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Interpretive Guidance - Interpretive Notices
Publication date:
Time of Trade Disclosure—Disclosure of Market Discount
Rule Number:

Rule G-47


Overview

MSRB Rule G-47, on time of trade disclosure, requires brokers, dealers and municipal securities dealers (collectively, “dealers”) to disclose to their customers, at or prior to the time of trade, all material information known about the transaction, as well as material information about the municipal security that is reasonably accessible to the market. The MSRB has previously provided interpretive guidance, now codified in supplementary material to Rule G-47, on specific types of information that is material where specific scenarios occur and requires time of trade disclosure. Rule G-47, however, emphasizes that this list of specific disclosures is not exhaustive, and that other information may be material to a customer and required to be disclosed. The MSRB is publishing this notice to state its interpretation that the fact that a municipal security bears market discount is material information that must be disclosed to a customer under Rule G-47.

Market Discount

When a municipal security is acquired in the secondary market for less than par value, the security may have “market discount.” The amount of market discount is equal to the excess, if any, of the stated redemption price at maturity over the basis of the security immediately after its purchase by the investor. Market discount occurs when the value of a municipal security declines after its issue date—which often may occur due to a rise in interest rates. The fact that a municipal security bears market discount may significantly affect its tax treatment. Under federal tax law, for bonds purchased after April 30, 1993, the market discount is taxed at the investor’s ordinary income tax rate, rather than the capital gains rate.[1]

Original Issue Discount Bonds. Market discount is calculated differently for original issue discount (OID) bonds. An OID bond is a bond that was sold at the time of issue at a price that included an original issue discount. The original issue discount is the amount by which the bond’s stated redemption price at maturity exceeded its public offering price at the time of its original issuance and, for a tax-exempt municipal security, is generally treated as tax-exempt interest.[2]

Market discount exists for an OID bond when the bond is acquired in the secondary market for less than its revised or adjusted issue price. The revised or adjusted issue price for an OID bond is equal to the bond’s original issue price plus the accrued OID up to the date of purchase. The amount of market discount is equal to the excess, if any, of the revised issue price over the basis of the bond immediately after its purchase by the investor.

De Minimis Rule. Bonds with a de minimis amount of market discount are subject to more favorable tax treatment than bonds with a non-de minimis amount of market discount. Under the de minimis rule, if the amount of market discount is less than one-fourth of 1% (.0025) of the stated redemption price of the bond multiplied by the number of complete years from the date of purchase to the date of maturity, the market discount is de minimis and is generally taxed as a capital gain, rather than ordinary income.

Market Discount Disclosure at or Prior to the Time of Trade

As noted, Rule G-47 requires dealers to disclose to their customers, at or prior to the time of trade, “all material information known about the transaction, as well as material information about the security that is reasonably accessible to the market.”[3] This disclosure obligation applies whether the transaction is unsolicited or recommended, and whether it is a primary offering or secondary market transaction. Information is considered to be material under Rule G-47 if there is a substantial likelihood that the information would be considered important or significant by a reasonable investor in making an investment decision. The MSRB has previously stated, and codified as supplementary material to Rule G-47, that the fact that a municipal security bears an original issue discount is material information that dealers are obligated to disclose, because it may affect the tax treatment of the security.[4] Significantly, in explaining this interpretation of the Board’s rules, the MSRB noted that appropriate disclosure of a security’s original issue discount feature should assist customers in computing the market discount or premium on their transaction. The MSRB also noted its concern that, absent adequate disclosure of a security’s original issue discount status, an investor might not be aware that all or a portion of his or her investment return represented by accretion of the discount is tax-exempt, and might therefore, for example, sell the security at an inappropriately low price (i.e., a price not reflecting the tax-exempt portion of the discount). 

Similarly, the MSRB is concerned that, absent adequate disclosure that a security has market discount, an investor might not be aware that all or a portion of his or her investment return represented by accretion of the market discount is taxable as ordinary income, and therefore might, for example, purchase the securities at an inappropriately high price (i.e., a price not reflecting the potentially higher tax rate applicable to the discount). The existence of market discount may impact an investor’s decision to purchase or sell an affected bond or determination of what price to pay or accept for such bond. As a result, the MSRB believes that the fact that a security has market discount is material information that is required to be disclosed to a customer under Rule G-47 at or prior to the time of trade.


[1] Tax treatment and the amount of market discount and original issue discount (if any) are determined in accordance with the provisions of the Internal Revenue Code and the rules and regulations of the Internal Revenue Service.

[2] For more information about original issue discount bonds, see MSRB, About Original Issue Discount Bonds, available at: http://www.msrb.org/msrb1/pdfs/Original-Issue-Discount-Bonds.pdf.

[3] MSRB Rule G-47(a). However, under MSRB Rule G-48, on transactions with sophisticated municipal market professionals, a dealer is relieved of the obligation to disclose to a sophisticated municipal market professional or SMMP material information that is reasonably accessible to the market. See Rule G-48(a). Accordingly, dealers do not have an obligation to disclose to SMMPs the existence of market discount.

[4] See MSRB Rule G-47, Supplementary Material .03(f); see also Interpretive Reminder Notice Regarding Rule G-17, on Disclosure of Material Facts—Disclosure of Original Issue Discount Bonds (January 5, 2005); Rules G-12 and G-15, Comments Requested on Draft Amendments on Original Issue Discount Securities, MSRB Reports, Vol. 4, No. 6 (May 1994) at 7.

Interpretive Guidance - Interpretive Notices
Publication date:
MSRB Reminds Firms of Their Sales Practice and Due Diligence Obligations when Selling Municipal Securities in the Secondary Market

Executive Summary

Brokers, dealers and municipal securities dealers (dealers or firms) must fully understand the bonds they sell in order to meet their disclosure, suitability and pricing obligations under the rules of the Municipal Securities Rulemaking Board (MSRB) and federal securities laws. These obligations are not limited to firms involved in primary offerings. Dealers must also obtain, analyze and disclose all material facts about secondary market transactions that are known to the dealer, or that are reasonably accessible to the market through established industry sources.

Those sources include, among other things, official statements, continuing disclosures, trade data, and other information made available through the MSRB’s Electronic Municipal Market Access system (EMMA). Firms may also have a duty to obtain and disclose information that is not available through EMMA, if it is material and available through other public sources. The public availability of material information, through EMMA or otherwise, does not relieve a firm of its duty to disclose that information. Firms must also have reasonable grounds for determining that a recommendation is suitable based on information available from the issuer of the security or otherwise. Firms must also use this information to determine the prevailing market price of a security as the basis for establishing a fair price in a transaction with a customer. To meet these requirements, firms must perform an independent analysis of the bonds they sell, and may not rely solely on a bond’s credit rating.

Continuing disclosures made by issuers to the MSRB via EMMA are part of the information that dealers must obtain, disclose and consider in meeting their regulatory obligations. The Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) has recently approved amendments to Securities Exchange Act Rule 15c2-12, governing continuing disclosures. Firms that sell municipal securities should review and, if necessary, update their procedures to reflect the amendments, which have a compliance date of December 1, 2010.  

Background and Discussion

MSRB Disclosure, Suitability and Pricing Rules

MSRB Rule G-17 provides that, in the conduct of its municipal securities activities, each dealer must deal fairly with all persons and may not engage in any deceptive, dishonest or unfair practice. 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, 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.[1] This includes the obligation to give customers a complete description of the security, including a description of the features that likely would be considered significant by a reasonable investor and facts that are material to assessing the potential risks of the investment.

Such disclosures must be made at the “time of trade,” which the MSRB defines as at or before the point at which the investor and the dealer agree to make the trade. Rule G-17 applies to all sales of municipal securities, whether or not a transaction was recommended by a broker-dealer.[2] This means that municipal securities dealers must disclose all information required to be disclosed by the rule even if the trade is self-directed.[3]

MSRB Rule G-19 requires that a dealer that recommends a municipal securities transaction have reasonable grounds for believing that the recommendation is suitable for the customer based upon information available from the issuer of the security or otherwise and the facts disclosed by, or otherwise known about, the customer.[4]

MSRB Rule G-30 requires that dealers trade with customers at prices that are fair and reasonable, taking into consideration all relevant factors.[5] The MSRB has stated that the concept of a “fair and reasonable” price includes the concept that the price must “bear a reasonable relationship to the prevailing market price of the security.” The impetus for the MSRB’s Real-time Transaction Reporting System (RTRS), which was implemented in January 2005, was to allow market participants to monitor market price levels on a real-time basis and thus assist them in identifying changes in market prices that may have been caused by news or market events.[6] The MSRB now makes the transaction data reported to RTRS available to the public through EMMA.

In meeting these disclosure, suitability and pricing obligations, firms must take into account all material information that is known to the firm or that is available through “established industry sources,” including official statements, continuing disclosures, and trade data, much of which is now available through EMMA. Resources outside of EMMA may include press releases, research reports and other data provided by independent sources. Established industry sources can also include material event notices and other data filed with former nationally recognized municipal securities information repositories (NRMSIRs) before July 1, 2009.[7] Therefore, firms should review their policies and procedures for obtaining material information about the bonds they sell to make sure they are reasonably designed to access all material information that is available, whether through EMMA or other established industry sources. The MSRB has also noted that the fact that material information is publicly available through EMMA does not relieve a firm of its duty to specifically disclose it to the customer at the time of trade, or to consider it in determining the suitability of a bond for a specific customer.[8] Importantly, the dealer may not simply direct the customer to EMMA to fulfill its time-of-trade disclosure obligations under Rule G-17.[9]

Amendments to Rule 15c2-12 Concerning Continuing Disclosure

Securities Exchange Act Rule 15c2-12 requires underwriters participating in municipal bond offerings that are subject to that rule[10] to receive, review, and distribute official statements of issuers of primary municipal securities offerings, and prohibits underwriters from purchasing or selling municipal securities covered by the rule unless they have first reasonably determined that the issuer or an obligated person[11] has contractually agreed to make certain continuing disclosures to the MSRB, including certain financial information and notice of certain events. The MSRB makes such disclosure public via EMMA.

Financial information to be disclosed under the rule consists of the following:

  • Annual financial information updating the financial information in the official statement;
  • Audited financial statements, if available and not included within the annual financial information; and
  • Notices of failure to provide such financial information on a timely basis.

Currently, the rule enumerates the following as notice events, if material:

  • Principal and interest payment delinquencies;
  • Non-payment related defaults;
  • Unscheduled draws on debt service reserves reflecting financial difficulties;
  • Unscheduled draws on credit enhancements reflecting financial difficulties;
  • Substitution of credit or liquidity providers or their failure to perform;
  • Adverse tax opinions or events affecting the tax-exempt status of the security;
  • Modifications to rights of security holders;
  • Bond calls;
  • Defeasances;
  • Release, substitution or sale of property securing repayment of the securities; and
  • Rating changes.

Rule 15c2-12(c) also prohibits any dealer from recommending the purchase or sale of a municipal security unless it has procedures in place that provide reasonable assurance that it will receive prompt notice of any event notice reported pursuant to the rule. Firms should review any applicable continuing disclosures made available through EMMA and other established industry sources and take such disclosures into account in undertaking its suitability and pricing determinations. 

On May 26, 2010, the SEC amended the rule’s disclosure obligations, with a compliance date of December 1, 2010, to: (1) apply continuing disclosure requirements to new primary offerings of certain variable rate demand obligations (VRDOs); (2) add four new notice events;[12] (3) remove the materiality standard for certain notice events;[13] and (4) require that event notices be filed in a timely manner but no later than 10 business days after their occurrence. With respect to the tax status of the security, the rule has been broadened to require disclosure of adverse tax opinions, issuance by the IRS of proposed or final determinations of taxability and other material notices, and determinations or events affecting the tax status of the bonds (including a Notice of Proposed Issue). Firms that deal in municipal securities should familiarize themselves with these amendments, and, if necessary, modify their policies and procedures to incorporate this additional disclosure accordingly. 

The Financial Industry Regulatory Authority (FINRA) noted in its Regulatory Notice 09-35 that, if a firm discovers through its Rule 15c2-12 procedures or otherwise that an issuer has failed to make filings required under its continuing disclosure agreements, the firm must take this information into consideration in meeting its disclosure obligations under MSRB Rule G-17 and in assessing the suitability of the issuer’s bonds under MSRB Rule G-19.

Credit Ratings

In order to meet their obligations under MSRB Rules G-17 and G-19, firms must analyze and disclose to customers the risks associated with the bonds they sell, including, but not limited to, the bond’s credit risk. A credit rating is a third-party opinion of the of the credit quality of a municipal security. While the MSRB generally considers credit ratings and rating changes to be material information for purposes of disclosure, suitability and pricing, they are only one factor to be considered, and dealers should not solely rely on credit ratings as a substitute for their own assessment of a bond’s credit risk. [14]  Moreover, different agencies use different quantitative and qualitative criteria and methodologies to determine their rating opinions.  Dealers should familiarize themselves with the rating systems used by rating agencies in order to understand and assess the relevance of a particular rating to the firm’s overall assessment of the bond.[15]. With respect to credit or liquidity enhanced securities, the MSRB has stated that material information includes the following, if known to the dealer or if reasonably available from established industry sources: (i) the credit rating of the issue or lack thereof; (ii) the underlying credit rating or lack thereof, (iii) the identity of any credit enhancer or liquidity provider; and (iv) the credit rating of the credit provider and liquidity provider, including potential rating actions (e.g., downgrade).[16]  Additionally, material terms of the credit facility or liquidity facility should be disclosed (e.g., any circumstances under which a standby bond purchase agreement would terminate without a mandatory tender).

Other Material Information 

In addition to a bond’s credit quality, firms must obtain, analyze and disclose other material information about a bond, including but not limited to whether the bond may be redeemed prior to maturity in-whole, in-part or in extraordinary circumstances,[17] whether the bond has non-standard features that may affect price or yield calculations,[18] whether the bond was issued with original issue discount or has other features that would affect its tax status,[19] and other key features likely to be considered significant by a reasonable investor.  For example, for VRDOs, auction rate securities or other securities for which interest payments may fluctuate, firms should explain to customers the basis on which periodic interest rate resets are determined.[20] The MSRB has stated that firms should take particular care with respect to new products that may be introduced into the municipal securities market, existing products that may have complex structures that can differ materially from issue to issue, and outstanding securities that may trade infrequently, may be issued by less well-known issuers, or may have unusual features.[21]

Supervision

Firms are reminded that MSRB Rule G-27 requires firms to supervise their municipal securities business, and to ensure that they have adequate policies and procedures in place for monitoring the effectiveness of their supervisory systems. Specifically, firms must:

  • Supervise the conduct of the municipal securities activities of the firm and associated persons to ensure compliance with all MSRB rules, the Exchange Act and the rules there under;
  • Have adequate written supervisory procedures; and
  • Implement supervisory controls to ensure that their supervisory procedures are adequate.

Rule G-27 requires that a firm’s supervisory procedures provide for the regular and frequent review and approval by a designated principal of customer accounts introduced or carried by the dealer in which transactions in municipal securities are effected, with such review being designed to ensure that transactions are in accordance with all applicable rules and to detect and prevent irregularities and abuses. Although the rule does not establish a specific procedure for ensuring compliance with the requirement to provide disclosures to customers pursuant to Rule G-17, firms should consider including in their procedures for reviewing accounts and transactions specific processes for documenting or otherwise ascertaining that such disclosures have been made.  

Questions to Consider

Before selling any municipal bond, dealers should make sure that they fully understand the bonds they are selling in order to make adequate disclosure to customers under Rule G-17, to ensure that recommendations are suitable under Rule G-19, and to ensure that they are fairly priced under Rule G-30. Among other things, dealers should ask and be able to answer the following questions: 

  • What are the bond’s key terms and features and structural characteristics, including but not limited to its issuer, source of funding (e.g., general obligation or revenue bond), repayment priority, and scheduled repayment rate? (Much of this information will be in the Official Statement, which for many municipal bonds can be obtained by entering the CUSIP number in the MuniSearch box at www.emma.msrb.org). Be aware, however, data in the Official Statement may have been superseded by the issuer’s on-going disclosures.
  • Does information available through EMMA or other established industry sources indicate that an issuer is delinquent in  its material event notice and other continuing disclosure filings?  Delinquencies should be viewed as a red flag.
  • What other public material information about the bond or its issuer is available through established industry sources other than EMMA?
  • What is the bond’s rating? Has the issuer of the bond recently been downgraded? Has the issuer filed any recent default or other event notices, or has any other information become available through established industry sources that might call into question whether the published rating has been revised to take such event into consideration?
  • Is the bond insured, or does it benefit from liquidity support, a letter of credit or is it otherwise supported by a third party? If so, check the credit rating of the bond insurer or other backing, and the bond’s underlying rating (without third party support). If supported by a third party, review the terms and conditions under which the third party support may terminate.
  • How is it priced? Be aware that the price of a bond can be priced above or below its par value for many reasons, including changes in the creditworthiness of a bond's issuer and a host of other factors, including prevailing interest rates.
  • How and when will interest on the bond be paid? Most municipal bonds pay semiannually, but zero coupon municipal bonds pay all interest at the time the bond matures. Variable rate bonds typically will pay interest more frequently, usually on a monthly basis in variable amounts.
  • What is the bond’s tax status, under both state and federal laws? Is it subject to the Federal Alternate Minimum Tax? Is it fully taxable (e.g., Build America Bonds)?
  • What are its call provisions? Call provisions allow the issuer to retire the bond before it matures. How would a call affect expected future income?

[1] MSRB Rule G-17 applies to all transactions in municipal securities, including those in both the primary and secondary market. MSRB Rule G-32 specifically addresses the delivery of the official statement in connection with primary offerings.

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

[3] A dealer’s specific investor protection obligations, including its disclosure, fair practice and suitability obligations under Rules G-17 and G-19, may be affected by the status of an institutional investor as a Sophisticated Municipal Market Professional (“SMMP”). See Rule G-17 Interpretation – Notice Regarding the Application of MSRB Rules to Transactions with Sophisticated Municipal Market Professionals (April 30, 2002).

[4] See MSRB Notice 2009-42, supra n.2.

[5] Rule G-18 requires that a dealer effecting an agency trade with a customer make a reasonable effort to obtain a price for the customer that is fair and reasonable in relation to prevailing market conditions.

[6] See MSRB Notice 2004-3 (January 26, 2004).

[7] Since July 1, 2009, material event notices are required to be filed through EMMA, which has replaced Bloomberg Municipal Repository; DPC DATA Inc.; Interactive Data Pricing and Reference Data, Inc.; and Standard & Poor’s Securities Evaluations, Inc. as the sole NRMSIR.

[8] The MSRB has also stated that providing adequate disclosure does not relieve a firm of its suitability obligations. See MSRB Notice 2007-17 (March 30, 2007).

[9] Rule G-32 does allow a dealer to satisfy its obligation to deliver an official statement to its customer during the primary offering disclosure period no later than the settlement of the transaction by advising the customer of how to obtain it on EMMA, unless the customer requests a paper copy.  The delivery obligation under Rule G-32 is distinct from the duty to disclose material information under Rule G-17, which applies to all primary and secondary market transactions.

[10] Certain limited offerings, variable rate demand obligations, and small issues are exempt from Rule 15c2-12.

[11] “Obligated person” is defined as “any person, including an issuer of municipal securities, who is either generally or through an enterprise, fund or account of such person committed by contract or other arrangement to support payment of all, or part of the obligations of the municipal securities to be sold in the offering (other than providers of municipal bond insurance, letters of credit, or other liquidity facilities).”

[12] The new notice events are (1) tender offers, (2) bankruptcy, insolvency, receivership, or similar events, (3) consummation of mergers, consolidations, acquisitions, or asset sales, or entry into or termination of a definitive agreement related to do the same, if material, and (4) appointment of a successor or additional trustee or a change in the name of the trustee, if material.

[13] The amendments removed the materiality standard and require notices for the following events: (1) principal and interest payment delinquencies with respect to the securities being offered ; (2) unscheduled draws on debt service reserves reflecting financial difficulties; (3) unscheduled draws on credit enhancements reflecting financial difficulties; (4) substitution of credit or liquidity providers, or their failure to perform; (5) defeasances: and (6) rating changes. The amendments retained the materiality standard for the following events: (1) non-payment related defaults; (2) modifications to rights of security holders; (3) bond calls; and (4) release, substitution, or sale of property securing repayment of the securities.

[14] See MSRB Notice 2009-42, supra n.2. Ratings changes are reportable events under Rule 15c2-12.

[15] Not all municipal bonds are rated. While an absence of a credit rating is not, by itself, a determinant of low credit quality, it is a factor that the dealers should consider, and may warrant additional due diligence of the bond and its issuer by the dealer. In addition, MSRB Rule G-15 requires confirmation statements for customer trades in unrated municipal securities to disclose that the securities are not rated.

[16] See MSRB Notice 2009-42.  The SEC has approved the MSRB’s proposal to require dealers to submit copies of credit enhancement and liquidity facility documents to EMMA pursuant to amended MSRB Rule G-34(c), which may increase the availability of such information to dealers.  See Securities Exchange Act Release No. 62755, August 20, 2010 (File No. SR-MSRB-2010-02).

[17] See Notice Concerning Disclosure of Call Information to Customers of Municipal Securities, MSRB Interpretation of March 4, 1986.

[18] See Transactions in Municipal Securities With Non-Standard Features Affecting Price/Yield Calculations, MSRB Interpretation of June 12, 1995.

[19] See MSRB Notice 2005-01 (January 5, 2005); MSRB Notice 2009-41 (July 10, 2009).

[20] See MSRB Notice 2008-09 (February 19, 2008).

[21] See MSRB Notice 2009-42, supra n.2.
Interpretive Guidance - Interpretive Notices
Publication date:
Bond Insurance Ratings - Application of MSRB Rules

Bond insurance companies recently have been subject to increased attention in the municipal securities market as a result of credit rating agency downgrades and ongoing credit agency reviews. Because of these recent events and the prominence of bond insurance in the municipal securities market, the MSRB is publishing this notice to review some of the investor protection rules applicable to brokers, dealers and municipal securities dealers (“dealers”) effecting transactions in insured municipal securities.

RULE G-17 AND TIME OF TRADE DISCLOSURE TO CUSTOMERS

One of the most important MSRB investor protection rules is Rule G-17, which requires dealers to deal fairly with all persons and prohibits deceptive, dishonest, or unfair  practices.  A long-standing interpretation of Rule G-17 is that a dealer transacting with a customer [1] must ensure that the customer is informed of all material facts concerning the  transaction, including a complete description of the security.[2]  Disclosure of material facts to a customer under Rule G-17 may be made orally or in writing, but must be made at or prior to the time of trade. In general, a fact is considered “material” if there is a substantial likelihood that its disclosure would have been considered significant by a reasonable investor.[3]  As applied to customer transactions in insured municipal securities, the disclosures required under Rule G-17 include a description of the securities and identification of any bond insurance as well as material facts that relate to the credit rating of the issue. The disclosures required under Rule G-17 also may include material facts about the credit enhancement applicable to the issue.

March 2002 Notice

In a March 2002 Interpretative Notice, the MSRB provided specific guidance on the disclosure requirements of Rule G-17.[4] The March 2002 Notice clarified that, in addition to the requirement to disclose material facts about a transaction of which the dealer is specifically aware, the dealer is responsible for disclosing any material fact that has been made available through sources such as the NRMSIR system,[5] the Municipal Securities Information Library® (MSIL®) system,[6] RTRS,[7] rating agency reports and other sources of information relating to the municipal securities transaction generally used by dealers that effect transactions in the type of municipal securities at issue (collectively, “established industry sources”).[8]  The inclusion of “rating agency reports” within the list of “established industry sources” of information makes clear the Board’s view that information about the rating of a bond, or information  from the rating agency about potential rating actions with respect to a bond, may be material information about the transaction. It follows that, where the issue’s credit rating is based in whole or in part on bond insurance, the credit rating of the insurance company, or information from the rating agency about potential rating actions with respect to the bond insurance company, may be material information about the transaction.

In addition to the actual credit rating of a municipal issue, “underlying” credit ratings are assigned by  rating agencies to some municipal securities issues. An underlying credit rating is assigned to reflect the credit quality of an issue independent of credit enhancements such as bond insurance. The underlying rating (or the lack of an underlying rating)[9] may be relevant to a transaction when the credit rating of the bond insurer is downgraded or is the subject of information from the rating agency about a potential rating action with respect to the insurance company. In order to ensure all required disclosures are made under Rule G-17, a dealer must take into consideration information on underlying credit ratings that is available in established industry sources (or information otherwise known to the dealer) and must incorporate such information when determining the material facts to be disclosed about the transaction.

April 2002 Notice on Sophisticated Municipal Market Professionals

In a notice dated April 30, 2002, the MSRB provided additional guidance on Rule G-17 and other customer protection rules as they apply to transactions with a special class of institutional customers known  as “Sophisticated Municipal Market Professionals” (“SMMPs”).[10] The April 2002 Notice provides a definition of SMMP, which includes critical elements such as the customer’s financial sophistication and access to established industry sources for municipal securities information. When a dealer has reasonable grounds for concluding that the institutional customer is an SMMP as defined in the April 2002 Notice, the institutional customer necessarily is already aware, or capable of making itself aware of, material facts found in the established industry sources. In addition, the customer in such cases is able to independently understand the significance of such material facts.

The April 2002 Notice provides that a dealer’s Rule G-17 obligation to affirmatively disclose material facts available from established industry sources is qualified to some extent in certain kinds of SMMP transactions. Specifically, when effecting nonrecommended, secondary market transactions, a dealer is not required to provide an SMMP with affirmative disclosure of the material facts that already exist in established industry sources. This differs from the general Rule G-17 requirement of disclosure, discussed above, and therefore may be relevant to dealers trading with SMMPs in insured municipal securities.

RULE G-19 AND SUITABILITY DETERMINATIONS

In addition to the customer disclosure obligations relating to bond insurance and credit ratings, dealers also should be aware of how suitability requirements of MSRB Rule G-19 relate to transactions in insured bonds that are recommended to customers. Rule G-19 provides that a dealer must consider the nature of the security as well as the customer’s financial status, tax status and investment objectives when making recommendations to customers.  The dealer must have reasonable grounds for believing that the recommendation is suitable, based upon information available about the security and the facts disclosed by or otherwise known about the customer.[11] Facts relating to the credit rating of a bond insurer may affect suitability determinations, particularly for customers that have conveyed to the dealer investment objectives relating to credit quality of investments. For example, if a customer has expressed the desire to purchase only “triple A” rated securities, recommendations to the customer should take into account information from rating agencies, including information about potential rating actions that may affect the future “triple A” status of the issue.[12]

RULE G-30 AND FAIR PRICING REQUIREMENTS

Another important investor protection provision within MSRB rules is Rule G-30 on prices and commissions. Rule G-30 requires that, for principal transactions with customers, the dealer must ensure that the price of each transaction is fair and reasonable, taking into account all relevant factors. Dealers should consider the effect of ratings on the value of the securities involved in customer transactions, and should specifically consider the effect of information from rating agencies, both with respect to actual or potential changes in the underlying rating of a security and with respect to actual or potential changes in the rating of any bond insurance applicable to the security.

RULE G-15(a) AND CONFIRMATION DISCLOSURE

The content of information required to be included on customer confirmations of municipal securities transactions is set forth in MSRB Rule G-15(a). For securities with additional credit backing, such as bond insurance, the rule requires the confirmation to state “the name of any company or other person in addition to the issuer obligated, directly or indirectly, with respect to debt service.”[13]  Rule G-15(a) does not generally require that credit agency ratings be included on customer confirmations. However, if credit ratings are given on the confirmation, the ratings must be correct.

CONCLUSION

Meeting the disclosure requirements of Rule G-17 requires attention to the facts and circumstances of individual transactions as well as attention to the specific securities and customers that are involved in those transactions. In light of recent events affecting credit ratings of bond insurance companies, dealers may wish to review both the March 2002 Notice on Rule G-17 disclosure requirements and the April 2002 Notice on SMMP transactions to ensure compliance with the rule in the changing environment for bond insurance companies. In addition, dealers may wish to review how transactions in insured securities are being recommended, priced and confirmed to customers to ensure compliance with other MSRB investor protection rules.


[1] The word “customer,” as used in this notice, follows the definition in MSRB Rule D-9, which states that a “customer” is 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.

[2] See, e.g., Notice Concerning Disclosure of Call Information to Customers of Municipal Securities (March 4, 1986), MSRB Manual (CCH) para. 3591.

[3]  Se e, e.g., Basic v. Levinson, 485 U.S. 224 (1988).

[4] Interpretive Notice Regarding Rule G-17, on Disclosure of Material Facts, MSRB Notice (March 20, 2002) (hereinafter “March 2002 Notice”).

[5] For purposes of this notice, the “NRMSIR system” refers to the disclosure dissemination system adopted by the SEC in SEC Rule 15c2-12.

[6] The MSIL® system collects and makes available to the marketplace official statements and advance refunding documents submitted under MSRB Rule G-36, on the delivery of official statements, as well as certain secondary market material event disclosures provided by issuers under SEC Rule 15c2-12. Municipal Securities Information Library® and MSIL® are registered trademarks of the MSRB.

[7] The MSRB’s Real-Time Transaction Reporting System (“RTRS”) collects and makes available to the marketplace information regarding inter-dealer and dealer-customer transactions in municipal securities.

[8] See March 2002 Notice (emphasis added).

[9] The lack of a rating for a municipal issue does not necessarily imply that the credit quality of such an issue is inferior, but is information that should be taken into account when accessing material facts about a transaction in the security.

[10] Notice Regarding the Application of MSRB Rules to Transactions with Sophisticated Municipal Market Professionals (April 30, 2002) (hereinafter “April 2002 Notice”). [This notice was revised effective July 9, 2012.]

[11] As with Rule G-17, the MSRB has provided specific qualifications with respect to how a dealer fulfills its suitability duties when making recommendations to SMMPs. These are described in the April 2002 Notice on SMMPs, discussed above.

[12] To assure that a dealer effecting a recommended transaction with a non-SMMP customer has the information needed about the customer to make its suitability determination, Rule G-19 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. The obligations arising under Rule G-19 in connection with a recommended transaction require a meaningful analysis, taking into consideration the information obtained about the customer and the security, which 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.  See Reminder of Customer Protection Obligations In Connection With Sales of Municipal Securities, MSRB Notice 2007-17 (May 30, 2007).

[13] The rule provides that, if there is more than one such obligor, the statement “multiple obligors” may be shown.  If a security is unrated by a nationally recognized statistical rating organization, Rule G-15(a) requires dealers to disclose the fact that the security is unrated.

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:
Reminder of Customer Protection Obligations in Connection with Sales of Municipal Securities
Rule Number:

Rule G-19, Rule G-47

The Municipal Securities Rulemaking Board ("MSRB") is publishing this notice to remind brokers, dealers and municipal securities dealers ("dealers") of their customer protection obligations—specifically the application of Rule G-17, on fair dealing, and Rule G-19, on suitability—in connection with their municipal securities sales activities, including but not limited to situations in which dealers offer sales incentives.[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 under the Securities Exchange Act of 1934, 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, 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 transaction in a municipal security regardless of whether the dealer has recommended the transaction.  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.  Further, dealers are reminded that disclosures made to customers as required under MSRB rules 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 transactions in municipal securities.

Suitability

Under Rule G-19, a dealer that recommends to a customer a transaction in a municipal 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.[3]  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, Rule G-19 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.[4]  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, which 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.  Pursuant to Rule G-27, on supervision, dealers must have written supervisory procedures in place that are reasonably designed to ensure compliance with the 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.

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 securities.  In some cases, certain sales-related activities are governed in part by specific MSRB rules, such as Rule G-19 (as described above), Rule G-18 on execution of transactions, and Rule G-30 on prices and commissions.  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 that are unfair to customers under Rule G-17.  This principle applies in the case of an individual transaction to ensure that the dealer does not unfairly attempt to increase its own revenue or otherwise advance its interests without due regard to the customer's interests.  In addition, where a dealer consistently recommends that customers invest in the municipal securities that offer the dealer the highest compensation, such pattern or general practice may, depending on the facts and circumstances, constitute a violation of Rule G-17 if the recommendation of such municipal securities over the other municipal securities offered by the dealer does not reflect a legitimate investment-based purpose.

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.[5]  Dealers are also reminded that Rule G-20(d) establishes standards regarding non-cash incentives for sales of municipal securities that are substantially similar to those currently applicable to the public offering of corporate securities under NASD Rule 2710(i) but also include "total production" and "equal weighting" requirements for internal sales contests.  Dealers should be mindful that financial incentives may cause an associated person (whether an associated person of the dealer offering the sales incentive or an associated person of another dealer) to favor one municipal security over another and thereby potentially compromise the dealer's obligations under MSRB rules, including Rules G-17 and G-19.  Rule G-17 may be violated 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.  The MSRB also 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-18, G-19 or Rule G-30. 


[1] The principles enunciated in this notice were previously discussed, in the context of the 529 college savings plan market, in 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. This notice makes clear that the general principles discussed in the August 2006 interpretation also apply in the context of the markets for municipal bonds, notes and other types of municipal securities. This notice in no way alters the substance or applicability of the August 2006 interpretation with respect to the 529 college savings plan market.

[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] 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 , February 17, 1998Rule G-19 Interpretive Letter - Recommendations, reprinted in MSRB Rule Book.  The MSRB also has provided guidance on recommendations in the context of on-line communications in , September 25, 2002Rule G-19 Interpretation - Notice Regarding Application of Rule G-19, on Suitability of Recommendations and Transaction, to Online Communications, reprinted in MSRB Rule Book.

[4] Rule G-8(a)(x)(F) requires that dealers maintain records for each customer of such information about the customer used in making recommendations to the customer. Rule G-19(e), on churning, also 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.

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

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 Notices
Publication date:
Disclosure Of Material Facts--Disclosure Of Original Issue Discount Bonds
Rule Number:

Rule G-47

The MSRB is publishing this notice to remind dealers of their affirmative disclosure obligations when effecting transactions with customers in original issue discount bonds. An original issue discount bond, or O.I.D. bond, is a bond that was sold at the time of issue at a price that included an original issue discount. The original issue discount is the amount by which the par value of the bond exceeded its public offering price at the time of its original issuance. The original issue discount is amortized over the life of the security and, on a municipal security, is generally treated as tax-exempt interest. When the investor sells the security before maturity, any profit realized on such sale is calculated (for tax purposes) on the adjusted book value, which is calculated for each year the security is outstanding by adding the accretion value to the original offering price. The amount of the accretion value (and the existence and total amount of original issue discount) is determined in accordance with the provisions of the Internal Revenue Code and the rules and regulations of the Internal Revenue Service.[1]

Rule G-17, the MSRB’s fair dealing rule, encompasses two general principles. First, the rule imposes a duty on dealers not to engage in deceptive, dishonest, or unfair practices. This first prong of Rule G-17 is essentially an antifraud prohibition. In addition to the basic antifraud provisions in the rule, the rule imposes a duty to deal fairly with all persons. As part of a dealer’s obligation to deal fairly, the MSRB has interpreted the rule to create affirmative disclosure obligations for dealers. The MSRB has stated that the dealer’s affirmative disclosure obligations require that a dealer disclose, at or before the sale of municipal securities to a customer, all material facts concerning the transaction, including a complete description of the security.[2] These obligations apply even when a dealer is effecting non-recommended secondary market transactions.

In the context of the sale to customers of an original issue discount security, the MSRB’s customer confirmation rule, Rule G-15(a), provides that information regarding the status of bonds as original issue discount securities must be included on customer confirmations. Specifically, Rule G-15(a)(i)(C)(4)(c) provides that, “If the securities pay periodic interest and are sold by the underwriter as original issue discount securities, a designation that they are “original issue discount” securities and a statement of the initial public offering price of the securities, expressed as a dollar price” must be included on the customer’s confirmation.

The MSRB previously has alerted dealers of their obligation to make original issue discount disclosures to customers and has stated that, “The Board believes that the fact that a security bears an original issue discount is material information (since it may affect the tax treatment of the security); therefore, this fact should be disclosed to a customer prior to or at the time of trade.”[3] The MSRB is publishing this notice to remind dealers of their disclosure obligations under Rule G-17 because it remains concerned that, absent adequate disclosure of a security’s original issue discount status, an investor might not be aware that all or a portion of the component of his or her investment return represented by accretion of the discount is tax-exempt, and therefore might sell the securities at an inappropriately low price (i.e., at a price not reflecting the tax-exempt portion of the discount) or pay capital gains tax on the accreted discount amount. Without appropriate disclosure, an investor also might not be aware of how his or her transaction price compares to the initial public offering price of the security. Appropriate disclosure of a security’s original issue discount feature should assist customers in computing the market discount or premium on their transaction.


[1] See Glossary of Municipal Securities Terms, Second Edition (January 2004).

 

[2] See e.g., Rule G-17 Interpretation—Educational Notice on Bonds Subject to “Detachable” Call Features, May 13, 1993, MSRB Rule Book (July 2004) at 135.

[3] Rules G-12 and G-15, Comments Requested on Draft Amendments on Original Issue Discount Securities, MSRB Reports, Vol. 4, No. 6 (May 1994) at 7.

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 Letters
Publication date:
Securities Description: Prerefunded Securities

Securities description: prerefunded securities. This is in response to your letter in which you ask when an issue of municipal securities may be described as prerefunded for purposes of Board rule G-12, on uniform practice, and rule G-15, on confirmation, clearance and settlement of transactions with customers. You describe a situation in which an outstanding issue of municipal securities is to be prerefunded by a new issue of municipal securities. You note that information on the issue to be prerefunded "is usually available within a few days of the new issue being priced... [but that the] new issue's settlement date is usually several weeks later,... [and] it is not until that date that funds will be available to establish the escrow to refund the bonds." You ask whether the outstanding issue of securities is considered prerefunded upon the final pricing of the refunding issue or upon settlement of that issue.

Rule G-15 governs the items of disclosure required on customer confirmations. This rule provides that, if securities are called or prerefunded, dealers must note this fact (along with the call price and the maturity date fixed by the call notice) on the customer's confirmation. [1] In situations where an issuer has indicated its intent to prerefund an outstanding issue, it is the Board's position that the issue is not, in fact, prerefunded until the issuer has taken the necessary official actions to prerefund the issue, which would include, for example, closing of the escrow arrangement. We note further that until such official action occurs, the fact that the issuer intends to prerefund the issue may well be "material" information under rule G-17, the Board's fair dealing rule.  [2]  MSRB interpretation of February 17, 1998


[1]. Rule G-12(c), on uniform practice, applies to confirmations of inter-dealer transactions, and requires similar disclosures. Transactions submitted to a registered clearing agency for comparison, however, are exempt from the confirmation requirements of section (c). Since almost all inter-dealer transactions are eligible for automated comparison in a system operated by a registered clearing agency, very few dealers exchange confirmations.

[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. The Board has interpreted this rule to require that a dealer must disclose, at or before the sale of municipal securities to a customer, all material facts concerning the transaction which could affect the customer's investment decision, including a complete description of the security, and must not omit any material facts which would render other statements misleading. Dealers also must fulfill their obligations under rule G-19, on suitability, and rule G-30, on pricing.

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:
Educational Notice on Bonds Subject to "Detachable" Call Features
Rule Number:

Rule G-15, Rule G-47

New products are constantly being introduced into the municipal securities market. Dealers must ensure that, prior to effecting transactions with customers in municipal securities with new features, they obtain all necessary information regarding these features. The Board will attempt periodically through educational notices to describe new products or features of municipal securities and review the responsibilities of dealers to customers in these transactions. In this notice, the Board will review detachable call features.

Certain recent issues of municipal securities include a new feature called a detachable call right. This feature allows the issuer to sell its right to call the bond. Thus, upon the sale of this call right, the owner of the right has the ability, at certain times, to require the mandatory tender of the underlying municipal bond. The dates of mandatory tender of the underlying bonds generally correlate with the optional call dates. If the holder exercises such rights, the underlying bondholder tenders its bond to the issuer (just as if the issuer had called the bond) and the holder of the call right purchases the bond. In some instances, issuers already have issued municipal call rights and the underlying bonds in such cases are sometimes referred to as being subject to "detached" call rights.

Bonds subject to detachable call rights generally include a provision that permits an investor that owns both the detached call right and the underlying bond to link the two instruments together, subject to certain conditions. Such "linked" municipal securities would not be subject to being called at certain times by holders of call rights or the issuer. They may, however, be subject to other calls, such as sinking fund provisions. If a customer obtains a linked security, thereafter the customer has the option to de-link the security, again subject to certain conditions, into a municipal call right and an underlying bond subject to a right of mandatory tender.

 

Applicability of Board Rules

Of course, the Board’s rules apply to bonds subject to detachable call features and "linked" securities just as they apply to all other municipal securities. The Board, however, would like to remind dealers of certain Board rules that should be considered in transactions involving these municipal securities.

Rule G-15(a) on Customer Confirmations

Rule G-15(a)(i)(E)[*] requires 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." Additionally, rule G-15(a)(iii)(F)[*] requires a legend to be placed on customer confirmations of transactions in callable securities which notes that "Call features may exist which could affect yield; complete information will be provided upon request."

Confirmations of transactions in bonds subject to detachable call rights, therefore, would have to indicate this information.[1] In addition, the details of the call provisions of such securities would have to be provided to the customer upon the customer’s request.

Confirmation disclosure, however, serves merely to support—not to satisfy—a dealer’s general disclosure obligations. More specifically, the disclosure items required on the confirmation do not encompass "all material facts" that must be disclosed to customers at the time of trade pursuant to rule G-17.

Rule G-17 on Fair Dealing

Rule G-17 of the Board’s rules of fair practice requires municipal securities dealers to deal fairly with all persons and prohibits them from engaging in any deceptive, dishonest, or unfair practice. The Board has interpreted this rule to require that a dealer must disclose, at or before the sale of municipal securities to a customer, all material facts concerning the transaction, including a complete description of the security, and must not omit any material facts which would render other statements misleading. Among other things, a dealer must disclose at the time of trade whether a security may be redeemed prior to maturity in-whole, in-part, or in extraordinary circumstances because this knowledge is essential to a customer’s investment decision.

Clearly, bonds subject to detachable calls must be described as callable at the time of the trade.[2] In addition, if a dealer is asked by a customer at the time of trade for specific information regarding call features, this information must be obtained and relayed promptly.

Although the Board requires dealers to indicate to customers at the time of trade whether municipal securities are callable, the Board has not categorized which, if any, specific call features it considers to be material and therefore also must be disclosed. Instead, the Board believes that it is the responsibility of the dealer to determine whether a particular feature is material.

With regard to detachable calls, dealers must decide whether the ability of a third party to call the bond is a material fact that should be disclosed to investors. Dealers should make this determination in the same way they determine whether other facets of a municipal securities transaction are material—is it a fact that a reasonable investor would want to know when making an investment decision? For example, would a reasonable investor who knows a bond is callable base an investment decision on whether someone other than the issuer can call the bond? Does this new feature affect the pricing of the bond?

*  *  *

The Board is continuing its review of detachable call rights and may take additional related action at a later date. The Board welcomes the views of all persons on the application of Board rules to transactions in securities subject to detachable call rights.


[1] With regard to the confirmation requirement for linked securities, if these securities are subject to other call provisions such as sinking fund calls, the customer confirmation must indicate that these securities are callable.

 

[2] Similarly, when considering the application of rule G-17 to transactions in "linked" securities, as with other municipal securities, dealers have the obligation to ensure that investors understand the features of the security. In particular, if a linked security to other call provisions, dealers should ensure that retail customers do not mistakenly believe the bond is "non-callable."

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

Interpretive Guidance - Interpretive Letters
Publication date:
Disclosure of the Investment of Bond Proceeds
Rule Number:

Rule G-15, Rule G-47

Disclosure of the investment of bond proceeds. This is in response to your letter asking whether rule G-15(a), on customer confirmations, requires disclosure of the investment of bond proceeds.

Rule G-15(a)(i)(E)[*] requires dealers to note on customer confirmations the description of the securities, including, at a minimum

the name of the issuer, interest rate, maturity date and if the securities are limited tax, subject to redemption prior to maturity (callable), or revenue bonds, an indication to such effect, including in the case of revenue bonds the type of revenue, if necessary for a materially complete description of the securities, and in the case of any securities, 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 or, if there is more than one such obligor, the statement "multiple obligors" may be shown.

The Board has not interpreted this provision as requiring disclosure of the investment of bond proceeds.

Of course, rule G-17, on fair dealing, has been interpreted by the Board 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 must not omit any material facts which would render other statements misleading. Thus, if information on the investment of bond proceeds of a particular issue is a material fact, Board rules require disclosure at the time of trade. MSRB Interpretation of August 16, 1991.

 


 

[*][Currently codified at rules G-15(a)(i)(B) and G-15(a)(i)(C)]

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 Concerning Stripped Coupon Municipal Securities

In 1986, several municipal securities dealers began selling ownership rights to discrete interest payments, principal payments or combinations of interest and principal payments on municipal securities. In 1987, the Board asked the Securities and Exchange Commission staff whether these "stripped coupon" instruments are municipal securities for purposes of the Securities Exchange Act and thus are subject to Board rules. On January 19, 1989, the staff of the Division of Market Regulation of the Commission issued a letter stating that, subject to certain conditions, these instruments are municipal securities for purposes of Board rules (SEC staff letter).

The Board is providing the following guidance on the application of its rules to transactions in stripped coupon instruments defined as municipal securities in the SEC staff letter (stripped coupon municipal securities). Questions whether other stripped coupon instruments are municipal securities and questions concerning the SEC staff letter should be directed to the Commission staff.

Background

A dealer sponsoring a stripped coupon municipal securities program typically deposits municipal securities (the underlying securities) with a barred custodian. Pursuant to a custody agreement, the custodian separately records the ownership of the various interest payments, principal payments, or specified combinations of interest and principal payments. One combination of interest and principal payments sometimes offered is the "annual payment security," which represents one principal payment, with alternate semi-annual interest payments. This results in an annual interest rate equal to one-half the original interest rate on the securities.[1] Stripped coupon municipal securities are marketed under trade names such as Municipal Tax Exempt Investment Growth Receipts (Municipal TIGRs), Municipal Receipts (MRs), and Municipal Receipts of Accrual on Exempt Securities (MUNI RAES).

Application of Board Rules

In general, the Board's rules apply to transactions in stripped coupon municipal securities in the same way as they apply to other municipal securities transactions. The Board's rules on professional qualifications and supervision, for example, apply to persons executing transactions in the securities the same as any other municipal security. The Board's rules on recordkeeping, quotations, advertising and arbitration also apply to transactions in the securities. Dealers should be aware that rule G-19, on suitability of recommendations, and rule G-30, on fair pricing, apply to transactions in such instruments.

The Board emphasizes that its rule on fair dealing, rule G-17, requires dealers to disclose to customers purchasing stripped coupon municipal securities all material facts about the securities at or before the time of trade. Any facts concerning the underlying securities which materially affect the stripped coupon instruments, of course, must be disclosed to the customer. The Board understands that some stripped coupon municipal securities are sold without any credit enhancement to the underlying municipal securities. As pointed out in the SEC staff letter, dealers must be particularly careful in these cases to disclose all material facts relevant to the creditworthiness of the underlying issue.

Confirmation Requirements

Dealers generally should confirm transactions in stripped coupon municipal securities as they would transactions in other municipal securities that do not pay periodic interest or which pay interest annually.[2] A review of the Board's confirmation requirements applicable to the securities follows.

Securities Descriptions. Rules G-12(c)(v)(E) and G-15(a)(i)(E)[*] require a complete securities description to be included on inter-dealer and customer confirmations, respectively, including the name of the issuer, interest rate and maturity date.[3] In addition to the name of the issuer of the underlying municipal securities, the trade name and series designation assigned to the stripped coupon municipal security by the dealer sponsoring the program must be included on the confirmation.[4] Of course, the interest rate actually paid by the stripped coupon security (e.g., zero percent or the actual, annual interest rate) must be stated on the confirmation rather than the interest rate on the underlying security.[†] Similarly, the maturity date listed on the confirmation must be the date of the final payment made by the stripped coupon municipal security rather than the maturity date of the underlying securities.[5]

Credit Enhancement Information. Rules G-12(c)(vi)(D) and G-15(a)(ii)(D)[‡] require confirmations of securities pre-refunded to a call date or escrowed to maturity to state this fact along with the date of maturity set by the advance refunding and the redemption price. If the underlying municipal securities are advance-refunded, confirmations of the stripped coupon municipal securities must note this. In addition, rules G-12(c)(v)(E) and G-15(c)(i)(E)[#] require that the name of any company or other person, in addition to the issuer, obligated directly or indirectly with respect to debt service on the underlying issue or the stripped coupon security be included on confirmations.[6]

Quantity of Securities and Denominations. For securities that mature in more than two years and pay investment return only at maturity, rules G-12(c)(v) and G-15(a)(v)[**] require the maturity value to be stated on confirmations in lieu of par value. This requirement is applicable to transactions in stripped coupon municipal securities over two years in maturity that pay investment return only at maturity, e.g., securities representing one interest payment or one principal payment. For securities that pay only principal and that are pre-refunded at a premium price, the principal amount may be stated as the transaction amount, but the maturity value must be clearly noted elsewhere on the confirmation. This will permit such securities to be sold in standard denominations and will facilitate the clearance and settlement of the securities.

Rules G-12(c)(vi)(F) and G-15(a)(iii)(G)[††] require confirmations of securities that are sold or that will be delivered in denominations other than the standard denominations specified in rules G-12(e)(v) and G-15(a)(iii)(G)[††] to state the denominations on the confirmation. The standard denominations are $1,000 or $5,000 for bearer securities, and for registered securities, increments of $1,000 up to a maximum of $100,000. If stripped coupon municipal securities are sold or will be delivered in any other denominations, the denomination of the security must be stated on the confirmation.

Dated Date. Rules G-12(c)(vi)(A) and G-15(a)(iii)(A)[***] require that confirmations state the dated date of a security if it affects price or interest calculations, and the first interest payment date if other than semi-annual. The dated date for purposes of an interest-paying stripped coupon municipal security is the date that interest begins accruing to the custodian for payment to the beneficial owner. This date, along with the first date that interest will be paid to the owner, must be stated on the confirmation whenever it is necessary for calculation of price or accrued interest.

Original Issue Discount Disclosure. Rules G-12(c)(vi)(G) and G-15(a)(iii)(H)[†††] require that confirmations identify securities that pay periodic interest and that are sold by an underwriter or designated by the issuer as "original issue discount." This alerts purchasers that the periodic interest received on the securities is not the only source of tax-exempt return on investment. Under federal tax law, the purchaser of stripped coupon municipal securities is assumed to have purchased the securities at an "original issue discount," which determines the amount of investment income that will be tax-exempt to the purchaser. Thus, dealers should include the designation of "original issue discount" on confirmations of stripped coupon municipal securities, such as annual payment securities, which pay periodic interest.

Clearance and Settlement of Stripped Coupon Municipal Securities

Under rules G-12(e)(vi)(B) and G-15(a)(iv)(B), delivery of securities transferable only on the books of a custodian can be made only by the bookkeeping entry of the custodian.[7] Many dealers sponsoring stripped coupon programs provide customers with "certificates of accrual" or "receipts," which evidence the type and amount of the stripped coupon municipal securities that are held by the custodian on behalf of the beneficial owner. Some of these documents, which generally are referred to as "custodial receipts," include "assignment forms," which allow the beneficial owner to instruct the custodian to transfer the ownership of the securities on its books. Physical delivery of a custodial receipt is not a good delivery under rules G-12(e) and G-15(a) unless the parties specifically have agreed to the delivery of a custodial receipt. If such an agreement is reached, it should be noted on the confirmation of the transaction, as required by rules G-12(c)(v)(N) and G-15(a)(i)(N)[****].

The Board understands that some stripped coupon municipal securities that are assigned CUSIP numbers and sold in denominations which are multiples of $1,000 are eligible for automated comparison and automated confirmation/affirmation and that some of these instruments also are eligible for book-entry delivery through registered securities depositories. The Board reminds dealers that transactions in stripped coupon municipal securities are subject to the automated clearance requirements of rules G-12(f) and G-15(d) if they are eligible in the automated clearance systems. Dealers sponsoring stripped coupon programs also should note that rule G-34(b)(ii) requires CUSIP numbers to be assigned to stripped coupon municipal securities prior to the initial sale of the securities to facilitate clearance and settlement.

Written Disclosures in Connection with Sales of Stripped Coupon Municipal Securities

Dealers sponsoring stripped coupon municipal securities programs generally prepare "offering circulars" or "offering memoranda" describing the securities that have been placed on deposit with the custodian, the custody agreement under which the securities are held, and the tax treatment of transactions in the securities. These documents generally are provided to all customers purchasing the securities during the initial offering of the instruments. The Board strongly encourages all dealers selling stripped coupon municipal securities to provide these documents to their customers whether the securities are purchased during the initial distribution or at a later time.[8] Although the material information contained in these documents, under rule G-17, must be disclosed to customers orally if not provided in writing prior to the time of trade, the Board believes that the unusual nature of stripped coupon municipal securities and their tax treatment warrants special efforts to provide written disclosures. Moreover, if stripped coupon municipal securities are marketed during the underwriting period of the underlying issue, rule G-32 requires distribution of the official statement for the underlying issue prior to settlement of the transaction of the stripped coupon municipal securities.


[1] The Board understands that other types of stripped coupon municipal securities also may be offered with combinations of interest and principal payments providing an interest rate different than the original interest rate of the securities.

[2] Thus, for stripped coupon municipal securities that do not pay periodic interest, rules G-12(c)(v) and G-15(a)(v) require confirmations to state the interest rate as zero and, for customer confirmations, the inclusion of a legend indicating that the customer will not receive periodic interest payments. [See current rule G-15(a)(vi)(D), G-15(a)(i)(B)(4)(a) and G-15(a)(i)(D)(1).] Rules G-12(c)(vi)(H) and G-15(a)(iii)(l) [currently codified at rule G-15(a)(i)(C)(2)(e)] require confirmations of securities paying annual interest to note this fact.

[3] The complete description consists of all of the following information: the name of the issuer, interest rate, maturity date, and if the securities are limited tax, subject to redemption prior to maturity (callable), or revenue bonds, an indication to such effect, including in the case of revenue bonds the type of revenue, if necessary for a materially complete description of the securities and in the case of any securities, 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 or, if there is more than one such obligor, the statement, "multiple obligors" may be shown.

[4] Trade name and series designation is required under rules G-12(c)(vi)(l) and G-15(a)(iii)(J) [currently codified at rule G-15(a)(i)(A)(8)], which state that confirmations, must include all information necessary to ensure that the parties agree to the details of the transaction. [See also current rule G-15(a)(i)(B)(1)(a).]

[5] Therefore, the maturity date of a stripped coupon municipal security representing one interest payment is the date of the interest payment. [See current rule G-15(a)(i)(B)(3)(a).]

[6] It should be noted that the SEC staff letter is limited to instruments in which "neither the custodian nor sponsor additionally will guarantee or otherwise enhance the creditworthiness of the underlying municipal security or the stripped coupon security."

[7] Under rules G-12(c)(vi)(B) and G-15(a)(iii)(B) [currently codified at rule G-15(a)(i)(C)(2)(d)] the book-entry-only nature of the securities also must be noted on the confirmation.

[8] The Board understands that these documents generally are available from the dealers sponsoring the stripped coupon municipal securities program.

[*] [Currently codified at rule G-15(a)(i)(B)]

[] [Currently codified at rule G-15(a)(i)(B)(4)(e)]

[] [Currently codified at rule G-15(a)(i)(C)(3)(c)]

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

[**] [Currently codified at rule G-15(a)(i)(A)(3)]

[††] [Currently codified at rule G-15(a)(i)(A)(7)(b)]

[***] [Currently codified at rule G-15(a)(i)(B)(5)]

[†††] [Currently codified at rule G-15(a)(i)(C)(4)(c)]

[****] [Currently codified at rule G-15(a)(i)(A)(7)(c)]

Interpretive Guidance - Interpretive Notices
Publication date:
Confirmation, Delivery and Reclamation of Interchangeable Securities

In March 1988, the Securities and Exchange Commission approved amendments to rules G-12 and G-15 concerning municipal securities that may be issued in bearer or registered form (interchangeable securities).[1] These amendments will become effective for transactions executed on or after September 18, 1988. The amendments revise rules G-12(e) and G-15(c) to allow inter-dealer and customer deliveries of interchangeable securities to be either in bearer or registered form, ending the presumption in favor of bearer certificates for such deliveries. The amendments also delete the provision in rule G-12(g) that allows an inter-dealer delivery of interchangeable securities to be reclaimed within one day if the delivery is in registered form. In addition, the amendments remove the provisions in rules G-12(c) and G-15(a) that require dealers to disclose on inter-dealer and customer confirmations that securities are in registered form.

The Board has received inquiries on several matters concerning the amendments and is providing the following clarifications and interpretive guidance.

Deliveries of Interchangeable Securities

Several dealers have asked whether the amendments apply to securities that can be converted from bearer to registered form, but that cannot then be converted back to bearer form. These securities are "interchangeable securities" because they originally were issuable in either bearer or registered form. Therefore, under the amendments, physical deliveries of these certificates may be made in either bearer or registered form, unless a contrary agreement has been made by the parties to the transaction.[2]

The Board also has been asked whether a mixed delivery of bearer and registered certificates is permissible under the amendments. Since the amendments provide that either bearer or registered certificates are acceptable for physical deliveries, a delivery consisting of bearer and registered certificates also is an acceptable delivery under the amendments.

Fees for Conversion

Transfer agents for some interchangeable securities charge fees for conversion of registered certificates to bearer form. Dealers should be aware that these fees can be substantial and, in some cases, may be prohibitively expensive. Dealers, therefore, should ascertain the amount of the fee prior to agreeing to deliver bearer certificates. A dealer may pass on the costs of converting registered securities to bearer form to its customer. In such a case, the dealer must disclose the amount of the conversion fee to the customer at or prior to the time of trade, and the customer must agree to pay it.[3] In addition, rule G-15(a)(iii)(J)[*] requires that the dealer note such an agreement (including the amount of the conversion fee) on the confirmation.[4] The conversion fee, however, should not be included in the price when calculating the yield shown on the confirmation.[5] In collecting this fee, the dealer merely would be passing on the costs imposed by a third party, voluntarily assumed by the customer, relating to the form in which the securities are held. The conversion fee thus is not a necessary or intrinsic cost of the transaction for purposes of yield calculation.[6]

Continued Application of the Board's Automated Clearance Rules

The Board's automated clearance rules, rules G-12(f) and G-15(d), require book-entry settlements of certain inter-dealer and customer transactions.[7] The amendments on interchangeable securities address only physical deliveries of certificates and, therefore, apply solely to transactions that are not required to be settled by book-entry under the automated clearance rules.

When a physical delivery is permitted under Board rules (e.g., because the securities are not depository eligible), dealers may agree at the time of trade on the form of certificates to be delivered. When such an agreement is made, this special condition must be included on the confirmation, as required by rules G-12(c)(vi)(I) and G-15(a)(iii)(J).[8][*]Dealers, however, may not enter into an agreement providing for a physical delivery when book-entry settlement is required under the automated clearance rules, as this would result in a violation of the automated clearance rules.[9]

Need for Education of Customers on Benefits of Registered Securities

Dealers should begin planning as soon as possible any internal or operational changes that may be needed to comply with the amendments. The Depository Trust Company (DTC) has announced plans for a full-scale program of converting interchangeable securities now held in bearer form to registered form beginning on September 18, 1988.[10] When possible, DTC plans to retain a small supply of bearer certificates in interchangeable issues to accommodate withdrawal requests for bearer certificates.[11] The general effect of the amendments and DTC's policy, however, will make it difficult for dealers, in certain cases, to ensure that their customers will receive bearer certificates. Dealers should educate customers who now prefer bearer certificates on the call notification and interest payment benefits offered by registered certificates and dealer safekeeping and advise them when it is unlikely that bearer certificates can be obtained in a particular transaction. Dealers safekeeping municipal securities through DTC on behalf of such customers also may wish to review with those customers DTC's new arrangements for interchangeable securities.


[1] See SEC Release No. 34-25489 (March 18, 1988); MSRB Reports Vol. 8, no. 2 (March 1988), at 3.

[2] The amendments should substantially reduce delays in physical deliveries that result because of dealer questions about whether specific certificates should be in bearer form. This efficiency would be impossible if these "one-way" interchangeable securities were excluded from the amendments since dealers would be required to determine, for each physical delivery of registered securities, whether the securities are "one-way" interchangeable securities.

[3] Rule G-17, on fair dealing, requires dealers to disclose all material facts about a transaction to a customer at or before the time of trade. In many cases, the conversion fee is as much as $15 for each bearer certificate. The Board also has been made aware of some cases in which the transfer agent must obtain new printing plates or print new bearer certificates to effect a conversion. The conversion costs then may be in excess of several hundred or a thousand dollars. Therefore, it is important that the customer be aware of the amount of the conversion costs prior to agreeing to pay for them.

[4] This rule requires that, in addition to any other information required on the confirmation, the dealer must include "such other information as may be necessary to ensure that the parties agree on the details of the transaction."

[5] Rule G-15(a)(i)(I) [currently codified at rule G-15(a)(i)(A)(5)] requires the yield of a customer transaction to be shown on the confirmation.

[6] Some customers, for example, may ask dealers to convert registered securities to bearer form even though the customers also may be willing to accept registered certificates if this is more economical.

[7] Rule G-12(f)(ii) requires book-entry settlement of an inter-dealer municipal securities transaction if both dealers (or their clearing agents for the transaction) are members of a depository making the securities eligible and the transaction is compared through a registered securities clearing agency. Rule G-15(d)(iii) requires book-entry settlement of a customer transaction if the dealer grants delivery versus payment or receipt versus payment privileges on the transaction and both the dealer and the customer (or the clearing agents for the transaction) are members of a depository making the securities eligible.

[8] These rules require that, in addition to the other information required on inter-dealer and customer confirmation, confirmations must include "such other information as may be necessary to ensure that the parties agree to the details of the transaction."

[9] Of course, dealers may withdraw physical certificates from a depository once a book-entry delivery is accepted.

[10] DTC expects this conversion process to take approximately two years. Midwest Securities Trust Company and The Philadelphia Depository Trust Company have not yet announced their plans with regard to interchangeable securities.

[11] DTC Notice to Participants on Plans for Comprehensive Conversion of Interchangeable Municipal Bonds to the Registered Form (August 10, 1988).

[*] [Currently codified at rule G-15(a)(i)(A)(8)]

Interpretive Guidance - Interpretive Letters
Publication date:
Callable Securities: Pricing to Mandatory Sinking Fund Calls

Callable securities: pricing to mandatory sinking fund calls. This is in response to your February 21, 1986 letter concerning the application of rule G-15(a) regarding pricing to prerefunded bonds with mandatory sinking fund calls.

You give the following example:

Bonds, due 7/1/10, are prerefunded to 7/1/91 at 102. There are $17,605,000 of these bonds outstanding. However, there is a mandatory sinking fund which will operate to call $1,000,000 of these bonds at par every year from 7/1/86 to 7/1/91. The balance ($11,605,000) then will be redeemed 7/1/91 at 102. If this bond is priced to the 1991 prerefunded date in today's market at a 6.75 yield, the dollar price would be approximately 127.94. However, if this bond is called 7/1/86 at 100 and a customer paid the above price, his/her yield would be a minus 52 percent (-52%) on the called portion.

You state that the correct way to price the bond is to the 7/1/86 par call at a 5% level which equates to an approximate dollar price of 102.61. The subsequent yield to the 7/1/91 at 102 prerefunded date would be 12.33% if the bond survived all the mandatory calls to that date. You note that a June 8, 1978, MSRB interpretation states, "the calculation of dollar price to a premium call or par option date should be to that date at which the issuer may exercise an option to call the whole of a particular issue or, in the case of serial bonds, a particular maturity, and not to the date of a call in-part." You believe, however, that, as the rule is presently written, dealers are leaving themselves open for litigation from customers if bonds, which are trading at a premium, are not priced to the mandatory sinking fund call. You ask that the Board review this interpretation.

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.

Rule G-15(a)(i)(I)[*] requires that on customer confirmations the yield and dollar price for the transaction be disclosed as the price (if the transaction is done on a yield basis) or yield (if the transaction is done on the basis of the dollar price) calculated to the lowest price or yield to call, to par option, or to maturity. The provision also requires, 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.[1] This requirement reflects the longstanding practice of the municipal securities industry that a price calculated to an "in-part" call, such as a sinking fund call, 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 sinking fund date may not bear any relation to the likely return on the investment.

Rule G-15(a)(i)(I)[*] applies, 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. put option 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 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.[2] 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 in your example, unless the parties have agreed otherwise, should be made to the prerefunded date. Of course, under rule G-17 on fair dealing, dealers must explain to customers the existence of sinking fund calls at the time of trade. The sinking fund call, in addition, should be disclosed on the confirmation by an indication that the securities are "callable." The fact that the securities are prerefunded also should be noted on the confirmation. MSRB Interpretation of April 30, 1986.


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

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

[*] [Currently codified at rule G-15(a)(i)(A)(5)]

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:
Application of Board Rules to Transactions in Municipal Securities Subject to Secondary Market Insurance or Other Credit Enhancement Features

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

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

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


 

 

[1] Rule G-17 provides:

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

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

Interpretive Guidance - Interpretive Letters
Publication date:
Callable Securities: Pricing to Call and Extraordinary Mandatory Redemption Features

Callable securities: pricing to call and extraordinary mandatory redemption features. This is in response to your November 16, 1983, letter concerning the application of the Board's rules to sales of municipal securities that are subject to extraordinary redemption features.

As a general matter, rule G-17 of the Board's rules of fair practice requires municipal securities brokers and dealers to deal fairly with all persons and prohibits them from engaging in any deceptive, dishonest, or unfair practice. The Board has interpreted this rule to require, in connection with the purchase from or sale of a municipal security to a customer, that a dealer must disclose, at or before the time the transaction occurs, all material facts concerning the transaction and not omit any material facts which would render other statements misleading. The fact that a security may be redeemed "in whole," "in part," or in extraordinary circumstances prior to maturity is essential to a customer's investment decision about the security and is one of the facts a dealer must disclose prior to the transaction. It should be noted that the Board has determined that certain items of information must, because of their materiality, be disclosed on confirmations of transactions. However, a confirmation is not received by a customer until after a transaction is effected and is not meant to take the place of oral disclosure prior to the time the trade occurs.

You ask whether, for an issue which has more than one call feature, the disclosure requirements of MSRB rule G-15 would be better served by merely stating on the confirmation that the bonds are callable, instead of disclosing the terms of one call feature and not another. Board rule G-15, among other things, prescribes what items of information must be disclosed on confirmations of transactions with customers.[1] Rule G-15(a)(i)(E)[*] requires that customer confirmations contain a materially complete description of the securities and specifically identifies the fact that securities are subject to redemption prior to maturity as one item that must be specified. The Board is of the view that the fact that a security may be subject to an "in whole" or "in part" call is a material fact for an individual making an investment decision about the securities and has further required in rule G-15a(iii)(D)[†] that confirmations of transactions in callable securities must state that the resulting yield may be affected by the exercise of a call provision, and that information relating to call provisions is available upon request.[2]

With respect to the computation of yields and dollar prices, rule G-15(a)(i)(I)[‡] requires that the yield and dollar price for the transaction be disclosed as the price (if the transaction is done on a yield basis) or yield (if the transaction is done on the basis of a dollar price) calculated to the lowest price or yield to call, to par option, or to maturity. The provision also requires, 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 and advises a purchaser what amount of return he can expect to realize from the investment and the terms under which such return would be realized.

You also ask whether it is reasonable to infer from the discharge of one call feature that no other call features exist. As discussed above, the Board requires a customer confirmation to disclose, when applicable, that a security is subject to redemption prior to maturity and that the call feature may affect the security's yield. This requirement applies to securities subject to either "in whole" or "in part" calls. Moreover, as noted earlier, because information concerning call features is material information, principles of fair dealing embodied by rule G-17 require that these details be disclosed orally at the time of trade.

By contrast, identification of the first "in-whole" call date and its price must be made only when they are used to compute the yield or resulting dollar price for a transaction. This disclosure is designed only to advise an investor what information was used in computing the lowest of yield or price to call, to par option, or to maturity and is not meant to describe the only call features of the municipal security.

In addition, in the case of the sale of new issue securities during the underwriting period, Board rule G-32 requires that ... a copy of the final official statement, if any, must be provided to the customer.[4] While the official statement would describe all call features of an issue, it must be emphasized that delivery of this document does not relieve a dealer of its obligation to advise a customer of material characteristics and facts concerning the security at the time of trade.

Finally, you ask whether the omission of this or other call features on the confirmation is a material omission of the kind which would be actionable under SEC rule 10b-5. The Board is not empowered to interpret the Securities Exchange Act or rules thereunder; that responsibility has been delegated to the Securities and Exchange Commission. We note, however, that the failure to disclose the existence of a call feature would violate rule G-15 and, in egregious situations, also may violate rule G-17, the Board's fair dealing rule. MSRB interpretation of February 10 1984.


[1] Similar requirements are specified in rule G-12 for confirmations of inter-dealer transactions.

[2] The rule states that this requirement will be satisfied by placing in footnote or otherwise the statement:

"[Additional] call features ... exist [that may] affect yield; complete information will be provided upon request."

[3] See [Rule G-15 Interpretation - Notice concerning pricing to call], December 10, 1980 ... at ¶ 3571.

[4] The term underwriting period is defined in rule G-11 as:

the period commencing with the first submission to a syndicate of an order for the purchase of new issue municipal securities or the purchase of such securities from the issuer, whichever first occurs, and ending at such time as the issuer delivers the securities to the syndicate or the syndicate no longer retains an unsold balance of securities, whichever last occurs.

[*] [Currently codified at rule G-15(a)(i)(C)]

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

[‡] [Currently codified at rule G-15(a)(i)(A)(5)]

NOTE: Revised to reflect subsequent amendments.

Interpretive Guidance - Interpretive Letters
Publication date:
Put Option Bonds: Safekeeping, Pricing

Put option bonds: safekeeping, pricing. I am writing in response to your recent letter regarding issues of municipal securities with put option or tender option features, under which a holder of the securities may put the securities back to the issuer or an agent of the issuer at par on certain stated dates. In your letter you inquire generally as to the confirmation disclosure requirements applicable to such securities. You also raise several questions regarding a dealer’s obligation to advise customers of the existence of the put option provision at times other than the time of sale of the securities to the customer.

Your letter was referred to a committee of the Board which has responsibility for interpreting the  Board’s confirmation rules, among other matters. That committee has authorized my sending you the following response.

Both rules G-12(c) and G-15, applicable to inter-dealer and customer confirmations respectively, require that confirmations of transactions in securities which are subject to put option or tender option features must indicate that fact (e.g., through inclusion of the designation “puttable” on the confirmation). the date on which the put option feature first comes into effect need be stated on the confirmation only if the transaction is effected on a yield basis and the parties to the transaction specifically agree that the transaction dollar price should be computed to that date. In the absence of such an agreement, the put date need not be stated on the confirmation, and any yield disclosed should be a yield to maturity.

Of course, municipal securities brokers and dealers selling to customers securities with put option or tender option features are obligated to disclose adequately the special characteristics of these securities at the time of trade.  The customer therefore should be advised of information about the put option or tender option feature at this time.

In your letter you inquire whether a dealer who had previously sold securities with a put option or tender option feature to a customer would be obliged to contact that customer around the time the put option comes into effect to remind the customer that the put option is available. You also ask whether such an obligation would exist if the dealer held the securities in safekeeping for the customer. The committee can respond, of course, only in terms of the requirements of Board rules; the committee noted that no Board rule would impose such an obligation on the dealer.

In your letter you also ask whether a dealer who purchased from a customer securities with a put option or tender 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 committee believes that such a dealer might well be deemed to be in violation of Board rules G-17 on fair dealer and G-30 on prices and commissions. MSRB interpretation of February 18, 1983.