a qualifying retail order but in fact represents an order that does not meet the qualification requirements to be treated as a retail order (e.g., an order by a retail dealer without “going away” orders[16] from retail customers, when such orders are not within the issuer’s definition of “retail”) violates its Rule G-17 duty of fair dealing.  The MSRB will continue to review activities relating to retail order periods to ensure that they are conducted in a fair and orderly manner consistent with the intent of the issuer and the MSRB’s investor protection mandate.

Dealer Payments to Issuer Personnel

Dealers are reminded of the application of MSRB Rule G-20, on gifts, gratuities, and non-cash compensation, and Rule G-17, in connection with certain payments made to, and expenses reimbursed for, issuer personnel during the municipal bond issuance process.[17]  These rules are designed to avoid conflicts of interest and to promote fair practices in the municipal securities market.

Dealers should consider carefully whether payments they make in regard to expenses of issuer personnel in the course of the bond issuance process, including in particular, but not limited to, payments for which dealers seek reimbursement from bond proceeds or issuers, comport with the requirements of Rule G-20.  For example, a dealer acting as a financial advisor or underwriter may violate Rule G-20 by paying for excessive or lavish travel, meal, lodging and entertainment expenses in connection with an offering (such as may be incurred for rating agency trips, bond closing dinners, and other functions) that inure to the personal benefit of issuer personnel and that exceed the limits or otherwise violate the requirements of the rule.[18]

August 2, 2012


[1] The term “municipal entity” is defined by Section 15B(e)(8) of the Securities Exchange Act (the “Exchange Act”) to mean: “any State, political subdivision of a State, or municipal corporate instrumentality of a State, including—(A) any agency, authority, or instrumentality of the State, political subdivision, or municipal corporate instrumentality; (B) any plan, program, or pool of assets sponsored or established by the State, political subdivision, or municipal corporate instrumentality or any agency, authority, or instrumentality thereof; and (C) any other issuer of municipal securities.”

[2] See Reminder Notice on Fair Practice Duties to Issuers of Municipal Securities, MSRB Notice 2009-54 (September 29, 2009); Rule G-17 Interpretive Letter – Purchase of new issue from issuer, MSRB interpretation of December 1, 1997, reprinted in MSRB Rule Book (“1997 Interpretation”).

[3] Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act, Pub. L. No. 111-203 § 975, 124 Stat. 1376 (2010).

[4] MSRB Rule D-9 defines the term “customer” as follows: “Except as otherwise specifically provided by rule of the Board, the term “Customer” shall mean any person other than a broker, dealer, or municipal securities dealer acting in its capacity as such or an issuer in transactions involving the sale by the issuer of a new issue of its securities.”

[5] See MSRB Reminds Firms of Their Sales Practice and Due Diligence Obligations When Selling Municipal Securities in the Secondary Market, MSRB Notice 2010-37 (September 20, 2010).

[6] If a complex municipal securities financing consists of an otherwise routine financing structure that incorporates a unique, atypical or complex element and the issuer personnel have knowledge or experience with respect to the routine elements of the financing, the disclosure of material risks and characteristics may be limited to those relating to such specific element and any material impact such element may have on other features that would normally be viewed as routine.

[7] For example, an underwriter that recommends a VRDO should inform the issuer of the risk of interest rate fluctuations and material risks of any associated credit or liquidity facilities (e.g., the risk that the issuer might not be able to replace the facility upon its expiration and might be required to repay the facility provider over a short period of time).  As an additional example, if the underwriter recommends that the issuer swap the floating rate interest payments on the VRDOs to fixed rate payments under a swap, the underwriter must disclose the material financial risks (including market, credit, operational, and liquidity risks) and material financial characteristics of the recommended swap (e.g., the material economic terms of the swap, the material terms relating to the operation of the swap, and the material rights and obligations of the parties during the term of the swap), as well as the material financial risks associated with the VRDO.  Such disclosure should be sufficient to allow the issuer to assess the magnitude of its potential exposure as a result of the complex municipal securities financing.  The underwriter must also inform the issuer that there may be accounting, legal, and other risks associated with the swap and that the issuer should consult with other professionals concerning such risks.  If the underwriter’s affiliated swap dealer is proposed to be the executing swap dealer, the underwriter may satisfy its disclosure obligation with respect to the swap if such disclosure has been provided to the issuer by the affiliated swap dealer or the issuer’s swap or other financial advisor that is independent of the underwriter and the swap dealer, as long as the underwriter has a reasonable basis for belief in the truthfulness and completeness of such disclosure.  If the issuer decides to enter into a swap with another dealer, the underwriter is not required to make disclosures with regard to that swap.  The MSRB notes that dealers that recommend swaps or security-based swaps to municipal entities may also be subject to rules of the Commodity Futures Trading Commission or those of the Securities and Exchange Commission (“SEC”).

[8] For example, a conflict of interest may exist when the underwriter is also the provider of a swap used by an issuer to hedge a municipal securities offering or when the underwriter receives compensation from a swap provider for recommending the swap provider to the issuer.  See also “Conflicts of Interest/Payments to or from Third Parties” herein.

[9] Even a financing in which the interest rate is benchmarked to an index that is commonly used in the municipal marketplace (e.g., LIBOR or SIFMA) may be complex to an issuer that does not understand the components of that index or its possible interaction with other indexes.

[10] Underwriters that assist issuers in preparing official statements must remain cognizant of their duties under federal securities laws.  With respect to primary offerings of municipal securities, the SEC has noted, “By participating in an offering, an underwriter makes an implied recommendation about the securities.” See SEC Rel. No. 34-26100 (Sept. 22, 1988) (proposing Exchange Act Rule 15c2-12) at text following note 70.  The SEC has stated that “this recommendation itself implies that the underwriter has a reasonable basis for belief in the truthfulness and completeness of the key representations made in any disclosure documents used in the offerings.”  Furthermore, pursuant to SEC Rule 15c2-12(b)(5), an underwriter may not purchase or sell municipal securities in most primary offerings unless the underwriter has reasonably determined that the issuer or an obligated person has entered into a written undertaking to provide certain types of secondary market disclosure and has a reasonable basis for relying on the accuracy of the issuer’s ongoing disclosure representations.  SEC Rel. No. 34-34961 (Nov. 10, 1994) (adopting continuing disclosure provisions of Exchange Act Rule 15c2-12) at text following note 52.

[11] The MSRB has previously observed that whether an underwriter has dealt fairly with an issuer for purposes of Rule G-17 is dependent upon all of the facts and circumstances of an underwriting and is not dependent solely on the price of the issue.  See MSRB Notice 2009-54 and the 1997 Interpretation.  See also “Retail Order Periods” herein.

[12] Rule G-13(b)(iii) provides: “For purposes of subparagraph (i), 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.”

[13] See 1997 Interpretation.

[14] See also “Required Disclosures to Issuers” herein.

[15] See MSRB Interpretation on Priority of Orders for Securities in a Primary Offering under Rule G-17, MSRB interpretation of October 12, 2010, reprinted in MSRB Rule Book.  The MSRB also reminds underwriters of previous MSRB guidance on the pricing of securities sold to retail investors.  See Guidance on Disclosure and Other Sales Practice Obligations to Individual and Other Retail Investors in Municipal Securities, MSRB Notice 2009-42 (July 14, 2009).

 

[16] In general, a “going away” order is an order for new issue securities for which a customer is already conditionally committed.  See SEC Release No. 34-62715, File No. SR-MSRB-2009-17 (August 13, 2010).

[17] See MSRB Rule G-20 Interpretation — Dealer Payments in Connection With the Municipal Securities Issuance Process, MSRB interpretation of January 29, 2007, reprinted in MSRB Rule Book.

[18] See In the Matter of RBC Capital Markets Corporation, SEC Rel. No. 34-59439 (Feb. 24, 2009) (settlement in connection with broker-dealer alleged to have violated MSRB Rules G-20 and G-17 for payment of lavish travel and entertainment expenses of city officials and their families associated with rating agency trips, which expenditures were subsequently reimbursed from bond proceeds as costs of issuance); In the Matter of Merchant Capital, L.L.C., SEC Rel. No. 34-60043 (June 4, 2009) (settlement in connection with broker-dealer alleged to have violated MSRB rules for payment of travel and entertainment expenses of family and friends of senior officials of issuer and reimbursement of the expenses from issuers and from proceeds of bond offerings).

Interpretive Guidance - Interpretive Notices
Publication date:
Interpretation on Priority of Orders for Securities in a Primary Offering under Rule G-17
Rule Number:

Rule G-11, 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).
 
Interpretive Guidance - Interpretive Notices
Publication date:
Reminder Notice on Fair Practice Duties to Issuers of Municipal Securities
Rule Number:

Rule G-17

The Municipal Securities Rulemaking Board (“MSRB”) has recently provided guidance regarding the fair practice and related obligations of brokers, dealers and municipal securities dealers (“dealers”) to investors.[1] Specifically, MSRB Rule G-17, on conduct of municipal securities activities, states that, in the conduct of its municipal securities business, each dealer shall deal fairly with all persons and shall not engage in any deceptive, dishonest, or unfair practice.  The MSRB is publishing this notice to remind dealers that the fair practice requirements of Rule G-17 also apply to their municipal securities activities with issuers of municipal securities.

Thus, the rule requires dealers to deal fairly with issuers in connection with all aspects of the underwriting of their municipal securities, including representations regarding investors made by the dealer.  As the MSRB has previously stated, whether or not an underwriter has dealt fairly with an issuer is dependent upon the facts and circumstances of an underwriting and cannot be addressed simply by virtue of the price of the issue.[2] The MSRB has also previously noted that Rule G-17 may apply in connection with certain payments made and expenses reimbursed during the municipal bond issuance process for excessive or lavish entertainment or travel expenses.[3]

As noted above, the fair practice requirements of Rule G-17 apply to all municipal securities activities of dealers with issuers.  In particular, even where other MSRB rules provide for specific disclosures or other actions by, or establish specific standards of behavior for, dealers with respect to or on behalf of issuers, such disclosures, actions or behavior must also comport with the fair practice principles of Rule G-17.  The MSRB will continue to review practices with respect to dealer activities with issuers.


[1] See MSRB Notice 2009-42 (July 14, 2009).

 

[2] See Rule G-17 Interpretive Letter – Purchase of new issue from issuer, MSRB interpretation of December 1, 1997, reprinted in MSRB Rule Book.

[3] See MSRB Rule G-20 Interpretation — Dealer payments in connection with the municipal securities issuance process, MSRB interpretation of January 29, 2007, reprinted in MSRB Rule Book.

Interpretive Guidance - Interpretive Notices
Publication date:
Notice on Bank Tying Arrangements, Underpricing of Credit and Rule G-17 on Fair Dealing
Rule Number:

Rule G-17

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.

Interpretive Guidance - Interpretive Notices
Publication date:
General Advertising Disclosures, Blind Advertisements and Annual Reports Relating to Municipal Fund Securities Under Rule G-21

Rule G-21, on advertising, establishes specific requirements for advertisements by brokers, dealers and municipal securities dealers (“dealers”) of municipal fund securities, including but not limited to advertisements for 529 college savings plans (“529 plans”).  This notice sets forth interpretive guidance under Rule G-21 with respect to time-limited broadcast advertisements, blind advertisements, and annual reports or other similar information required to be distributed under state mandates.

General Disclosures in Time-Limited Broadcast Advertisements

Rule G-21(e)(i)(A) requires certain basic disclosures to be provided in product advertisements for municipal fund securities. These disclosures are not legends requiring the inclusion of specific language. Rather, these disclosure requirements may be complied with if the substance of such information is effectively conveyed, regardless of the specific language used in the advertisement. In general, the context in which the information is provided is an important factor in determining whether the information is effectively conveyed.

These required disclosures may present challenges in  the context of broadcast advertisements, such as traditional television or radio commercials with 30-second run-times or public service announcements with shorter run-times.  In the context of time-limited  broadcast  advertisements,  dealers  should  provide  such disclosures in a manner that appropriately balances the intended message with the required disclosures. Given the unique nature of broadcast  advertisements, where the oral presentation of more information can often result in a decreased likelihood that  the central message of such information will be understood and retained, somewhat abbreviated forms of the required  disclosures may be appropriate for such time-limited  broadcast advertisements, particularly if the disclosures are made with close attention paid to ensuring that they are presented with equal prominence to the remainder of the message.

Thus, for example, in a time-limited broadcast  advertisement for a non-money market 529 plan, the following language, spoken in a manner consistent with the remaining oral presentation of information, generally would satisfy the disclosure requirements of Rule G-21(e)(i)(A): “To learn about [529 plan name], its investment objectives, risks and costs, read the official statement available from [source]. Check with your home state to learn if it offers tax or other benefits for investing in its own 529 plan.”  Further, in a time-limited television advertisement, the source for the official statement, together with a contact telephone number or web address, generally could be displayed on screen while other portions of the disclosures are spoken. This example is intended to be illustrative and is not intended to be exclusive or to necessarily establish a baseline for disclosure.

Blind Advertisements

Under Rule G-21(e)(i)(B)(2), certain product advertisements for municipal fund securities that promote an issuer and its public purpose without promoting specific municipal fund securities or identifying a dealer or its affiliates may omit the general disclosures otherwise required under Rule G-21(e)(i)(A). Among other things, such a blind advertisement may include contact information for the issuer or an agent of the issuer to obtain an official statement or other information, provided that if such issuer’s agent is a dealer or dealer affiliate, no orders may be accepted through such source unless initiated by the customer. Although the contact information may direct a potential customer to a dealer or its affiliate acting as agent of the issuer, the face of the advertisement may not identify such dealer or affiliate.

For example, a blind advertisement may say “call 1-800-xxx-xxxx for more information” or “go to www.[state-name]-529plan.com for more information” but may not say “call [dealer name] at 1-800-xxx-xxxx for more information” or “go to www.[dealer-name]-529plan.com for more information.” This provision does not preclude the person who answers a phone inquiry, or the website to which the URL links, from identifying the dealer or its affiliate, so long as such dealer or affiliate is clearly disclosed to be acting on behalf of the issuer identified in the advertisement.

If a potential customer initiates an order through the source identified in the advertisement, a distinct barrier between the providing of information and the seeking of orders must be maintained to qualify as a blind advertisement. For example, solely for purposes of Rule G-21(e)(i)(B)(2), a dealer may establish that the customer initiated the order by requiring, in the case of a telephone inquiry, that the customer be transferred from the initial dealer contact person to a different person before the customer provides any information used in connection with an order or, in the case of a web-based inquiry, that the customer navigate from the initial webpage referred to in the advertisement to another page on the same or different web site before entering any information used in connection with an order.[1]  Of course, the dealer must be mindful of its obligation under Rule G-17, on fair practice, to provide to the customer, at or prior to the time of trade, all material facts about the transaction known by the dealer as well as material facts about the security that are reasonably accessible to the market, regardless of whether the transaction was recommended or whether an order may be characterized as unsolicited.[2]  In addition, if the transaction is recommended, the dealer must fulfill its obligations with respect to suitability under Rule G-19, on suitability of recommendations and transactions.[3]

Required Annual Reports Excluded from Definition of Advertisement

In some cases, a dealer may be required, by state law or the rules and regulations adopted by the state or an  instrumentality thereof governing a particular 529 plan or other municipal fund security program, to prepare or distribute an annual financial re- port or other similar information regarding such plan or program. So long as a dealer provides any such required report or information with respect to a 529 plan or other municipal fund securities program solely in the manner required by such state law or rules and regulations, such report or information will not be treated as an advertisement for purposes of Rule G-21.[4] However, the dealer would remain subject to Rule G-17, which requires that the dealer deal fairly with all persons, prohibits the dealer from engaging in any deceptive, dishonest or unfair practice and requires the dealer to provide to its customer, at or prior to the time of trade, all material facts about a transaction known by the dealer or that are reasonably accessible to the market. In addition, if such information is used in any manner beyond what is narrowly required by such law, rules or regulation, such use of the information would become subject to Rule G-21 as an advertisement.[5]


[1] These methods are not intended to be the exclusive means by which a dealer could establish that the customer initiated the order.

[2] See Rule G-17 Interpretation – Interpretive Notice Regarding Rule G-17, on Disclosure of Material Facts, March 20, 2002, reprinted in MSRB Rule Book.

[3] See Rule G-17 Interpretation – Interpretation on Customer Protection Obligations Relating to the Marketing of 529 College Savings Plans, August 7, 2006, reprinted in MSRB Rule Book.

[4] If such information is distributed through the official statement, then it would not be considered an advertisement by virtue of the exclusion of official statements from the definition of “advertisement” in Rule G-21(a)(i).

[5] This guidance is consistent with similar guidance provided by NASD with respect to its advertising rule, Rule 2210, as applied to certain performance information and hypothetical illustrations required by state laws to be provided by dealers in connection with retirement investments and variable annuity contracts. See letter dated November 29, 2004, to Therese Squillacote, Chief Compliance Officer, ING Financial Advisers,  LLC, from Philip A. Shaikun, Assistant General Counsel, NASD; letter dated September 30, 2002, to Sally Krawczyk, Esq., Sutherland, Asbill & Brennan, LLP, from Mr. Shaikun; and letter dated February 5, 1999, to W. Thomas Conner, Vice President, Regulatory Affairs, National Association of Variable  Annuities, from Robert J. Smith, Office of General Counsel,  NASD Regulation, Inc.

Interpretive Guidance - Interpretive Notices
Publication date:
Dealer Payments In Connection With the Municipal Securities Issuance Process
Rule Number:

Rule G-17, Rule G-20

The Municipal Securities Rulemaking Board (“MSRB”) is publishing this notice to remind brokers, dealers and municipal securities dealers (collectively, “dealers”) of the application of Rule G-20, on gifts, gratuities and non-cash compensation, and Rule G-17, on fair dealing, in connection with certain payments made and expenses reimbursed during the municipal bond issuance process.  These rules are designed to avoid conflicts of interest and to promote fair practices in the municipal securities market.

Rule G-20, among other things, prohibits dealers from giving, directly or indirectly, any thing or service of value, including gratuities, in excess of $100 per year to a person other than an employee or partner of the dealer, if such payments or services are in relation to the municipal securities activities of the recipient’s employer.  The rule provides an exception from the $100 annual limit for “normal business dealings,” which includes occasional gifts of meals or tickets to theatrical, sporting, and other entertainments hosted by the dealer (i.e., if dealer personnel accompany the recipient to the meal, sporting or other event), legitimate business functions sponsored by the dealer that are recognized by the Internal Revenue Service as a deductible business expense, or gifts of reminder advertising.  However, these “gifts” must not be “so frequent or so extensive as to raise any question of propriety.”  Rule G-17 provides that, in the conduct of its municipal securities activities, each dealer shall deal fairly with all persons and shall not engage in any deceptive, dishonest or unfair practice.

Dealers should consider carefully whether payments they make in regard to expenses of issuer personnel in the course of the bond issuance process, including in particular but not limited to payments for which dealers seek reimbursement from bond proceeds, comport with the requirements of these rules.  Payment of excessive or lavish entertainment or travel expenses may violate Rule G-20 if they result in benefits to issuer personnel that exceed the limits set forth in the rule, and can be especially problematic where such payments cover expenses incurred by family or other guests of issuer personnel.  Depending on the specific facts and circumstances, excessive payments could be considered to be gifts or gratuities made to such issuer personnel in relation to the issuer’s municipal securities activities.  Thus, for example, a dealer acting as a financial advisor or underwriter may violate Rule G-20 by paying for excessive or lavish travel, meal, lodging and entertainment expenses in connection with an offering (such as may be incurred for rating agency trips, bond closing dinners and other functions) that inure to the personal benefit of issuer personnel and that exceed the limits or otherwise violate the requirements of the rule.

Furthermore, dealers should be aware that characterizing excessive or lavish expenses for the personal benefit of issuer personnel as an expense of the issue may, depending on all the facts and circumstances, constitute a deceptive, dishonest or unfair practice.  A dealer may violate Rule G-17 by knowingly facilitating such a practice by, for example, making arrangements and advancing funds for the excessive or lavish expenses to be incurred and thereafter claiming such expenses as an expense of the issue.

Dealers are responsible for ensuring that their supervisory policies and procedures established under Rule G-27, on supervision, are adequate to prevent and detect violations of MSRB rules in this area.  The MSRB notes that state and local laws also may limit or proscribe activities of the type addressed in this notice. 

By publishing this notice, the MSRB does not mean to suggest that issuers or dealers curtail legitimate expenses in connection with the bond issuance process.  For example, it sometimes is advantageous for issuer officials to visit bond rating agencies to provide information that will facilitate the rating of the new issue.  It is the character, nature and extent of expenses paid by dealers or reimbursed as an expense of issue, even if thought to be a common industry practice, which may raise a question under applicable MSRB rules. 

The MSRB encourages all parties involved in the municipal bond issuance process to maintain the integrity of this process and investor and public confidence in the municipal securities market by adhering to the highest ethical standards. 


NOTE: This notice was revised effective May 6, 2016. View Notice 2015-21 (November 9, 2015).

 

Interpretive Guidance - Interpretive Notices
Publication date:
Customer Protection Obligations Relating to the Marketing of 529 College Savings Plans
Rule Number:

Rule G-17, Rule G-47

The Municipal Securities Rulemaking Board (“MSRB”) is publishing this interpretation to ensure that brokers, dealers and municipal securities dealers (“dealers”) effecting transactions in the 529 college savings plan market fully understand their fair practice and disclosure duties to their customers.[1]

Basic Customer Protection Obligation

At the core of the MSRB’s customer protection rules is Rule G-17, which provides that, in the conduct of its municipal securities activities, each dealer shall deal fairly with all persons and shall not engage in any deceptive, dishonest or unfair practice.  The rule encompasses two basic principles: an anti-fraud prohibition similar to the standard set forth in Rule 10b-5 adopted by the Securities and Exchange Commission (“SEC”) under the Securities Exchange Act of 1934 (the “Exchange Act”), and a general duty to deal fairly even in the absence of fraud.  All activities of dealers must be viewed in light of these basic principles, regardless of whether other MSRB rules establish specific requirements applicable to such activities.

Disclosure

The MSRB has interpreted Rule G-17 to require a dealer, in connection with any transaction in municipal securities, to disclose to its customer, at or prior to the sale of the securities to the customer (the “time of trade”), all material facts about the transaction known by the dealer, as well as material facts about the security that are reasonably accessible to the market.[2]  This duty applies to any dealer transaction in a 529 college savings plan interest regardless of whether the transaction has been recommended by the dealer.

Many states offer favorable state tax treatment or other valuable benefits to their residents in connection with investments in their own 529 college savings plan.  In the case of sales of out-of-state 529 college savings plan interests to a customer, the MSRB views Rule G-17 as requiring a dealer to make, at or prior to the time of trade, additional disclosures that:

(i) depending upon the laws of the home state of the customer or designated beneficiary, favorable state tax treatment or other benefits offered by such home state for investing in 529 college savings plans may be available only if the customer invests in the home state’s 529 college savings plan;

(ii) any state-based benefit offered with respect to a particular 529 college savings plan should be one of many appropriately weighted factors to be considered in making an investment decision; and

(iii) the customer should consult with his or her financial, tax or other adviser to learn more about how state-based benefits (including any limitations) would apply to the customer’s specific circumstances and also may wish to contact his or her home state or any other 529 college savings plan to learn more about the features, benefits and limitations of that state’s 529 college savings plan.

This disclosure obligation is hereinafter referred to as the “out-of-state disclosure obligation.”[3]

The out-of-state disclosure obligation may be met if the disclosure appears in the program disclosure document, so long as the program disclosure document has been delivered to the customer at or prior to the time of trade and the disclosure appears in the program disclosure document in a manner that is reasonably likely to be noted by an investor.[4]  A presentation of this disclosure in the program disclosure document in close proximity and with equal prominence to the principal presentation of substantive information regarding other federal or state tax-related consequences of investing in the 529 college savings plan, and the inclusion of a reference to this disclosure in close proximity and with equal prominence to each other presentation of information regarding state tax-related consequences of investing in the 529 college savings plan, would be deemed to satisfy this requirement.[5]

The MSRB has no authority to mandate inclusion of any particular items in the issuer’s program disclosure document.[6]  Dealers who wish to rely on the program disclosure document for fulfillment of the out-of-state disclosure obligation are responsible for understanding what is included within the program disclosure document of any 529 college savings plan they market and for determining whether such information is sufficient to meet this disclosure obligation.  Notwithstanding any of the foregoing, disclosure through the program disclosure document as described above is not the sole manner in which a dealer may fulfill its out-of-state disclosure obligation.  Thus, if the issuer has not included this information in the program disclosure document in the manner described, inclusion in the program disclosure document in another manner may nonetheless fulfill the dealer’s out-of-state disclosure obligation so long as disclosure in such other manner is reasonably likely to be noted by an investor.  Otherwise, the dealer would remain obligated to disclose such information separately to the customer under Rule G-17 by no later than the time of trade.[7]

If the dealer proceeds to provide information to an out-of-state customer about the state tax or other benefits available through such customer’s home state, Rule G-17 requires that the dealer ensure that the information is not false or misleading.  For example, a dealer would violate Rule G-17 if it were to inform a customer that investment in the 529 college savings plan of the customer’s home state did not provide the customer with any state tax benefit even though such a state tax benefit is in fact available.  Furthermore, a dealer would violate Rule G-17 if it were to inform a customer that investment in the 529 college savings plan of another state would provide the customer with the same state tax benefits as would be available if the customer were to invest in his or her home state’s 529 college savings plan even though this is not the case.[8]  Dealers should make certain that information they provide to their customers, whether provided under an affirmative disclosure obligation imposed by MSRB rules or in response to questions from customers, is correct and not misleading.

Dealers are reminded that this out-of-state disclosure obligation is in addition to their general obligation under Rule G-17 to disclose to their customers at or prior to the time of trade all material facts known by dealers about the 529 college savings plan interests they are selling to their customers, as well as material facts about such 529 college savings plan that are reasonably accessible to the market.  Further, dealers are reminded that disclosures made to customers as required under MSRB rules with respect to 529 college savings plans do not relieve dealers of their suitability obligations—including the obligation to consider the customer’s financial status, tax status and investment objectives—if they have recommended investments in 529 college savings plans.

Suitability

Under Rule G-19, a dealer that recommends to a customer a transaction in a security must have reasonable grounds for believing that the recommendation is suitable, based upon information available from the issuer of the security or otherwise and the facts disclosed by or otherwise known about the customer.[9]  To assure that a dealer effecting a recommended transaction with a non-institutional customer has the information needed about the customer to make its suitability determination, the rule requires the dealer to make reasonable efforts to obtain information concerning the customer’s financial status, tax status and investment objectives, as well as any other information reasonable and necessary in making the recommendation.[10]  Dealers are reminded that the obligation arising under Rule G-19 in connection with a recommended transaction requires a meaningful analysis, taking into consideration the information obtained about the customer and the security, that establishes the reasonable grounds for believing that the recommendation is suitable.  Such suitability determinations should be based on the appropriately weighted factors that are relevant in any particular set of facts and circumstances, which factors may vary from transaction to transaction.[11]  Pursuant to Rule G-27(c), dealers must have written supervisory procedures in place that are reasonably designed to ensure compliance with this Rule G-19 obligation to undertake a suitability analysis in connection with every recommended transaction, and dealers must enforce these procedures to ensure that such meaningful analysis does in fact occur in connection with the dealer’s recommended transactions.

In the context of a recommended transaction relating to a 529 college savings plan, the MSRB believes that it is crucial for dealers to remain cognizant of the fact that these instruments are designed for a particular purpose and that this purpose generally should match the customer’s investment objective.  For example, dealers should bear in mind the potential tax consequences of a customer making an investment in a 529 college savings plan where the dealer understands that the customer’s investment objective may not involve use of such funds for qualified higher education expenses.[12]  Dealers also should consider whether a recommendation is consistent with the customer’s tax status and any customer investment objectives materially related to federal or state tax consequences of an investment.

Furthermore, investors generally are required to designate a specific beneficiary under a 529 college savings plan.  The MSRB believes that information known about the designated beneficiary generally would be relevant in weighing the investment objectives of the customer, including (among other things) information regarding the age of the beneficiary and the number of years until funds will be needed to pay qualified higher education expenses of the beneficiary.  The MSRB notes that, since the person making the investment in a 529 college savings plan retains significant control over the investment (e.g., may withdraw funds, change plans, or change beneficiary, etc.), this person is appropriately considered the customer for purposes of Rule G-19 and other MSRB rules.  As noted above, information regarding the designated beneficiary should be treated as information relating to the customer’s investment objective for purposes of Rule G-19.

In many cases, dealers may offer the same investment option in a 529 college savings plan sold with different commission structures.  For example, an A share may have a front-end load, a B share may have a contingent deferred sales charge or back-end load that reduces in amount depending upon the number of years that the investment is held, and a C share may have an annual asset-based charge.  A customer’s investment objective—particularly, the number of years until withdrawals are expected to be made—can be a significant factor in determining which share class would be suitable for the particular customer.

Rule G-19(e), on churning, prohibits a dealer from recommending transactions to a customer that are excessive in size or frequency, in view of information known to such dealer concerning the customer’s financial background, tax status and investment objectives.  Thus, for example, where the dealer knows that a customer is investing in a 529 college savings plan with the intention of receiving the available federal tax benefit, such dealer could, depending upon the facts and circumstances, violate rule G-19(e) if it were to recommend roll-overs from one 529 college savings plan to another with such frequency as to lose the federal tax benefit.  Even where the frequency does not imperil the federal tax benefit, roll-overs recommended year after year by a dealer could, depending upon the facts and circumstances (including consideration of legitimate investment and other purposes), be viewed as churning.  Similarly, depending upon the facts and circumstances, where a dealer recommends investments in one or more plans for a single beneficiary in amounts that far exceed the amount that could reasonably be used by such beneficiary to pay for qualified higher education expenses, a violation of rule G-19(e) could result.[13]

Other Sales Practice Principles

Dealers must keep in mind the requirements under Rule G-17—that they deal fairly with all persons and that they not engage in any deceptive, dishonest or unfair practice—when considering the appropriateness of day-to-day sales-related activities with respect to municipal fund securities, including 529 college savings plans.  In some cases, certain sales-related activities are governed in part by specific MSRB rules, such as Rule G-19 (as described above) and Rule G-30(b), on commissions.[14]  Other activities may not be explicitly addressed by a specific MSRB rule.  In either case, the general principles of Rule G-17 always apply.

In particular, dealers must ensure that they do not engage in transactions primarily designed to increase commission revenues in a manner that is unfair to customers under Rule G-17.  Thus, in addition to being a potential violation of Rule G-19 as discussed above, recommending a particular share class to a customer that is not suitable for that customer, or engaging in churning, may also constitute a violation of Rule G-17 if the recommendation was made for the purpose of generating higher commission revenues.  Also, where a dealer offers investments in multiple 529 college savings plans, consistently recommending that customers invest in the one 529 college savings plan that offers the dealer the highest compensation may, depending on the facts and circumstances, constitute a violation of Rule G-17 if the recommendation of such 529 college savings plan over the other 529 college savings plans offered by the dealer does not reflect a legitimate investment-based purpose.

Further, recommending transactions to customers in amounts designed to avoid commission discounts (i.e., sales below breakpoints where the customer would be entitled to lower commission charges) may also violate Rule G-17, depending upon the facts and circumstances.  For example, a recommendation that a customer make two smaller investments in separate but nearly identical 529 college savings plans for the purposes of avoiding a reduced commission rate that would be available upon investing the full amount in a single 529 college savings plan, or that a customer time his or her multiple investments in a 529 college savings plan so as to avoid being able to take advantage of a lower commission rate, in either case without a legitimate investment-based purpose, could violate Rule G-17.

With respect to sales incentives, the MSRB has previously interpreted Rule G-20, relating to gifts, gratuities and non-cash compensation, to require a dealer that sponsors a sales contest involving representatives who are not employed by the sponsoring dealer to have in place written agreements with these representatives.[15]  In addition, the general principles of Rule G-17 are applicable.  Thus, if a dealer or any of its associated persons engages in any marketing activities that result in a customer being treated unfairly, or if the dealer or any of its associated persons engages in any deceptive, dishonest or unfair practice in connection with such marketing activities, Rule G-17 could be violated.  The MSRB believes that, depending upon the specific facts and circumstances, a dealer may violate Rule G-17 if it acts in a manner that is reasonably likely to induce another dealer or such other dealer’s associated persons to violate the principles of Rule G-17 or other MSRB customer protection rules, such as Rule G-19 or Rule G-30.  Dealers are also reminded that Rule G-20 establishes standards regarding incentives for sales of municipal securities, including 529 college savings plan interests, that are substantially similar to those currently applicable to sales of mutual fund shares under NASD rules.


[1] 529 college savings plans are established by states under Section 529(b)(A)(ii) of the Internal Revenue Code as “qualified tuition programs” through which individuals make investments for the purpose of accumulating savings for qualifying higher education costs of beneficiaries.  Section 529 of the Internal Revenue Code also permits the establishment of so-called prepaid tuition plans by states and higher education institutions, which are not treated as 529 college savings plans for purposes of this notice.
 
[2] See Rule G-17 Interpretation – Interpretive Notice Regarding Rule G-17, on Disclosure of Material Facts, March 20, 2002, reprinted in MSRB Rule Book.
 
[3] This out-of-state disclosure obligation constitutes an expansion of, and supersedes, certain disclosure requirements with respect to out-of-state 529 college savings plan transactions established under “Application of Fair Practice and Advertising Rules to Municipal Securities,” May 14, 2002, published in MSRB Rule Book.
 
[4] As used in this notice, the term “program disclosure document” has the same meaning as “official statement” under the rules of the MSRB and SEC.  The delivery of the program disclosure document to customers pursuant to Rule G-32, which requires delivery by settlement of the transaction, would be timely for purposes of Rule G-17 only if such delivery is accelerated so that it is received by the customer by no later than the time of trade.
 
[5] Thus, if the program disclosure document contains a series of sections in which the principal disclosures of substantive information on federal or state-tax related consequences of investing in the 529 college savings plan appear, a single inclusion of the required disclosure within, at the beginning or at the end of such series would be satisfactory for purposes of the inclusion with the principal presentation of such other disclosures.  Similarly, if the program disclosure document includes any other series of statements on state-tax related consequences, such as might exist in a summary statement appearing at the beginning of some program disclosure documents, a single prominent reference in the summary statement to the fuller disclosure made pursuant to the out-of-state disclosure obligation appearing elsewhere in the program disclosure document would be satisfactory.
 
[6] However, the MSRB notes that Exchange Act Rule 15c2-12(f)(3) of the SEC defines a “final official statement” as:

a document or set of documents prepared by an issuer of municipal securities or its representatives that is complete as of the date delivered to the Participating Underwriter(s) and that sets forth information concerning the terms of the proposed issue of securities; information, including financial information or operating data, concerning such issuers of municipal securities and those other entities, enterprises, funds, accounts, and other persons material to an evaluation of the Offering; and a description of the undertakings to be provided pursuant to paragraph (b)(5)(i), paragraph (d)(2)(ii), and paragraph (d)(2)(iii) of this section, if applicable, and of any instances in the previous five years in which each person specified pursuant to paragraph (b)(5)(ii) of this section failed to comply, in all material respects, with any previous undertakings in a written contract or agreement specified in paragraph (b)(5)(i) of this section.

Section (b) of that rule requires that the participating underwriter of an offering review a “deemed-final” official statement and contract to receive the final official statement from the issuer.  See Rule D-12 Interpretation – Interpretation Relating to Sales of Municipal Fund Securities in the Primary Market, January 18, 2001, published in MSRB Rule Book, for a discussion of the applicability of Rule 15c2-12 to offerings of 529 college savings plans.

[7] Although Rule G-17 does not dictate the precise manner in which material facts must be disclosed to the customer at or prior to the time of trade, dealers must ensure that such disclosure is effectively provided to the customer in connection with the specific transaction and cannot merely rely on the inclusion of a disclosure in general advertising materials.

[8] Dealers should note that these examples are illustrative and do not limit the circumstances under which, depending on the facts and circumstances, a Rule G-17 violation could occur.

[9] The MSRB has previously stated that most situations in which a dealer brings a municipal security to the attention of a customer involve an implicit recommendation of the security to the customer, but determining whether a particular transaction is in fact recommended depends on an analysis of all the relevant facts and circumstances.  See Rule G-19 Interpretive Letter – Recommendations, February 17, 1998, published in MSRB Rule Book.  The MSRB also has provided guidance on recommendations in the context of on-line communications in Rule G-19 Interpretation – Notice Regarding Application of Rule G-19, on Suitability of Recommendations and Transactions, to Online Communications, September 25, 2002, published in MSRB Rule Book.

[10] Rule G-8(a)(xi)(F) requires that dealers maintain records for each customer of such information about the customer used in making recommendations to the customer.

[11] Although certain factors relating to recommended transactions in 529 college savings plans are discussed in this notice, whether such enumerated factors or any other considerations are relevant in connection with a particular recommendation is dependent upon the facts and circumstances.  The factors that may be relevant with respect to a specific transaction in a 529 college savings plan generally include the various considerations that would be applicable in connection with the process of making suitability determinations for recommendations of any other type of security.

[12] See Section 529(c)(3) of the Internal Revenue Code.  State tax laws also may result in certain adverse consequences for use of funds other than for educational costs.

[13] The MSRB understands that investors may change designated beneficiaries and therefore amounts in excess of what a single beneficiary could use ultimately might be fully expended by additional beneficiaries.  The MSRB expresses no view as to the applicability of federal tax law to any particular plan of investment and does not interpret its rules to prohibit transactions in furtherance of legitimate tax planning objectives, so long as any recommended transaction is suitable.

[14] The MSRB has previously provided guidance on dealer commissions in Rule G-30 Interpretation – Interpretive Notice on Commissions and Other Charges, Advertisements and Official Statements Relating to Municipal Fund Securities, December 19, 2001, published in MSRB Rule Book.  The MSRB believes that Rule G-30(b), as interpreted in this 2001 guidance, should effectively maintain dealer charges for 529 college savings plan sales at a level consistent with, if not lower than, the sales loads and commissions charged for comparable mutual fund sales.

[15] See Rule G-20 Interpretive Letter – Authorization of sales contests, June 25, 1982, published in MSRB Rule Book.

Interpretive Guidance - Interpretive Letters
Publication date:
529 College Savings Plan Advertisements
Rule Number:

Rule G-17, Rule G-21

529 college savings plan advertisements.  Thank you for your letter of April 21, 2006 in which you request interpretive guidance on the application of Rule G-21, on advertising, with respect to advertisements of 529 college savings plans.  Rule G-21 was amended in 2005 by adding new section (e) relating to advertisements by brokers, dealers and municipal securities dealers (“dealers”) of interests in 529 college savings plans and other municipal fund securities (collectively referred to as “municipal fund securities”).  These new provisions were modeled after the provisions of Securities Act Rules 482 and 135a relating to mutual fund advertisements, with certain modifications.

The Board expects to undertake a detailed review of issues relating to the implementation of section (e) of its advertising rule in the coming months and your views will be instrumental in that review.  We appreciate your interest in the operation of the rule and the commitment of your organization and your individual members to assure that investors receive appropriate disclosures.  As you are aware, MSRB rules apply solely to dealers, not to issuers or other parties.  The MSRB has previously stated that Rule G-21 does not govern advertisements published by issuers but that an advertisement produced by a dealer as agent for an issuer must comply with Rule G-21.  Similarly, a dealer cannot avoid application of Rule G-21 merely by hiring a third party to produce and publish advertisements on its behalf.[1]  Pending our detailed review of section (e) of Rule G-21, I would like to address certain basic principles under the current rule language and existing interpretive guidance that may prove helpful in the context of some of the issues you raise in your letter.[2]

Section (a) of the rule provides a broad definition of “advertisement.”[3]  Sections (b) through (e) of the rule establish requirements with respect to specific types of advertisements.  Section (b) establishes standards for professional advertisements, which are advertisements concerning the dealer’s facilities, services or skills with respect to municipal securities.  Section (c) establishes general standards for product advertisements, with additional specific standards relating to advertisements for new issue debt securities set forth in Section (d) and specific standards relating to advertisements for municipal fund securities set forth in Section (e).  In addition, all advertisements are subject to the MSRB’s basic fair dealing rule, Rule G-17,[4] and are subject to approval by a principal pursuant to Section (f) of Rule G-21.

Where an advertisement does not identify specific securities, specific issuers of securities or specific features of securities, but merely refers to one or more broad categories of securities with respect to which the dealer provides services, the MSRB would generally view such advertisement as a professional advertisement under Section (b) rather than as a product advertisement.  For example, if an advertisement simply states that the dealer provides investment services with respect to 529 college savings plans – without identifying any specific 529 college savings plan, specific municipal fund securities issued through a 529 college savings plan, or specific features of any such municipal fund securities – the advertisement would be subject to Section (b) of Rule G-21, rather than to Sections (c) and (e).

On the other hand, advertisements that identify specific securities, specific issuers of securities or specific features of securities generally are viewed as product advertisements under Rule G-21 and therefore would be subject to Section (c), as well as Section (d) or (e), if applicable.  However, in some circumstances, an advertisement that identifies an issuer of securities without identifying its securities or specific features of such securities effectively may not constitute an advertisement of such issuer’s securities and therefore would not be treated as a product advertisement under the rule, particularly if the dealer or any of its affiliates is not identified.  For example, if an advertisement identifies the state or other governmental entity that operates a 529 college savings plan without identifying its municipal fund securities, the specific features of such securities or the dealer and its affiliates that may participate in the marketing of its municipal fund securities, the MSRB generally would not view such advertisement as a product advertisement subject to Sections (c) and (e) of Rule G-21.[5] MSRB Interpretation of May 12, 2006.


 

[1] The MSRB expresses no opinion at this time as to the applicability of MSRB rules to advertisements relating to municipal fund securities produced and published by issuers with funds provided directly or indirectly by a dealer.

[2] Other issues you raise in your letter will be considered during the upcoming review of Rule G-21.

[3] An advertisement is defined as any material (other than listings of offerings) published or designed for use in the public, including electronic, media, or any promotional literature designed for dissemination to the public, including any notice, circular, report, market letter, form letter, telemarketing script or reprint or excerpt of the foregoing. The term does not apply to preliminary official statements or official statements (including program disclosure documents), but does apply to abstracts or summaries of official statements, offering circulars and other such similar documents prepared by dealers.  The MSRB expresses no opinion at this time as to whether the specific communications or promotional materials described in your letter would constitute advertisements under this definition.

[4] Rule G-17 requires each dealer, in the conduct of its municipal securities activities, to deal fairly with all persons and prohibits the dealer from engaging in any deceptive, dishonest or unfair practice.

[5] The advertisement may, in addition to or instead of identifying the state or other governmental entity that operates the 529 college savings plan, include the state’s marketing name for such plan so long as such name does not identify the dealer or any dealer affiliates that may participate in the marketing of its municipal fund securities.  Further, any contact information (such as a telephone number or Internet address) included in the advertisement should be for the state or other governmental entity and must not be for the dealer or its affiliates.

Interpretive Guidance - Interpretive Notices
Publication date:
Commissions and Other Charges, Advertisements and Official Statements Relating to Municipal Fund Securities

The Municipal Securities Rulemaking Board ("MSRB") has received various inquiries regarding commissions, disclosures (including delivery of disclosure materials to the MSRB) and advertisements relating to municipal fund securities, particularly in connection with sales of interests in so-called Section 529 college savings plans.[1] The nature of the commissions and other program fees that may exist with respect to municipal fund securities may differ significantly from such charges that typically may exist for traditional debt securities sold in the municipal securities market. In many cases, commissions and other fees may more closely resemble those charged in connection with investment company securities registered under the Investment Company Act of 1940 (the "Investment Company Act").[2] Although commissions and fees charged by brokers, dealers and municipal securities dealers ("dealers") effecting transactions in municipal fund securities are subject to MSRB rules, the nature and level of fees and charges collected by other parties in connection with such securities generally are not subject to regulation. However, under certain circumstances, a dealer selling municipal fund securities may be obligated to disclose to customers such fees and charges collected by other parties.

Amount of Dealer's Commissions or Service Charges

Rule G-30(b), on prices and commissions in agency transactions, prohibits dealers from selling municipal securities to a customer for a commission or service charge in excess of a fair and reasonable amount. In assessing the fairness and reasonableness of the commission or service charge, the rule permits the dealer to take into consideration all relevant factors, including the availability of the securities involved in the transaction, the expense of executing or filling the customer's order, the value of the services rendered by the dealer, and the amount of any other compensation received or to be received by the dealer in connection with the transaction. The MSRB has received inquiries as to whether the sales charge schedule set out in Rule 2830 of the National Association of Securities Dealers, Inc. ("NASD") applies to or otherwise is indicative of the levels of commissions and other fees that dealers may charge in connection with sales of municipal fund securities.

MSRB rules, not those of the NASD, apply to sales by dealers of municipal securities, including municipal fund securities. NASD Rule 2830 provides that no member firm may offer or sell shares in investment companies registered under the Investment Company Act if the sales charges are excessive. The NASD rule then sets forth various levels of aggregate sales charges to which member firms must conform, depending upon the nature of the investment company's sales charges, in order to ensure that such sales charges are not deemed excessive. The MSRB notes that the NASD derives its authority for the sales charge provisions of Rule 2830 from Section 22(b)(1) of the Investment Company Act, which expressly exempts such provisions from the limitation that Section 15A(b)(6) of the Securities Exchange Act of 1934 (the "Exchange Act") places on the NASD's ability to adopt rules that "impose any schedule or fix rates of commissions, allowances, discounts, or other fees to be charged by its members." In sharp contrast, no exemption exists from the limitations that Section 15B(b)(2)(C) of the Exchange Act places on the MSRB's ability to adopt rules that "impose any schedule or fix rates of commissions, allowances, discounts, or other fees to be charged by municipal securities brokers or municipal securities dealers."The MSRB believes that it could not, by rule or interpretation, in effect impose such a schedule for the sale of municipal fund securities.

Nonetheless, the MSRB believes that the charges permitted by the NASD under its Rule 2830 in connection with the sale of registered investment company securities may, depending upon the facts and circumstances, be a significant factor in determining whether a dealer selling municipal fund securities is charging a commission or other fee that is fair and reasonable. For example, the MSRB believes that charges for municipal fund securities transactions in excess of those permitted for comparable mutual fund shares under NASD Rule 2830 may be presumed to not meet the fair and reasonable standard under MSRB rule G-30(b), although the totality of the facts and circumstances relating to a particular transaction in municipal fund securities may rebut such presumption. Further, depending upon the specific facts and circumstances, a sales charge for a transaction in a municipal fund security that would be deemed in compliance with NASD Rule 2830 if charged in connection with a transaction in a substantially identical registered investment company security often will be in compliance with rule G-30(b).

However, the NASD schedule is not dispositive nor is it always the principal factor in determining compliance with rule G-30. The MSRB believes that the factors enunciated in rule G-30(b) and other relevant factors must be given due weight in determining whether a commission is fair and reasonable. These factors include, but are not limited to, the value of the services rendered by the dealer and the amount of any other compensation received or to be received by the dealer in connection with the transaction from other sources (such as the issuer). A dealer may not exclusively rely on the fact that its commissions fall within the NASD schedule, particularly where commission levels in the marketplace for similar municipal fund securities sold by other dealers providing similar levels of services are generally substantially lower than those charged by such dealer, taking into account any other compensation.

Disclosure of Program Fees and Charges of Other Parties

MSRB rules do not explicitly require disclosure by dealers of fees and charges received by other parties to a transaction. These can include, among other things, administrative fees of the issuer, investment adviser and other parties payable from trust assets or directly by the customer. However, depending upon the facts and circumstances, certain MSRB rules may have the practical effect of requiring some level of disclosure of such fees and charges to the extent that they are material. For example, rule G-32(a)(i) generally obligates the dealer to provide an official statement to its customer in connection with sales of municipal fund securities. Although MSRB rules do not govern the content of the disclosures included by the issuer in the official statement, the MSRB believes that an official statement prepared by an issuer of municipal fund securities that is in compliance with Exchange Act Rules 10b-5 and 15c2-12 generally would provide disclosure of any fees or other charges imposed in connection with such securities that are material to investors. The MSRB further believes that, in most respects, the disclosures provided by the issuer in the official statement would provide the dealer with the type of information it is required to disclose to customers under the MSRB's fair dealing rule, rule G-17.

Advertisements

Dealer advertisements of municipal fund securities must comply with the requirements of rule G-21.[3] This rule prohibits dealers from publishing advertisements concerning municipal securities which they know or have reason to know are materially false or misleading. The MSRB has previously stated that any use of historical yields in an advertisement would be subject to this prohibition. Thus, a dealer advertisement of municipal fund securities that refers to yield typically would require a description of the nature and significance of the yield shown in the advertisement in order to assure that such advertisement is not false or misleading. Further, depending upon the facts and circumstances, a dealer may be required to disclose information regarding a fee or other charge relating to municipal fund securities that may have a material effect on such advertised yield, to the extent that such disclosure is necessary to ensure that the advertisement is not materially false or misleading with respect to such yield.

The MSRB understands that advertisements and other sales material relating to registered investment company securities are, depending upon the nature of the advertisement, subject to the requirements of Securities Act Rule 156, on investment company sales literature, Securities Act Rule 482, on advertising by an investment company as satisfying requirements of section 10, and NASD Rule 2210, on communications with the public (including IM-2210-3, on use of rankings in investment companies advertisements and sales literature), among others. The MSRB notes that both Securities Act Rule 156(a) and NASD Rule 2210(d)(1)(A) include general standards for advertisements that are substantially the same as the standard set forth in MSRB rule G-21. As a result, the MSRB believes that a dealer advertisement of municipal fund securities that would be compliant with Securities Act Rules 156 and 482 if such securities were registered investment company securities also would be in compliance with MSRB rule G-21. Further, the MSRB believes that a dealer advertisement of municipal fund securities that would be compliant with NASD Rule 2210 and IM-2210-3 if such securities were registered investment company securities also would be in compliance with MSRB rule G-21.

Submission of Official Statements to the MSRB

Dealers selling municipal fund securities are subject to the requirement under rule G-36 that they submit copies of the official statement, together with completed Form G-36(OS), to the MSRB. In some cases, a dealer that has been engaged by an issuer of municipal fund securities to serve as its primary distributor ("primary distributor") has in turn entered into relationships with one or more other dealers to provide further channels for distribution. These other dealers may include dealers that effect transactions directly with customers ("selling dealers") or dealers that provide "wholesale" distribution services but do not effect transactions directly with customers ("intermediary dealers").

The MSRB believes that, regardless of whether a formal syndicate or similar account has been formed among a primary distributor, the selling dealers and any intermediary dealers in a multi-tiered distribution system for a particular offering of municipal fund securities, the primary distributor for such offering has the responsibility set forth in rule G-36(f) to undertake all actions required under the provisions of rule G-36 and the corresponding recordkeeping requirements under rule G-8(a)(xv). These obligations include, but are not limited to, the submission of official statements (including amendments and updates) and completed Form G-36(OS) to the MSRB on a timely basis. The MSRB further believes that any selling or intermediary dealers for such offering that might be considered underwriters of the securities may rely upon the primary distributor to undertake these actions to the same extent as if they had in fact formed an underwriting syndicate as described in rule G-36(f).


 

[1] Section 529 college savings plans are higher education savings plan trusts established by states under section 529(b) of the Internal Revenue Code as "qualified state tuition programs" through which individuals make investments for the purpose of accumulating savings for qualifying higher education costs of beneficiaries.

[2] Municipal fund securities are exempt from the registration and other provisions of the Investment Company Act.

[3] Rule G-21 defines advertisement as any material (other than listings of offerings) published or designed for use in the public, including electronic, media or any promotional literature designed for dissemination to the public, such as notices, circulars, reports, market letters, form letters, telemarketing scripts or reprints or excerpts of the foregoing. The term does not apply to official statements but does apply to abstracts or summaries of official statements, offering circulars and other similar documents prepared by dealers.

Interpretive Guidance - Interpretive Notices
Publication date:
Sales of Municipal Fund Securities in the Primary Market

The Municipal Securities Rulemaking Board (the “Board”) has learned that sales of certain interests in trust funds held by state or local governmental entities may be effected by or through brokers, dealers or municipal securities dealers (“dealers”). In particular, the Board has reviewed two types of state or local gov-ernmental programs in which dealers may effect transactions in such interests: pooled investment funds under trusts established by state or local governmental entities (“local government pools”) [1] and higher education savings plan trusts established by states (“higher education trusts”).[2] In response to a request of the Board, staff of the Division of Market Regulation of the Securities and Exchange Commission (the “SEC”) has stated that “at least some interests in local government pools and higher education trusts may be, depending on the facts and circumstances, ‘municipal securities’ for purposes of the [Securities] Exchange Act [of 1934].” [3] Any such interests that may, in fact, constitute municipal securities are referred to herein as “municipal fund securities.” To the extent that dealers effect transactions in municipal fund securi-ties, such transactions are subject to the jurisdiction of the Board pursuant to Section 15B of the Securities Exchange Act of 1934 (the “Exchange Act”).

With respect to the applicability to municipal fund securities of Exchange Act Rule 15c2-12, relating to municipal securities disclosure, staff of the SEC’s Division of Market Regulation has stated:

[W]e note that Rule 15c2-12(f)(7) under the Exchange Act defines a “primary  offering” as including an offering of municipal securities directly or indirectly by or on behalf of an issuer of such securities. Based upon an analysis of programs that have been brought to our attention, it appears that interests in local government pools or higher education trusts generally are offered only by direct purchase from the issuer. Accordingly, we would view those interests as having been sold in a “primary offering” as that term is defined in Rule 15c2-12. If a dealer is acting as an “underwriter” (as defined in Rule 15c2-12(f)(8)) in connection with that primary offering, the dealer may be subject to the requirements of Rule 15c2-12. [4]

Rule 15c2-12(f)(8) defines an underwriter as “any person who has purchased from an issuer of municipal securities with a view to, or offers or sells for an issuer of municipal securities in connection with, the offering of any municipal security, or participates or has a direct or indirect participation in any such undertaking, or participates or has a participation in the direct or indirect underwriting of any such undertaking.” [5]

Consistent with SEC staff’s view regarding the sale in primary offerings of municipal fund securities, dealers acting as underwriters in primary offerings of municipal fund securities generally would be subject to the requirements of rule G-36, on delivery of official statements, advance refunding documents and Forms G-36(OS) and G-36(ARD) to Board or its designee. Thus, unless such primary offering falls within one of the stated exemptions in Rule 15c2-12, the Board expects that the dealer would receive a final official statement from the issuer or its agent under its contractual agreement entered into pursuant to Rule 15c2-12(b)(3). [6] Such final official statement should be received from the issuer in sufficient time for the dealer to send it, together with Form G-36(OS), to the Board within one business day of receipt but no later than 10 business days after any final agreement to purchase, offer, or sell the municipal fund securities, as required under rule G-36(b)(i). [7]  “Final official statement,” as used in rule G-36(b)(i), has the same meaning as in Rule 15c2-12(f)(3), which states, in relevant part:

The term final official statement means a document or set of documents prepared by an issuer of municipal securities or its representatives that is complete as of the date delivered to the Participating Underwriter(s) and that sets forth information concerning the terms of the proposed issue of securi- ties; information, including financial information or operating data, concerning such issuers of municipal securities and those other entities, enterprises, funds, accounts, and other persons material to an evaluation of the Offering; and a description of the undertakings to be provided pursuant to paragraph (b)(5)(i), paragraph (d)(2)(ii), and paragraph (d)(2)(iii) of this section, if applicable, and of any instances in the previous five years in which each person specified pursuant to paragraph (b)(5)(ii) of this section failed to comply, in all material respects, with any previous undertakings in a written contract or agreement specified in paragraph (b)(5)(i) of this section. [8]

The Board understands that issuers of municipal fund securities typically issue and deliver the securities continuously as customers make purchases, rather than issuing and delivering a single issue on a specified date. As used in Board rules, the term “underwriting period” with respect to an offering involving a single dealer (i.e., not involving an underwriting syndicate) is defined as the period (A) commencing with the first submission to the dealer of an order for the purchase of the securities or the purchase of the securities from the issuer, whichever first occurs, and (B) ending at such time as the following two conditions both are met: (1) the issuer delivers the securities to the dealer, and (2) the dealer no longer retains an unsold balance of the securities purchased from the issuer or 21 calendar days elapse after the date of the first submission of an order for the securities, whichever first occurs. [9] Since an offering consisting of securities issued and de-livered on a continuous basis would not, by its very nature, ever meet the first condition for the termination of the underwriting period, such offering would continuously remain in its underwriting period. [10] Further, since rule G-36(d) requires a dealer that has previously provided an official statement to the Board to send any amendments to the official statement made by the issuer during the underwriting period, such dealer would remain obligated to send to the Board any amendments made to the official statement during such continuous underwriting period. However, in view of the increased possibility that an issuer may change the dealer that participates in the sale of its securities during such a continuous underwriting period, the Board has determined that rule G-36(d) would require that the dealer that is at the time of an amendment then serving as underwriter for securities that are still in the underwriting period send the amendment to the Board, regardless of whether that dealer or another dealer sent the original official statement to the Board.

In addition, municipal fund securities sold in a primary offering would constitute new issue municipal securities for purposes of rule G-32, on disclosures in connection with new issues, so long as the securities remain in their underwriting period. Rule G-32 generally requires that a dealer selling a new issue municipal security to a customer must deliver the official statement in final form to the customer by settlement of such transaction. Thus, a dealer effecting transactions in municipal fund securities that are sold during a continuous underwriting period would be required to deliver to the customer the official statement by settlement of each such transaction. However, in the case of a customer purchasing such securities who is a repeat purchaser, no new delivery of the official statement would be required so long as the customer has previously received it in connection with a prior purchase and the official statement has not been changed from the one previously delivered to that customer. [11]

Certain other implications arise under Board rules as a result of the status, in the view of SEC staff, of sales of municipal fund securities as primary offerings. For example, dealers are reminded that the definition of “municipal securities business” under rule G-37, on political contributions and prohibitions on municipal securities business, and rule G-38, on consultants, includes the purchase of a primary offering from the issuer on other than a competitive bid basis or the offer or sale of a primary offering on behalf of any issuer. Thus, a dealer’s transactions in municipal fund securities may affect such dealer’s obligations under rules G-37 and G-38. In addition, rule G-23, on activities of financial advisors, applies to a dealer’s financial advisory or consultant services to an issuer with respect to a new issue of municipal securities.

[1]The Board understands that local government pools are established by state or local governmental entities as trusts that serve as vehicles for the pooled investment of public moneys of participating governmental entities. Participants purchase interests in the trust and trust assets are invested in a manner consistent with the trust’s stated investment objectives. Investors generally do not have a right to control investment of trust assets. See generally National Association of State Treasurers, Special Report: Local Government Investment Pools (July 1995); Standard & Poor’s Fund Services, Local Government Investment Pools (May 1999).

[2] The Board understands that higher education trusts generally are established by states under section 529(b) of the Internal Revenue Code as “qualified state tuition programs” through which individuals make investments for the purpose of accumulating savings for qualifying higher education costs of beneficiaries. Individuals purchase interests in the trust and trust assets are invested in a manner consistent with the trust’s stated investment objectives. Investors do not have a right to control investment of trust assets. See generally College Savings Plans Network, Special Report on State and College Savings Plans (1998).

[3] Letter dated February 26, 1999 from Catherine McGuire, Chief Counsel, Division of Market Regulation, SEC, to Diane G. Klinke, General Counsel of the Board, in response to letter dated June 2, 1998 from Diane G. Klinke to Catherine McGuire, published as Municipal Securities Rulemaking Board, SEC No-Action Letter, Wash. Serv. Bur. (CCH) File  No.032299033 (Feb. 26, 1999) (the “SEC Letter”).

[4] SEC Letter.

[5] The definition of underwriter excludes any person whose interest is limited to a commission, concession, or allowance from an underwriter or dealer not in excess of the usual and customary distributors’ or sellers’ commission, concession, or allowance.

[6] Section (b)(3) of Rule 15c2-12 requires that a dealer serving as a Participating Underwriter in connection with a primary offering subject to the Rule contract with an issuer of municipal securities or its designated agent to receive copies of a final official statement at the time and in the quantities set forth in the Rule.

[7] If a primary offering of municipal fund securities is exempt from Rule 15c2-12 (other than as a result of being a limited offering as described in section (d)(1)(i) of the Rule) and an official statement in final form has been prepared by the issuer, then the dealer would be expected to send the official statement in final form, together with Form G-36(OS), to the Board under rule G-36(c)(i).

[8] Dealers seeking guidance as to whether a particular document or set of documents constitutes a final official statement for purposes of rule G-36(b)(i) should consult with SEC staff to determine whether such document or set of documents constitutes a final official statement for purposes of Rule 15c2-12.

[9] See rule G-32(c)(ii)(B). If approved by the SEC, the proposed rule change will redesignate this section as rule G-32(d)(ii)(B).

[10] Similarly, an offering involving an underwriting syndicate and consisting of securities issued and delivered on a continuous basis also would remain in its underwriting period under the definition thereof set forth in rule G-11(a)(ix).

[11] This is equally true for other forms of municipal securities for which a customer has already received an official statement in connection with an earlier purchase and who proceeds to make a second purchase of the same securities during the underwriting period. Furthermore, in the case of a repeat purchaser of municipal securities for which no official statement in final form is being prepared, no new delivery of the written notice to that effect or of any official statement in preliminary form would be required so long as the customer has previously received it in connection with a prior purchase. However, if an official statement in final form is subsequently prepared, the customer’s next purchase would trigger the delivery requirement with respect to such official statement. Also, if an official statement which has previously been delivered is subsequently amended during the underwriting period, the customer’s next purchase would trigger the delivery requirement with respect to such amendment.

 

 

 

Interpretive Guidance - Interpretive Notices
Publication date:
The Disclosure Obligations of Brokers, Dealers and Municipal Securities Dealers in Connection with New Issue Municipal Securities Under Rule G-32

In July 1998, the Securities and Exchange Commission (“SEC”) approved two sets of amendments to rule G-32, on disclosures in connection with new issues. The first set of amendments permits brokers, dealers and municipal securities dealers (“dealers”) that sell new issue variable rate demand obligations qualifying for the exemption provided under subparagraph (d)(1)(iii) of Securities Exchange Act Rule 15c2-12 to deliver the preliminary official statement, rather than the final official statement, to customers by settlement.[1] The second set of amendments strengthens the rule’s existing requirements regarding dissemination of official statements to dealers purchasing new issue municipal securities and incorporates a longstanding Board interpretation regarding disclosure to customers of initial offering prices in negotiated underwritings.[2] In view of these recent amendments and the continuing concerns of the Board and the enforcement agencies that some dealers may have inadequate procedures in place to ensure compliance with rule G-32,[3] the Board is publishing this notice to review the requirements of the rule and to emphasize the importance of full and timely compliance.

Purpose and Structure of Rule G-32

Rule G-32 is designed to ensure that a customer who purchases new issue municipal securities is provided with all available information relevant to his or her investment decision by settlement of the transaction. The rule obligates all dealers selling new issue municipal securities to provide to their customers purchasing the securities certain disclosure materials by settlement. To effectuate this primary obligation, the rule further obligates all dealers that sell new issue municipal securities to other dealers, as well as the managing or sole underwriter for such securities, to provide to such purchasing dealers these disclosure materials so as to permit the purchasing dealers to comply with their primary delivery obligations to their own customers. Finally, the rule provides that a dealer that prepares an official statement in final form on behalf of an issuer while serving in the capacity of financial advisor to such issuer must make the official statement available to the underwriters promptly after the issuer approves its distribution. Compliance with each prong of the rule is crucial to ensure that the primary purpose of the rule is fulfilled.

New Issue Municipal Securities and the Underwriting Period

Rule G-32 applies to the sale of all new issue municipal securities. These are defined in section (c)(i)[*] as any municipal securities (other than commercial paper[4]) that are sold by any dealer during the issue’s underwriting period. Once the underwriting period has ended for an issue of municipal securities, the requirements of rule G-32 no longer apply to transactions in such municipal securities.

The underwriting period for an issue of municipal securities begins with the first submission to the underwriters of an order from a potential customer to purchase the securities or the purchase by the underwriters of the securities from the issuer (i.e., the execution of the purchase contract in a negotiated sale or the award of the securities in a competitive sale), whichever occurs first. The underwriting period ends upon delivery by the issuer of the securities to the underwriters (i.e., the bond closing) if the underwriters no longer retain an unsold balance at such time. If, however, the issue is not sold out by the bond closing, the underwriting period continues until the underwriters no longer retain an unsold balance; provided that, in the case of an issue underwritten by a sole underwriter, if the bond closing has occurred and the underwriter retains an unsold balance 21 calendar days after the first submission of an order, the underwriting period nonetheless ends after such 21st day.[5]

delivery obligationS to customers

A dealer selling new issue municipal securities to a customer is required to deliver (not merely send) certain information to such customer prior to settlement of the transaction. The Board has previously noted that the required information will be presumed to have been delivered to the customer if it was sent at least three business days prior to settlement.[6]

Official Statements. With only two exceptions, a dealer violates section (a) of rule G-32 if it sells, either as principal or agent, a new issue municipal security to a customer but fails to deliver an official statement in final form[7] to such customer by no later than settlement of that transaction. Dealers should note that this obligation differs from the obligation imposed by SEC Rule 15c2-12(b)(4) in that rule G-32 mandates that any dealer selling new issue municipal securities (not just participating underwriters of the offering) must deliver (not just send) the official statement to the customer by settlement, regardless of whether the customer has requested a copy of the official statement.[8]

The first exception under rule G-32 arises where the issuer is not preparing an official statement in final form. In that case, the dealer must deliver to the customer by no later than settlement a written notice that an official statement in final form is not being prepared, together with a copy of a preliminary official statement, if one has been prepared.[9] This exception is not available in cases where the official statement in final form is in the process of being prepared but is not yet available at the time that a dealer wishes to settle a transaction with a customer. Thus, in such a case, a dealer would violate rule G-32(a) by settling a customer transaction without delivery of the official statement in final form, even if a preliminary official statement is delivered by settlement and the official statement in final form is delivered to the customer as soon as it becomes available.

The second exception applies solely to municipal securities issued a primary offering that qualifies for the exemption set forth in SEC Rule 15c2-12(d)(1)(iii) (Exempt VRDOs),[10] but only if an official statement in final form is being prepared.[11] This exception permits a dealer to deliver a preliminary official statement to a customer by settlement in substitution for the official statement in final form so long as (1) the dealer provides written notice to the customer by settlement that the official statement in final form will be sent within one business day following its receipt by the dealer and (2) the dealer sends the official statement in final form to the customer within one business day of its receipt.[12] The Board believes, however, that if the official statement in final form is available in sufficient time to permit delivery to the customer by settlement, it would be in the dealer’s best interest to make such delivery by settlement, as it would be required to do for any other new issue municipal securities. This would permit the dealer to satisfy its delivery obligation with a single delivery of the official statement in final form, rather than two separate deliveries of the preliminary and final official statements, thereby reducing the dealer’s compliance burden.[13]

Additional Disclosures for Negotiated Underwritings . Where the underwriters have purchased an issue of municipal securities from the issuer in a negotiated sale, any dealer (not just syndicate or selling group members) selling such securities to a customer during the underwriting period is required to deliver to such customer prior to settlement, in addition to the official statement, information concerning (A) the underwriting spread;[14] (B) the amount of any fee received by such dealer as agent for the issuer in the distribution of the securities, if applicable;[15] and (C) the initial offering price for each maturity in the issue, including the initial offering price of maturities that are not reoffered.[16] The obligation to make these further disclosures may be satisfied by inclusion by the issuer of such information in the official statement in final form and the delivery of such official statement to the customer by settlement. However, should the issuer elect not to include any such information in the official statement or if an official statement that includes this information is not delivered to the customer by settlement, a dealer selling such securities during the underwriting period must nevertheless provide such information in writing to the customer by settlement (for example, in a confirmation or other writing delivered to the customer by settlement). For example, if a dealer delivers a preliminary official statement to a customer at settlement for a new issue Exempt VRDO and any of the required disclosure information is left blank or is noted as preliminary and subject to change (with the expectation of the information being completed or finalized in the official statement in final form to be delivered after settlement), then disclosure of such information would be required in a separate writing delivered at or prior to settlement.

DELIVERY OBLIGATIONS TO PURCHASING DEALERS

Dealers selling new issue municipal securities to other dealers, and dealers serving as managing or sole underwriters for such new issues, are also required to deliver the official statement and the additional disclosures for negotiated underwritings, if applicable, to dealers purchasing such securities during the underwriting period.

Obligations of Selling Dealers. If a dealer sells a new issue municipal security to another dealer, the selling dealer is obligated under rule G-32(a)[†] to send to the purchasing dealer, upon request, (i) the official statement in final form (or if no official statement in final form is being prepared, a written notice to that effect, together with a copy of a preliminary official statement, if one has been prepared) and (ii) if the underwriters originally purchased the securities from the issuer in a negotiated sale, the additional disclosures described above required in connection with a negotiated underwriting. The official statement and the additional disclosures related to negotiated underwritings, if applicable, must be sent by the selling dealer to the purchasing dealer within one business day of the purchasing dealer’s request, provided that, if the official statement in final form is being prepared but has not yet been received from the issuer or its agent, then the official statement in final form and the additional disclosures must be sent no later than the business day following such receipt.[17] These items must be sent by first class mail or other equally prompt means, unless the purchasing dealer arranges some other method of delivery and pays or agrees to pay for such alternate delivery method. This obligation applies with respect to all requests to a selling dealer made by a dealer purchasing new issue municipal securities from such selling dealer during the underwriting period, even where the selling dealer did not participate as a syndicate or selling group member for the underwriting of the new issue municipal securities.

Obligations of Managing and Sole Underwriters . If an official statement in final form is prepared in connection with an issue of municipal securities, the dealer serving as managing underwriter or sole underwriter for such issue is obligated under rule G-32(b)(i)[‡] to send to any dealer purchasing such securities during the underwriting period, upon request, (i) one copy of the official statement in final form plus one additional copy per $100,000 par value purchased by such purchasing dealer for resale to customers and (ii) if the underwriters originally purchased the securities from the issuer in a negotiated sale, the required additional disclosures. Managing and sole underwriters also are required to provide purchasing dealers, upon request, with instructions on how to order copies of the official statement in final form from the printer. The official statement and the additional disclosures related to negotiated underwritings, if applicable, must be sent by the managing or sole underwriter to the purchasing dealer within one business day of the purchasing dealer’s request, provided that, if the official statement in final form is being prepared but has not yet been received from the issuer or its agent,[18] then the official statement in final form and the additional disclosures must be sent no later than the business day following such receipt. These items must be sent by first class mail or other equally prompt means, unless the purchasing dealer arranges some other method of delivery and pays or agrees to pay for such alternate delivery method. This obligation applies with respect to all requests to the managing or sole underwriter made by purchasing dealers during the underwriting period, even where the managing or sole underwriter did not sell the new issue municipal securities to the purchasing dealer.

Obligations of Dealers Acting as Financial Advisors . Rule G-32(b)(ii)[#] provides that, if a dealer that acts as financial advisor to an issuer prepares an official statement in final form on behalf of such issuer, such dealer must make that official statement available to the managing or sole underwriter promptly after the issuer approves distribution of the official statement in final form. This provision is designed to ensure that, once the official statement is completed and approved by the issuer for distribution, dealers acting as financial advisors will be obligated to commence the dissemination process promptly.[19]

Implications for Inter-Dealer Dissemination . The provisions of rule G-32 relating to dissemination among dealers of official statements and the additional disclosures related to negotiated underwritings is designed to ensure that a dealer selling a new issue municipal security to a customer has a reliable and timely source for obtaining such items for delivery to the customer by settlement. In the case of a syndicate member that purchases a new issue municipal security in an underwriting, the rule, in conjunction with The Bond Market Association’s Standard Agreement Among Underwriters, will effectively obligate the managing underwriter to send the official statement in final form (in the required quantity) and the additional disclosures to the syndicate member within one business day of its receipt from the issuer.[20] If for any reason such syndicate member needs to obtain a copy of the official statement more rapidly than by means of first class mail, it may arrange with the managing underwriter for delivery of the official statement by an alternate means so long as the requesting syndicate member covers the cost of such delivery.

For a non-syndicate member that purchases a new issue municipal security from the syndicate or from any other dealer, both the dealer that sold the security to the non-syndicate member and the managing or sole underwriter is obligated, if requested by such non-syndicate member, to send the official statement in final form and the additional disclosures within one business day of such request. If for any reason such non-syndicate member needs to obtain a copy of the official statement more rapidly than by means of first class mail, it may arrange with the dealer that is fulfilling the request for delivery of the official statement by an alternate means so long as the requesting non-syndicate member covers the cost of such delivery. Dealers purchasing new issue municipal securities from another dealer are advised that the obligation of the selling dealer or of the managing or sole underwriter to send an official statement to such purchasing dealer only takes effect upon the request of the purchasing dealer. Therefore, unless the purchasing dealer already has a copy of the official statement or has an alternate source for receiving it and the additional disclosures, such dealer will need to take the affirmative step of requesting such items from the selling dealer or the managing or sole underwriter.

A dealer that sells a new issue municipal security to a customer is not relieved of its obligation to deliver by settlement the official statement in final form and the additional disclosures related to negotiated underwriters because either the dealer from which it acquired the security or the managing or sole underwriter for the issue fails to fulfill its obligation to send these items to such dealer upon request. Such dealer may need to obtain the official statement in final form from other available sources. Such other sources of official statements include, but are not limited to, the nationally recognized municipal securities information repositories, other information vendors, or the Board’s Municipal Securities Information Library® (MSIL®) system.[21] Similarly, a managing or sole underwriter or a dealer selling a new issue municipal security cannot fulfill its obligation to send the official statement in final form and the additional disclosures to a purchasing dealer upon request by referring such dealer to such other sources of official statements.

RECORDKEEPING

Rule G-8(a)(xiii) requires that each dealer make and keep a record of all deliveries of official statements and of the additional disclosures related to negotiated underwritings made to purchasers of new issue municipal securities.[22] Although the rule does not obligate a dealer to maintain such records in any given manner, such records must provide an adequate basis for the audit of such information. To this end, NASD Regulation, Inc. has noted:

Some firms establish a file containing a copy of the customer’s new issue municipal purchase confirmation and/or a mailing label to demonstrate compliance with Rule G-8. However, NASD Regulation does not view this approach as adequately demonstrating compliance with MSRB Rule G-8. Instead, an adequate record of the delivery of new issue municipal securities disclosure information should, at a minimum, contain the following:

  • customer name;

  • security description;

  • settlement date(s);

  • type of disclosure sent (preliminary or final Official Statement);

  • date the required disclosure was sent;

  • and name of person(s) sending the disclosures.

At times, a firm assigns the new issue municipal securities disclosure function to a third party vendor. As a result, the member [dealer] does not maintain “a record of delivery” of the new issue disclosure. Nevertheless, from a regulatory perspective, the firm remains fully responsible for disclosure. When firms have assigned the new issue disclosure function to a third party, NASD Regulation expects that the compliance review process will include, at a minimum, periodic test to assure that the new issue disclosures are being made at or before settlement.[23]

Dealers should consult with the applicable enforcement agency regarding the adequacy of their recordkeeping under rule G-8(a)(xiii).


[1] See MSRB Reports, Vol. 18, No. 2 (Aug. 1998) at 15-17.

[2] See MSRB Reports, Vol. 18, No. 2 (Aug. 1998) at 19-21.

[3 ] See MSRB Reports, Vol. 17, No. 2 (June 1997) at 23-24; see also NASD Regulation, Inc., “Municipal Securities Update – Disclosure to Purchasers of New Issue Securities,” Regulatory & Compliance Alert, Vol. 12, No. 3 (Sept. 1998) at 19-20.

[4] The exception for commercial paper applies solely to true commercial paper issues (i.e., not to variable rate demand obligations with a nominal long maturity and having a so-called “commercial paper” mode).

[5] See rules G-32(c)(ii) [currently codified at rule G-32(d)(ii)] and G-11(a)(ix).

[6] See MSRB Reports, Vol. 7, No. 2 (March 1987) at 12.

[7] Rule G-32 defines official statement as a document prepared by the issuer or its representatives setting forth, among other matters, information concerning the issuer and the proposed issue of securities. This definition is, of necessity, broader than the definition set forth in SEC Rule 15c2-12(f)(3) for the term “final official statement” since rule G-32 applies to all issues of municipal securities (other than commercial paper issues), not just those issues subject to SEC Rule 15c2-12. However, the Board believes that, in the case of new issue municipal securities subject to SEC Rule 15c2-12, the official statement in final form for purposes of rule G-32 would be the same as the final official statement for purposes of SEC Rule 15c2-12.

[8 ] SEC Rule 15c2-12(b)(4) provides that an underwriter participating in an offering subject to the Rule must send a copy of the final official statement to a potential customer within one business day of a request until the earlier of (i) 90 days from the end of the underwriting period or (ii) the time when the official statement is available from a nationally recognized municipal securities information repository, but in no case less than 25 days following the end of the underwriting period.

[9] Since SEC Rule 15c2-12(3) provides that an underwriter participating in an offering subject to the Rule must contract with the issuer to receive final official statements, the Board expects that a final official statement will be prepared for all such offerings and therefore delivery of preliminary official statements for such issues would never satisfy the delivery obligation under rule G-32(a).

[10] A primary offering qualifies for this exemption if the municipal securities are in authorized denominations of $100,000 or more and, at the option of the holder thereof, may be tendered to the issuer or its designated agent for redemption or purchase at par value or more at least as frequently as every nine months until maturity, earlier redemption or purchase by the issuer or its designated agent.

[11] If an official statement in final form is not being prepared, then the first exception described above would apply.

[12] See MSRB Reports, Vol. 18, No. 2 (Aug. 1998) at 15-17. If no preliminary official statement is prepared for such issue, then the dealer must still provide written notice by settlement that an official statement in final form will be sent within one business day of receipt.

[13] In addition, ensuring that the official statement in final form, rather than merely the preliminary official statement, is in the possession of the customer by settlement may help to avoid potential liabilities that could result if there are any material differences between the preliminary official statement and the official statement in final form. The fact that rule G-32 permits a dealer to deliver the preliminary official statement, rather than the official statement in final form, to a customer by settlement in this specific situation does not in any way limit or reduce the dealer’s disclosure obligations under the federal securities laws, including in particular the dealer’s obligation under rule G-17 to disclose, at or before execution of a transaction, all material facts concerning the transaction which could affect the customer’s investment decision and not omit any material facts which would render other statements misleading.

[14] This provision obligates a dealer to disclose the gross spread (i.e., the difference between the initial offering price and the amount paid to the issuer), expressed either in dollars or points per bond. The underwriting spread may be shown either as a total amount or as a listing of the components of the gross spread. If components of the gross spread are listed, that portion of the proceeds which represents compensation to the underwriters must be clearly identified as such. For example, the Board believes that use of the terms “underwriters’ discount” or “net to underwriters” would be acceptable but that the term “bond discount” is confusing and, therefore, inappropriate. See MSRB Reports, Vol. 7, No. 2 (March 1987) at 13.

[15] If no fee is received by the dealer for acting as an agent for the issuer in the distribution of the securities, the dealer need not affirmatively state that no such fee was received but may instead omit any statement regarding such fee.

[16] The initial offering price may be expressed either in terms of dollar price or yield.

[17] Thus, if a purchasing dealer requests a copy of the official statement in final form from a selling dealer before the issuer has delivered the official statement to the underwriters, then the obligation of the selling dealer to send the official statement is deferred until the business day after the underwriters receive the official statement from the issuer.

[18] The Board is of the view that an underwriter that prepares an official statement on behalf of an issuer would be deemed to have received the official statement from the issuer immediately upon such issuer approving the distribution of the completed official statement in final form (i.e., when the issuer releases the completed official statement for distribution).

[19] The Board urges issuers that utilize the services of non-dealer financial advisors to hold such financial advisors to the same standards for prompt delivery of official statements to the underwriters.

[20] The Bond Market Association’s Standard Agreement Among Underwriters provides that syndicate members must place orders for the official statement by the business day following the date of execution of the purchase contract and states that any syndicate member that fails to place such an order will be assumed to have requested the quantity required under rule G-32(b)(i) [currently codified at rule G-32(c)(i)]. See The Bond Market Association, Agreement Among Underwriters – Instructions, Terms and Acceptance (Oct. 1, 1997) at ¶ 3. Thus, except in the rare instances where an official statement in final form is completed and available for distribution on the date of sale, syndicate members will have made or have been deemed to have made their requests for official statements by the time the managing underwriter receives the official statement from the issuer, thereby obligating the managing underwriter to send the official statement to syndicate members within one business day of receipt.

[21] Municipal Securities Information Library and MSIL are registered trademarks of the Board.

[22] Rule G-9(b)(x) provides that these records must be preserved for a period of not less than 3 years.

[23] NASD Regulation, Inc., “Municipal Securities Update – Disclosure to Purchasers of New Issue Securities,” Regulatory & Compliance Alert, Vol. 12, No. 3 (Sept. 1998) at 19-20. The views of the bank regulatory agencies regarding adequacy of any particular recordkeeping practice for the purpose of demonstrating compliance with rule G-8 may differ.

[*]  [Currently codified at rule G-32(d)(i).]

[]  [Currently codified at rule G-32(b).]

[] [Currently codified at rule G-32(c)(i).]

[#]  [Currently codified at rule G-32(c)(ii).]

Interpretive Guidance - Interpretive Letters
Publication date:
Disclosure obligations

Disclosure obligations. This is in response to your letters dated March 18, 1998 and March 31, 1998 in which you present an example where a dealer advertises a specific municipal security which it knows, or has reason to know, is subject to a material adverse circumstance such as a technical default. You ask whether a dealer is obligated to include disclosure information indicating that a bond is subject to additional risk in order to avoid publishing a false or misleading advertisement as prohibited by rule G-21(c).  The Board reviewed your letters and has authorized this response. 

Section (c) of rule G-21 provides, among other things, that no dealer shall publish any advertisement[1] concerning municipal securities which such dealer knows or has reason to know is materially false or misleading. The Board has previously interpreted the rule as not requiring that any specific statements or information be included in an advertisement but that any statement or information that is included must not be materially false or misleading.  Thus, if a dealer makes a statement in an advertisement that explicitly or implicitly refers to the soundness or safety of an investment in the municipal securities described in the advertisement, such dealer must include any information necessary to ensure that the advertisement is not materially false or misleading with respect to the soundness or safety of such investment. The rule establishes a general ethical standard that provides the enforcement agencies with the flexibility that is needed to evaluate advertisements in light of what information is printed and how the information physically is presented.  Thus, the enforcement agencies should continue to evaluate advertisements on a case-by-case basis to make a determination whether any such advertisements, in fact, are misleading. 

You also ask whether the relative specificity of any such disclosure obligation that may exist depends on the level of detail provided about the municipal security. As stated above, rule G-21 does not require that any specific statements or information be included in an advertisement but that any statement or information that is included must not be materially false or misleading. Thus, the nature and extent of any disclosures or other explanatory statements that must be included in an advertisement is dependent upon the substance and form of the information presented in the advertisement.

The Board wishes to emphasize that the enforcement agencies should remain cognizant of certain other rules of the Board that may be relevant in evaluating whether a dealer's advertisement and such dealer's interactions with customers or potential customers that arise as a result of such advertisement are in conformity with Board rules. Thus, depending upon the facts and circumstances, an advertisement for a particular municipal security that on its face conforms with the requirements of rule G-21 may nonetheless be violative of rule G-17, the Board's fair dealing rule,[2] if, for example, the advertisement is designed as a “bait-and-switch” mechanism that attracts potential customers interested in an advertised security that the dealer is not in a legitimate position to sell (because of its unavailability, unsuitability or otherwise) for the primary purpose of creating a captive audience for the offering of other securities. In addition, a dealer that in fact sells the municipal securities that are described in its advertisement must fulfill its obligations  under rule G-19, on suitability, and rule G-30, on pricing. MSRB interpretation of May 21, 1998.


[1] “Advertisement” is defined in rule G-21 as any material (other than listings of offerings) published or designed for use in the public, including electronic, media, or any promotional literature designed for dissemination to the public, including any notice, circular, report, market letter, form letter, telemarketing script or reprint or excerpt of the foregoing. The term does not apply to preliminary official statements or official statements, but does apply to abstracts or summaries of official statements, offering circulars and other such similar documents prepared by dealers. 

[2] Rule G-17 requires each dealer, in the conduct of its municipal securities business, to deal fairly with all persons and prohibits the dealer from engaging in any deceptive, dishonest or unfair practice.

Interpretive Guidance - Interpretive Letters
Publication date:
Purchase of New Issue From Issuer
Rule Number:

Rule G-17

Purchase of new issue from issuer. This is in response to your letter in which you ask whether Board rule G-17, on fair dealing, or any other rule, regulation or federal law, requires an underwriter to purchase a bond issue from a municipal securities issuer at a “fair price.”

Rule G-17 states that, 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. Thus, the rule requires dealers to deal fairly with issuers in connection with the underwriting of their municipal securities.  Whether or not an underwriter has dealt fairly with an issuer is dependent upon the facts and circumstances of an underwriting and cannot be addressed simply by virtue of the price of the issue. For example, in a competitive underwriting where an issuer reserves the right to reject all bids, a dealer submits a bid at a net interest cost it believes will enable it to successfully market the issue to investors. One could not view a dealer as having violated rule G-17 just because it did not submit a bid that the issuer considers fair. On the other hand, when a dealer is negotiating the underwriting of municipal securities, a dealer has an obligation to negotiate in good faith with the issuer. If the dealer represents to the issuer that it is providing the best market price available on this issue, and this is not the case, the dealer may violate rule G-17. Also, if the dealer knows the issuer is unsophisticated or otherwise depending on the dealer as its sole source of market information, the dealer’s duty under rule G-17 is to ensure that the issuer is treated fairly, specifically in light of the relationship of reliance that exists between the issuer and the underwriter. MSRB interpretation of December 1, 1997.

Interpretive Guidance - Interpretive Notices
Publication date:
Syndicate Expenses: Per Bond Fee for Bookrunning Expenses
Rule Number:

Rule G-11, Rule G-17

Board rule G-11, concerning syndicate practices, among other things, requires syndicates to establish priorities for different categories of orders and requires certain disclosures to syndicate members which are intended to assure that allocations are made in accordance with those priorities. In addition, the rule requires that the manager provide certain accounting information to syndicate members. In particular, rule G-11(h)(i) provides that: "Discretionary fees for clearance costs to be imposed by a syndicate manager and management fees shall be disclosed to syndicate members prior to the submission of a bid, in the case of a competitive sale, or prior to the execution of a purchase contract with the issuer, in the case of a negotiated sale.[1] The purpose of this provision is to provide information useful to syndicate members in determining whether to participate in a syndicate account. The rule also requires that the senior syndicate manager, at or before final settlement of a syndicate account, furnish to the syndicate members "an itemized statement setting for the nature and amount of all actual expenses incurred on behalf of the syndicate." One of the purposes of this section is to render managers accountable for their handling of syndicate funds.

The Board has received inquiries regarding the appropriateness of a per-bond fee for the bookrunning expenses or management fees of the senior syndicate manager. Discretionary fees for clearance costs and management fees may be expressed as a per-bond charge. These expenses, however, must be disclosed to members prior to the submission of a bid or prior to the execution of a purchase contract with the issuer; for example, in the Agreement Among Underwriters. The itemized statement setting forth a detailed breakdown of actual expenses incurred on behalf of the syndicate, such as advertising, printing, legal, computer services, etc., must be disclosed to syndicate members at or before final settlement of the syndicate account. With respect to these fees, the Board has previously noted that managers who assess a per-bond charge for designated sales may be acting in violation of rule G-17 if the expenses charged to members bear no relation to or otherwise overstate the actual expenses incurred on behalf of the syndicate. [2] The Board believes a per-bond fee creates the appearance that it is not an actual expense related to and incurred on behalf of the syndicate.

The Board is concerned about the charging of syndicate expenses and compliance with rule G-11. Managers should exercise care in accounting for syndicate funds, and any charge that has not been disclosed to members prior to the submission of a bid or prior to the execution of a purchase contract may be charged to syndicate members only if it is an actual expense incurred on behalf of the syndicate. The Board will continue to monitor syndicate practices and will notify the appropriate enforcement agency of any complaints it receives in this area. Syndicate members are encouraged to notify directly the appropriate enforcement agency of any violations of these provisions.


 

[1] The rule defines management fees to include, "in addition to amounts categorized as management fees by the syndicate manager, any amount to be realized by a syndicate manager, and not shared with the other members of the syndicate, which is attributable to the difference in price to be paid to an issuer for the purchase of a new issue of municipal securities and the price at which such securities are to be delivered by the syndicate manager to the members of the syndicate."

[2] Syndicate Managers Charging Excessive Fees for Designated Sales (July 29, 1985), [reprinted in MSRB Reports, Vol. 7, No. 2 (March 1987) at 5].

Interpretive Guidance - Interpretive Notices
Publication date:
Transactions in Municipal Securities with Non-Standard Features Affecting Price/Yield Calculations

Rule G-15(a) generally requires that confirmations of municipal securities transactions with customers state a dollar price and yield for the transaction. Thus, for transactions executed on a dollar price basis, a yield must be calculated; for transactions executed on a yield basis, a dollar price must be calculated. Rule G-33 provides the standard formulae for making these price/yield calculations.

It has come to the Board’s attention that certain municipal securities have been issued in recent years with features that do not fall within any of the standard formulae and assumptions in rule G-33, nor within the calculation formulae available through the available settings on existing bond calculators. For example, an issue may have first and last coupon periods that are longer than the standard coupon period of six months.

With respect to some municipal securities issues with non-standard features, industry members have agreed to certain conventions regarding price/yield calculations. For example, one of the available bond calculator setting might be used for the issue, even though the calculator setting does not provide a formula specifically designed to account for the non–standard feature. In such cases, anomalies may result in the price/yield calculations. The anomalies may appear when the calculations are compared to those using more sophisticated actuarial techniques or when the calculations are compared to those of other securities that are similar, but that do not have the non–standard feature.

The Board reminds dealers that, under rule G-17, dealers have the obligation to explain all material facts about a transaction to a customer buying or selling a municipal security. Dealers should take particular effort to ensure that customers are aware of any non-standard feature of a security. If price/yield calculations are affected by anomalies due to a non-standard feature, this may also constitute a material fact about the transaction that must be disclosed to the customer.

Interpretive Guidance - Interpretive Notices
Publication date:
Notice Concerning Syndicate Expenses
Rule Number:

Rule G-11, Rule G-17

Board rule G-11, concerning syndicate practices, among other things, requires syndicates to establish priorities for different categories of orders and requires certain disclosures to syndicate members which are intended to assure that allocations are made in accordance with those priorities. Rule G-11(h)(i) requires that a senior syndicate manager, at or before final settlement of a syndicate account, furnish to syndicate members "an itemized statement setting forth the nature and amount of all actual expenses incurred on behalf of the syndicate." One of the purposes of this section is to render managers accountable for their handling of syndicate funds.

Over the years, the Board, pursuant to rule G-11 and rule G-17, on fair dealing, has urged syndicate managers to provide members with a clear and accurate itemized statement of all actual expenses incurred in the underwriting of each issue. In a 1984 notice, the Board stated that expense items must be sufficiently described to make the expenditures readily understandable by syndicate members, and that generalized categories of expenses are not sufficient if they do not portray the specific nature of the expenses. [1] In 1985, the Board issued a notice specifically warning managers to take care in determining actual syndicate expenses, and noting that managers may violate rule G-17 if the expenses charged to syndicate members bear no relation to, or otherwise overstate, the actual expenses incurred. [2] And in 1987, in response to industry complaints concerning the amount of syndicate expenses charged by managers, the Board issued another notice reiterating that Board rules prohibit managers from overstating actual syndicate expenses. [3]

The Board wishes to reiterate its interpretation of rules G-11 and G-17 that syndicate expenses charged to members must be clearly identified and must be the actual expenses incurred on behalf of the syndicate. [4] The Board continues to be concerned over the number of complaints about syndicate managers who may be charging expenses that are overstated or excessive, particularly with respect to clearance fees for designated sales and computer expenses. Board rules specifically prohibit managers from overstating actual syndicate expenses.

The Board urges syndicate members to report possible overstatements of syndicate expenses and other problems in compliance with rule G-11(h)(i). The Board will continue to monitor this situation, and will refer any complaints it receives in this area to the appropriate enforcement agencies. In addition, the NASD has alerted the Board that it will accept telephone complaints or information from syndicate members who do not wish to reveal their identities.


[1] Notice Concerning Disclosure of Syndicate Expenses (January 12, 1984), [reprinted in MSRB Reports, Vol. 4, No. 1 (February 1984) at 9].

[2] Notice Concerning Syndicate Managers Charging Excessive Fees for Designated Sales (July 29, 1985), [reprinted in MSRB Reports, Vol. 5, No. 5 (August 1985) at 17].

[3] Notice Concerning Syndicate Expenses that Appear Excessive (March 3, 1987), [reprinted in MSRB Reports, Vol. 7, No. 2 (March 1987) at 5].

[4] See MSRB Reports, Vol. 5, No. 6 (November 1985)[at 5], and Vol. 5, No. 5 (August 1985)[at 5].

Interpretive Guidance - Interpretive Notices
Publication date:
Notice Concerning Securities that Prepay Principal
Rule Number:

Rule G-17, Rule G-47

The Board has become aware of several issues of municipal securities that prepay principal to the bondholders over the life of the issue. These securities are issued with a face value that equals the total principal amount of the securities. However, as the prepayment of principal to bondholders occurs over time, the "unpaid principal" associated with a given quantity of the securities become an increasingly lower percentage of the face amount. The Board believes that there is a possibility of confusion in transactions involving such securities, since most dealers and customers are accustomed to municipal securities in which the face amount always equals the principal amount that will be paid at maturity.

Because of the somewhat unusual nature of the securities, the Board believes that dealers should be alert to their disclosure responsibilities. For customer transactions, rule G-17 requires that the dealer disclose to its customer, at or prior to the time of trade, all material facts with respect to the proposed transaction. Because the prepayment of principal is a material feature of these securities, dealers must ensure that the customer knows that securities prepay principal. The dealer also must inform the customer of the amount of unpaid principal that will be delivered on the transaction.

For inter-dealer transactions, there is no specific requirement for a dealer to disclose all material facts to another dealer at time of trade. A selling dealer is not generally charged with the responsibility to ensure that the purchasing dealer knows all relevant features of the securities being offered for sale. The selling dealer may rely, at least to a reasonable extent, on the fact that the purchasing dealer is also a professional and will satisfy his need for information prior to entering into a contract for the securities. Nevertheless, it is possible that non-disclosure of an unusual feature such as principal prepayment might constitute an unfair practice and thus become a violation of rule G-17 even in an inter-dealer transaction. This would be especially true if the information about the prepayment feature is not accessible to the market and is intentionally withheld by the selling dealer. Whether or not non-disclosure constitutes an unfair practice in a specific case would depend upon the individual facts of the case. However, to avoid trade disputes and settlement delays in inter-dealer transactions, it generally is in dealers’ interest to reach specific agreement on the existence of any prepayment feature and the amount of unpaid principal that will be delivered.

Interpretive Guidance - Interpretive Notices
Publication date:
Notice of Interpretation on Escrowed-to-Maturity Securities: Rules G-17, G-12 and G-15

The Board is concerned that the market for escrowed-to-maturity securities has been disrupted by uncertainty whether these securities may be called pursuant to optional redemption provisions. Accordingly, the Board has issued the following interpretations of rule G-17, on fair dealing, and rules G-12(c) and G-15(a), on confirmation disclosure, concerning escrowed-to-maturity securities. The interpretations are effective immediately.

Background

Traditionally, the term escrowed-to-maturity has meant that such securities are not subject to optional redemption prior to maturity. Investors and market professionals have relied on this understanding in their purchases and sales of such securities. Recently, certain issuers have attempted to call escrowed-to-maturity securities. As a result, investors and market professionals considering transactions in escrowed-to-maturity securities must review the documents for the original issue, for any refunding issue, as well as the escrow agreement and state law, to determine whether any optional redemption provisions apply. In addition, the Board understands that there is uncertainly as to the fair market price of such securities which may cause harm to investors.

On March 17, 1987, the Board sent letters to the Public Securities Association, the Government Finance Officers Association and the National Association of Bond Lawyers expressing its concern. The Board stated that it is essential that issuers, when applicable, expressly note in official statements and defeasance notices relating to escrowed-to-maturity securities whether they have reserved the right to call such securities. It stated that the absence of such express disclosure would raise concerns whether the issuer’s disclosure documents adequately explain the material features of the issue and would severely damage investor confidence in the municipal securities market. Although the Board has no rulemaking authority over issuers, it advised brokers, dealers and municipal securities dealers (dealers) that assist issuers in preparing disclosure documents for escrowed-to-maturity securities to alert these issuers of the need to disclose whether they have reserved the right to call the securities since such information is material to a customer’s investment decision about the securities and to the efficient trading of such securities.

Application of Rule G-17 on Fair Dealing

In the intervening months since the Board’s letter, the Board has continued to receive inquiries from market participants concerning the callability of escrowed-to-maturity securities. Apparently, some dealers now are describing all escrowed-to-maturity securities as callable and there is confusion how to price such securities. In order to avoid confusion with respect to issues that might be escrowed-to-maturity in the future, the Board is interpreting rule G-17, on fair dealing,[1] to require that municipal securities dealers that assist in the preparation of refunding documents as underwriters or financial advisors alert issuers of the materiality of information relating to the callability of escrowed-to-maturity securities. Accordingly, such dealers must recommend that issuers clearly state when the refunded securities will be redeemed and whether the issuer reserves the option to redeem the securities prior to their maturity.

Application of Rules G-12(c) and G-15(a) on Confirmation Disclosure of Escrowed-to-Maturity Securities

Rules G-12(c)(vi)(E) and G-15(a)(iii)(E)[*] require dealers to disclose on inter-dealer and customer confirmations, respectively, whether the securities are "called" or "prerefunded," the date of maturity which has been fixed by the call notice, and the call price. The Board has stated that this paragraph would require, in the case of escrowed-to-maturity securities, a statement to that effect (which would also meet the requirement to state "the date of maturity which has been fixed") and the amount to be paid at redemption. In addition, rules G-12(c)(v)(E) and G-15(a)(i)(E)[†] require dealers to note on confirmations if securities are subject to redemption prior to maturity (callable).

The Board understands that dealers traditionally have used the term escrowed-to-maturity only for non-callable advance refunded issues the proceeds of which are escrowed to original maturity date or for escrowed-to-maturity issues with mandatory sinking fund calls. To avoid confusion in the use of the term escrowed-to-maturity, the Board has determined that dealers should use the term escrowed-to-maturity to describe on confirmations only those issues with no optional redemption provisions expressly reserved in escrow and refunding documents. Escrowed-to-maturity issues with no optional or mandatory call features must be described as "escrowed-to-maturity." Escrowed-to-maturity issues subject to mandatory sinking fund calls must be described as "escrowed-to-maturity" and "callable." If an issue is advance refunded to the original maturity date, but the issuer expressly reserves optional redemption features, the security should be described on confirmations as "escrowed (or prerefunded) to [the actual maturity date]" and "callable."[2]

The Board believes that the use of different terminology to describe advance refunded issues expressly subject to optional calls will better alert dealers and customers to this important aspect of certain escrowed issues.[3]


 

[1] Rule G-17 states that "[i]n 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] This terminology also would be used for any issue prerefunded to a call date, with an earlier optional call expressly reserved.

[3] The Board believes that, because of the small number of advance refunded issues that expressly reserve the right of the issuer to call the issue pursuant to an optional redemption provision, confirmation systems should be able to be programmed for use of the new terminology without delay.

[*] [Currently codified at rule G-15(a)(i)(C)(3)(a). See also current rule G-15(a)(i)(C)(3)(b).]

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

Interpretive Guidance - Interpretive Notices
Publication date:
Notice of Interpretation Requiring Dealers to Submit to Arbitration as a Matter of Fair Dealing
Rule Number:

Rule G-17, Rule G-35

Section 2 of the Board’s Arbitration Code, rule G-35, requires all dealers to submit to arbitration at the instance of a customer or another dealer. From time to time, a dealer will refuse to submit to arbitration or will delay or even refuse to make payment of an award. Such acts constitute violations of rule G-35. The Board believes that it is a violation of rule G-17, on fair dealing, for a broker, dealer or municipal securities dealer or its associated persons to fail to submit to arbitration as required by Rule G-35, or to fail to comply with the procedures therein, including the production of documents, or to fail to honor an award of arbitrators unless a timely motion to vacate the award has been made according to applicable law.[1]


 

[1] A party typically has 90 days to seek judicial review of an arbitration award; after that the award cannot be challenged. Challenges to arbitration awards are heard only in limited, egregious circumstances such as fraud or collusion on the part of the arbitrators.

Interpretive Guidance - Interpretive Letters
Publication date:
Disclosure of Pricing: Calculating the Dollar Price of Partially Prerefunded Bonds

Disclosure of pricing: calculating the dollar price of partially prerefunded bonds. This is in response to your March 21, 1986 letter concerning the application of Board rules to the description of municipal securities provided at or prior to the time of trade and the application of rules G-12(c) and G-15(a) on calculating the dollar price of partially prerefunded bonds with mandatory sinking fund calls.

You describe an issue, due 10/1/13. Mandatory sinking fund calls for this issue begin 10/1/05 and end 10/1/13. Recently, a partial refunding took place which prerefunds the 2011, 2012 and 2013 mandatory sinking fund requirements totalling $11,195,000 (which is 43.6% of the issue) to 10/1/94 at 102. The certificate numbers for the partial prerefunding will not be chosen until 30 days prior to the prerefunded date. Thus, a large percentage of the bonds are prerefunded and all the bonds will be redeemed by 10/1/10 because the 2011, 2012, and 2013 maturities no longer exist.

You note that the bonds should be described as partially prerefunded to 10/1/94 with a 10/1/10 maturity. Also, you state that the price of these securities should be calculated to the cheapest call, in this case, the partial prerefunded date of 10/1/94 at 102. You add that there is a 9½ point difference in price between calculating to maturity and to the partially prerefunded date.

You note that the descriptions you have seen on various brokers' wires do not accurately describe these securities and a purchaser of these bonds would not know what they bought if the purchase was based on current descriptions. You ask the Board to address the description and calculation problems posed by this issue.

Your letter was referred to a Committee of the Board which has responsibility for interpreting the Board's fair practice rules. That Committee has authorized this response.

Board rule G-17 provides that

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.

In regard to inter-dealer transactions, the items of information that professionals must exchange at or prior to the time of trade are governed by principles of contract law and essentially are those items necessary adequately to describe the security that is the subject of the contract. As a general matter, these items of information do not encompass all material facts, but should be sufficient to distinguish the security from other similar issues. The Board has interpreted rule G-17 to require dealers to treat other dealers fairly and to hold them to the prevailing ethical standards of the industry. [1] The rule also prohibits dealers from knowingly misdescribing securities to another dealer. [2]

Board rules G-12(c) and G-15(a) require that

where a transaction is effected on a yield basis, the dollar price shall be calculated to the lowest of price to call, price to par option, or price to maturity ...

In addition, for customer confirmations, rule G-15(a) requires that

for transactions effected on the basis of dollar price, ... the lowest of the resulting yield to call, yield to par option, or yield to maturity shall be shown....

These provisions also require, in cases in which the resulting dollar price or yield shown on the confirmation is calculated to call or par option, that this must be stated and the call or option date and price used in the calculation must be shown. The Board has determined that, for purposes of making this computation, only "in-whole" calls should be used. [3] This requirement reflects the longstanding practice of the municipal securities industry that a price calculated to an "in-part" call, for example, a partial prerefunding date, is not adequate because, depending on the probability of the call provision being exercised and the portion of the issue subject to the call provision, the effective yield based on the price to a partial prerefunding date may not bear any relation to the likely return on the investment.

These provisions of Rules G-12(c) and G-15(a) apply, however, only when the parties have not specified that the bonds are priced to a specific call date. In some circumstances, the parties to a particular transaction may agree that the transaction is effected on the basis of a yield to a particular date, e.g., a partial prerefunding date, and that the dollar price will be computed in this fashion. If that is the case, the yield to this agreed upon date must be included on confirmations as the yield at which the transaction was effected and the resulting dollar price computed to that date, together with a statement that it is a "yield to [date]." In an August 1979 interpretive notice on pricing of callable securities, the Board stated that, under rule G-30, a dealer pricing securities sold to a customer on the basis of a yield to a specified call feature should take into account the possibility that the call feature may not be exercised. [4]

Accordingly, the price to be paid by the customer should reflect this possibility, and the resulting yield to maturity should bear a reasonable relationship to yields on securities of similar quality and maturity. Failure to price securities in such a manner may constitute a violation of rule G-30 since the price may not be "fair and reasonable" in the event the call feature is not exercised. The Board also noted that the fact that a customer in these circumstances may realize a yield in excess of the yield at which the transaction was effected does not relieve a municipal securities dealer of its responsibilities under rule G-30.

Accordingly, the calculation of the dollar price of a transaction in the securities you describe, unless the parties have agreed otherwise, should be made to the lowest of price to the first in-whole call, par option, or maturity. While the partial prerefunding effectively redeems the issue by 10/1/10, the stated maturity of the bond is 10/1/13 and, subject to the parties agreeing to price to 10/1/10, the stated maturity date should be used. MSRB interpretation of May 15, 1986.


[1] In addition, the Board has interpreted this rule to require that, in connection with the purchase from or sale of a municipal security to a customer, at or before execution of the transaction, a dealer must disclose all material facts concerning the transaction which could affect the customer's investment decision, including a complete description of the security, and not omit any material facts which would render other statements misleading.

[2] While the Board does not have any specific disclosure requirements applicable to dealers at the time of trade, a dealer is free to disclose any unique aspect of an issue. For example, in the issue described above, a dealer may decide to disclose the "effective" maturity date of 2010, as well as the stated maturity date of 2013.

[3] See [Rule G-15 Interpretation - Notice Concerning Pricing to Call], December 10, 1980 ... at ¶ 3571.

[4] See [Rule G-30 Interpretation - Interpretive Notice on Pricing of Callable Securities] August 10, 1979 ... at ¶ 3646.

Interpretive Guidance - Interpretive Letters
Publication date:
Description Provided at or Prior to the Time of Trade
Rule Number:

Rule G-17, Rule G-47

Description provided at or prior to the time of trade. This is in response to your February 27, 1986 letter and our prior telephone conversation concerning the application of Board rules to the description of municipal securities exchanged at or prior to the time of trade. You note that it is becoming more and more common in the municipal securities secondary market for sellers, both dealers and customers, to provide only a “limited description” and CUSIP number for bonds being sold. Recently you were asked by a customer to bid on $4 million of bonds and were given the coupon, maturity date, and issuer. When you asked for more information, you were given the CUSIP number. You then bid on and purchased the bonds. After the bonds were confirmed, you discovered  that the bonds were callable and that, when these bonds first came to market, they were priced to the call. You state that the seller was aware that the bonds were callable.

Your letter was referred to a Committee of the Board which has responsibility for interpreting the Board’s fair practice rules. That Committee has authorized this response.

Board rule G-17 provides that

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. (emphasis added)

The Board has interpreted this rule to require that, in connection with the purchase from or sale of a municipal security to a customer, at or before execution of the transaction, a dealer must disclose all material facts concerning the transaction which could affect the customer’s investment decision and not omit any material facts which would render other statements misleading. The fact that a municipal security may be redeemed in-whole, in-part, or in extraordinary circumstances prior to maturity is essential to a customer’s investment decision and is one of the facts a dealer must disclose.

I note from our telephone conversation that you ask whether Board rules specify what information a customer must disclose to a dealer at the time it solicits bids to buy municipal securities. Customers are not subject to the Board’s rules, and no specific disclosure rules would apply to customers beyond the application of the anti-fraud provisions of the federal securities laws. I note, however, that a municipal securities professional buying securities from a customer should obtain sufficient information about the securities so that it can accurately describe these securities when the dealer reintroduces them into the market.

In regard to inter-dealer transactions, the items of information that professionals must exchange at or prior to the time of trade are governed by principles of contract law and essentially are those items necessary adequately to describe the security that is the subject of the contract. As a general matter, these items of information may not encompass all material facts, but must be sufficient to distinguish the security from other similar issues. The Board has interpreted rule G-17 to require dealers to treat other dealers fairly and to hold them to the prevailing ethical standards of the industry. Also, dealers may not knowingly misdescribe securities to another dealer. MSRB interpretation of April 30, 1986.

Interpretive Guidance - Interpretive Notices
Publication date:
Notice Concerning the Application of Board Rules to Put Option Bonds

The Board has received a number of inquiries from municipal securities brokers and dealers regarding the application of the Board’s rules to transactions in put option bonds. Put option or tender option bonds on new issue securities are obligations which grant the bondholder the right to require the issuer (or a specified third party acting as agent for the issuer), after giving required notice, to purchase the bonds, usually at par (the "strike price"), at a certain time or times prior to maturity (the "expiration date(s)") or upon the occurrence of specified events or conditions. Put options on secondary market securities also are coming into prominence. These instruments are issued by financial institutions and permit the purchaser to sell, after giving required notice, a specified amount of securities from a specified issue to the financial institution on certain expiration dates at the strike price. Put options generally are backed by letters of credit. Secondary market put options often are sold as an attachment to the security, and subsequently are transferred with that security. Frequently, however, the put option may be sold separately from that security and re-attached to other securities from the same issue.

Of course, the Board’s rules apply to put option bonds just as they apply to all other municipal securities. The Board, however, has issued a number of interpretive letters on the specific application of its rules to these types of bonds. These interpretive positions are reviewed below.

Fair Practice Rules

1. Rule G-17

Board rule G-17, regarding fair dealing, imposes an obligation on persons selling put option bonds to customers to disclose adequately all material information concerning these securities and the put features at the time of trade. In an interpretive letter on this issue,[1] the Board responded to the question whether a dealer who had previously sold put option securities to a customer would be obligated to contact that customer around the time the put option comes into effect to remind the customer that the put option is available. The Board stated that no Board rule would impose such an obligation on the dealer.

In addition, the Board was asked whether a dealer who purchased from a customer securities with a put option feature at the time of the put option exercise date at a price significantly below the put exercise price would be in violation of any Board rules. The Board responded that such dealer may well be deemed to be in violation of Board rules G-17 on fair dealing and G-30 on prices and commissions.

2. Rule G-25(b)

Board rule G-25(b) prohibits brokers, dealers, and municipal securities dealers from guaranteeing or offering to guarantee a customer against loss in municipal securities transactions. Under the rule, put options are not deemed to be guarantees against loss if their terms are provided in writing to the customer with or on the confirmation of the transaction and recorded in accordance with rule G-8(a)(v).[2] Thus, when a municipal securities dealer is the issuer of a secondary market put option on a municipal security, the terms of the put option must be included with or on customer confirmations of transactions in the underlying security. Dealers that sell bonds subject to put options issued by an entity other than the dealer would not be subject to this disclosure requirement.

Confirmation Disclosure Rules

1. Description of Security

Rules G-12(c)(v)(E) and G-15(a)(i)(E)[*] require inter-dealer and 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.

Confirmations of transactions in put option securities, therefore, would have to indicate the existence of the put option (e.g., by including the designation "puttable" on the confirmation), much as confirmations concerning callable securities must indicate the existence of the call feature. The confirmation need not set forth the specific details of the put option feature.[3]

Rules G-12(c)(v)(E) and G-15(a)(i)(E)[†] also require confirmations to contain

a description of the securities including at a minimum… if necessary for a materially complete description of the securities, the name of any company or other person in addition to the issuer obligated, directly or indirectly, with respect to debt service…

The Board has stated that a bank issuing a letter of credit which secures a put option feature on an issue is "obligated… with respect to debt service" on such issue. Thus, the identity of the bank issuing the letter of credit securing the put option also must be indicated on the confirmation.[4]

Finally, rules G-12(c)(v)(E) and G-15(a)(i)(E)[‡] requires that dealer and customer confirmations contain a description of the securities including, among other things, the interest rate on the bonds. The Board has interpreted this provision as it pertains to certain tender option bonds with adjustable tender fees to require that the net interest rate (i.e., the current effective interest rate taking into account the tender fee) be disclosed in the interest rate field and that dealers include elsewhere in the description field of the confirmation the stated interest rate with the phrase "less fee for put."[5]

2. Yield Disclosure

Board rule G-12(c)(v)(I) requires that inter-dealer confirmations include the

yield at which transaction was effected and resulting dollar price, except in the case of securities which are traded on the basis of dollar price or securities sold at par, in which event only dollar price need be shown (in cases in which securities are priced to call or to par option, this must be stated and the call or option date and price used in the calculation must be shown, and where a transaction is effected on a yield basis, the dollar price shall be calculated to the lowest of price to call, price to par option, or price to maturity);

Rule G-15(a)(i)(I)[#] requires that customer confirmations include information on yield and dollar price as follows:

(1) for transactions effected on a yield basis, the yield at which transaction was effected and the resulting dollar price shall be shown. Such dollar price shall be calculated to the lowest of price to call, price to par option, or price to maturity.

(2) for transactions effected on the basis of dollar price, the dollar price at which transaction was effected, and the lowest of the resulting yield to call, yield to par option, or yield to maturity shall be shown.

(3) for transactions at par, the dollar price shall be shown.

In cases in which the resulting dollar price or yield shown on the confirmation is calculated to call or par option, this must be stated, and the call or option date and price used in the calculation must be shown.

Neither of these rules requires the presentation of a yield or a dollar price computed to the put option date as a part of the standard confirmation process. In many circumstances, however, the parties to a particular transaction may agree that the transaction is effected on the basis of a yield to the put option date, and that the dollar price will be computed in this fashion. If that is the case, the yield to the put date must be included on confirmations as the yield at which the transaction was effected and the resulting dollar price computed to the put date, together with a statement that it is a "yield to the [date] put option" and an indication of the date the option first becomes available to the holder.[6] The requirement for transactions effected on a yield basis of pricing to the lowest of price to call, price to par option or price to maturity, applies only when the parties have not specified the yield on which the transaction is based.

In addition, in regard to transactions in tender option bonds with adjustable tender fees, even if the transaction is not effected on the basis of a yield to the tender date, dealers must include the yield to the tender date since an accurate yield to maturity cannot be calculated for these securities because of the yearly adjustment in tender fees.[7]

Delivery Requirements

In a recent interpretive letter, the Board responded to an inquiry whether, in three situations, the delivery of securities subject to put options could be rejected.[8] The Board responded that, in the first situation in which securities subject to a "one time only" put option were purchased for settlement prior to the option expiration date but delivered after the option expiration date, such delivery could be rejected since the securities delivered were no longer "puttable" securities. In the second situation in which securities subject to a "one time only" put option were purchased for settlement prior to the option expiration date and delivered prior to that date, but too late to permit the recipient to satisfy the conditions under which it could exercise the option (e.g., the trustee is located too far away for the recipient to be able to present the physical securities by the expiration date), the Board stated that there might not be a basis for rejecting delivery, since the bonds delivered were "puttable" bonds, depending on the facts and circumstances of the delivery. A purchasing dealer who believed that it had incurred some loss as a result of the delivery would have to seek redress in an arbitration proceeding.

Finally, in the third situation, securities which were the subject of a put option exercisable on a stated periodic basis (e.g., annually) were purchased for settlement prior to the annual exercise date so that the recipient was unable to exercise the option at the time it anticipated being able to do so. The Board stated that this delivery could not be rejected since "puttable" bonds were delivered. A purchasing dealer who believed that it had incurred some loss as a result of the delivery would have to seek redress in an arbitration proceeding.


 

[1] See [Rule G-17 Interpretive Letter - Put option bonds: safekeeping, pricing,] MSRB interpretation of February 18, 1983.

[2] Rule G-8(a)(v) requires dealers to record, among other things, oral or written put options with respect to municipal securities in which such municipal securities broker or dealer has any direct or indirect interest, showing the description and aggregate par value of the securities and the terms and conditions of the option.

[3] See [Rule G-12 Interpretive Letter - Confirmation disclosure: put option bonds,] MSRB interpretation of April 24, 1981.

[4] See [Rule G-15 Interpretive Letter - Securities description: securities backed by letters of credit,] MSRB interpretation of December 2, 1982.

[5] See [Rule G-12 Interpretive Letter - Confirmation disclosure: tender option bonds with adjustable tender fees,] MSRB interpretation of March 5, 1985.

[6] See [Rule G-12 Interpretive Letter - Confirmation disclosure: put option bonds,] MSRB interpretation of April 24, 1981.

[7] See fn. 5.

[8] See [Rule G-12 Interpretive Letter - Delivery requirements: put option bonds,] MSRB interpretation of February 27, 1985.

[*] [Currently codified at rule G-15(a)(i)(C)(2)(a). See also current rule G-15(a)(i)(C)(2)(b).]

[†] [Currently codified at rule G-15(a)(i)(C)(1)(b).]

[‡] [Currently codified at rule G-15(a)(i)(B)(4). See also current rule G-15(a)(i)(B)(4)(c).]

[#] [Currently codified at rule G-15(a)(i)(A)(5). See also current rule G-15(a)(i)(A)(5)(c)(vi)(D).]

Interpretive Guidance - Interpretive Notices
Publication date:
Syndicate Managers Charging Excessive Fees for Designated Sales
Rule Number:

Rule G-17

The Board has received inquiries concerning situations in which syndicate managers charge fees for designated sales that do not appear to be actual expenses incurred on behalf of the syndicate or may appear to be excessive in amount. For example, one commentator has described a situation in which the syndicate managers charge $.25 to $.40 per bond as expenses on designated sales and has suggested that such a charge seems to bear no relation to the actual out-of-pocket costs of handling such transactions.

G–17 provides that

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.

The Board wishes to emphasize that syndicate managers should take care in determining the actual expenses involved in handling designated sales and may be acting in violation of rule G-17 if the expenses charged to syndicate members bear no relation to or otherwise overstate the actual expenses incurred on behalf of the syndicate.