Back to top

Rule G-17

Conduct of Municipal Securities and Municipal Advisory Activities

Rule
Summary

Requires dealers and municipal advisors to deal fairly with all persons and not to engage in any deceptive, dishonest or unfair practice.

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

Interpretive Guidance - Interpretive Notices
Publication date:

Excerpt from Notice of Application of MSRB Rules to Solicitor Municipal Advisors

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

Interpretive Guidance - Interpretive Notices
Publication date:

Interpretive Notice Concerning the Application of MSRB Rule G-17 to Underwriters of Municipal Securities

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

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

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

Basic Fair Dealing Principle

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

Role of the Underwriter/Conflicts of Interest

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Representations to Issuers

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

Required Disclosures to Issuers

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

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

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

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

Underwriter Duties in Connection with Issuer Disclosure Documents

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

Underwriter Compensation and New Issue Pricing

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

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

Conflicts of Interest

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

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

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

Retail Order Periods

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

Dealer Payments to Issuer Personnel

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

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

August 2, 2012


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

[12] Rule G-13(b)(iii) provides: “For purposes of subparagraph (i), a quotation shall be deemed to represent a "bona fide bid for, or offer of, municipal securities" if the broker, dealer or municipal securities dealer making the quotation is prepared to purchase or sell the security which is the subject of the quotation at the price stated in the quotation and under such conditions, if any, as are specified at the time the quotation is made.”

[13] See 1997 Interpretation.

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

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

 

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

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

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

Interpretive Guidance - Interpretive Notices
Publication date:

Interpretation on Priority of Orders for Securities in a Primary Offering under Rule G-17

On December 22, 1987, the MSRB published a notice[1] interpreting the fair practice principles of Rule G-17 as they apply to the priority of orders for new issue securities (the “1987 notice”). The MSRB wishes to update the guidance provided in the 1987 notice due to changes in the marketplace and subsequent amendments to Rule G-11.

Rule G-11(e) requires syndicates to establish priority provisions and, if such priority provisions may be changed, to specify the procedure for making changes. The rule also permits a syndicate to allow the syndicate manager, on a case-by-case basis, to allocate securities in a manner other than in accordance with the priority provisions if the syndicate manager determines in its discretion that it is in the best interests of the syndicate. Under Rule G-11(f), syndicate managers must furnish information, in writing, to the syndicate members about terms and conditions required by the issuer,[2] priority provisions and the ability of the syndicate manager to allocate away from the priority provisions, among other things. Syndicate members must promptly furnish this information, in writing, to others upon request. This requirement was adopted to allow prospective purchasers to frame their orders to the syndicate in a manner that would enhance their ability to obtain securities since the syndicate’s allocation procedures would be known.

In addition to traditional priority provisions found in syndicate agreements, municipal securities underwriters frequently agree to other terms and conditions specified by the issuer of the securities relating to the distribution of the issuer’s securities. Such provisions include, but are not limited to, requirements concerning retail order periods. MSRB Rule G-17 states that, in the conduct of its municipal securities business, each broker, dealer, and municipal securities dealer (“dealer”) shall deal fairly with all persons and shall not engage in any deceptive, dishonest or unfair practice. These requirements specifically apply to an underwriter’s activities conducted with a municipal securities issuer, including any commitments that the underwriter makes regarding the distribution of the issuer’s securities. An underwriter may violate the duty of fair dealing by making such commitments to the issuer and then failing to honor them. This could happen, for example, if an underwriter fails to accept, give priority to, or allocate to retail orders in conformance with the provisions agreed to in an undertaking to provide a retail order period. A dealer who wishes to allocate securities in a manner that is inconsistent with an issuer’s requirements must not do so without the issuer’s consent.

Except as otherwise provided in this notice, principles of fair dealing will require the syndicate manager to give priority to customer orders over orders for its own account, orders by other members of the syndicate for their own accounts, orders from persons controlling, controlled by, or under common control with any syndicate member (“affiliates”) for their own accounts, or orders for their respective related accounts,[3] to the extent feasible and consistent with the orderly distribution of securities in a primary offering. This principle may affect a wide range of dealers and their related accounts given changes in organizational structures due to consolidations, acquisitions, and other corporate actions that have, in many cases, resulted in increasing numbers of dealers, and their related dealer accounts, becoming affiliated with one another.

Rule G-17 does not require the syndicate manager to accord greater priority to customer orders over orders submitted by non-syndicate dealers (including selling group members). However, prioritization of customer orders over orders of non-syndicate dealers may be necessary to honor terms and conditions agreed to with issuers, such as requirements relating to retail orders.

The MSRB understands that syndicate managers must balance a number of competing interests in allocating securities in a primary offering and must be able quickly to determine when it is appropriate to allocate away from the priority provisions, to the extent consistent with the issuer’s requirements. Thus, Rule G-17 does not preclude the syndicate manager or managers from according equal or greater priority to orders by syndicate members for their own accounts, affiliates for their own accounts, or their respective related accounts if, on a case-by-case basis, the syndicate manager determines in its discretion that it is in the best interests of the syndicate. However, the syndicate manager shall have the burden of justifying that such allocation was in the best interests of the syndicate. Syndicate managers should ensure that all allocations, even those away from the priority provisions, are fair and reasonable and consistent with principles of fair dealing under Rule G-17.

It should be noted that all of the principles of fair dealing articulated in this notice extend to any underwriter of a primary offering, whether a sole underwriter, a syndicate manager, or a syndicate member.


[1] MSRB Notice of Interpretation Concerning Priority of Orders for New Issue Securities: Rule G-17 (December 22, 1987).

[2] The requirements of Rule G-11(f) with respect to issuer requirements were adopted by the MSRB in 1998. See Exchange Act Release No. 40717 (November 27, 1998) (File No. SR-MSRB-97-15).

[3] “Related account” has the meaning set forth in Rule G-11(a)(xi).
 
Interpretive Guidance - Interpretive Notices
Publication date:

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:

Reminder Notice on Fair Practice Duties to Issuers of Municipal Securities

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

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

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


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

 

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

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

Interpretive Guidance - Interpretive Notices
Publication date:

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

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

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

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

Interpretive Guidance - Interpretive Notices
Publication date:

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

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:

Dealer Payments In Connection With the Municipal Securities Issuance Process

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

 

Interpretive Guidance - Interpretive Notices
Publication date:

Customer Protection Obligations Relating to the Marketing of 529 College Savings Plans

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

Basic Customer Protection Obligation

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

Disclosure

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Suitability

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

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

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

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

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

Other Sales Practice Principles

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Interpretive Guidance - Interpretive Letters
Publication date:

529 College Savings Plan Advertisements

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

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

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

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

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


 

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

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

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

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

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

Interpretive Guidance - Interpretive Notices
Publication date:

Disclosure Of Material Facts--Disclosure Of Original Issue Discount Bonds

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 Notices
Publication date:

Sales of Municipal Fund Securities in the Primary Market

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

[4] SEC Letter.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

Interpretive Guidance - Interpretive Notices
Publication date:

The Disclosure Obligations of Brokers, Dealers and Municipal Securities Dealers in Connection with New Issue Municipal Securities Under Rule G-32

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

Purpose and Structure of Rule G-32

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

New Issue Municipal Securities and the Underwriting Period

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

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

delivery obligationS to customers

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

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

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

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

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

DELIVERY OBLIGATIONS TO PURCHASING DEALERS

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

RECORDKEEPING

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

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

  • customer name;

  • security description;

  • settlement date(s);

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

  • date the required disclosure was sent;

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Interpretive Guidance - Interpretive Letters
Publication date:

Disclosure obligations

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

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

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

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


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

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

Interpretive Guidance - Interpretive Letters
Publication date:

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 Letters
Publication date:

Purchase of New Issue From Issuer

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

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

Interpretive Guidance - Interpretive Notices
Publication date:

Syndicate Expenses: Per Bond Fee for Bookrunning Expenses

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

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

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


 

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

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

Interpretive Guidance - Interpretive Notices
Publication date:

Transactions in Municipal Securities with Non-Standard Features Affecting Price/Yield Calculations

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

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

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

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

Interpretive Guidance - Interpretive Notices
Publication date:

Educational Notice on Bonds Subject to "Detachable" Call Features

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 Notices
Publication date:

Notice Concerning Syndicate Expenses

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

Interpretive Guidance - Interpretive Letters
Publication date:

Disclosure of the Investment of Bond Proceeds

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

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:

Notice of Interpretation on Escrowed-to-Maturity Securities: Rules G-17, G-12 and G-15

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

Background

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

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

Application of Rule G-17 on Fair Dealing

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

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

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

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

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


 

[1] Rule G-17 states that "[i]n the conduct of its municipal securities business, each broker, dealer, and municipal securities dealer shall deal fairly with all persons and shall not engage in any deceptive, dishonest, or unfair practice."

[2] This terminology also would be used for any issue prerefunded to a call date, with an earlier optional call expressly reserved.

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

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

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

Interpretive Guidance - Interpretive Notices
Publication date:

Notice of Interpretation Requiring Dealers to Submit to Arbitration as a Matter of Fair Dealing

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


 

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

Interpretive Guidance - Interpretive Letters
Publication date:

Disclosure of Pricing: Calculating the Dollar Price of Partially Prerefunded Bonds

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

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

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

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

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

Board rule G-17 provides that

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

Interpretive Guidance - Interpretive Letters
Publication date:

Description Provided at or Prior to the Time of Trade

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

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

Board rule G-17 provides that

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

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

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

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

Interpretive Guidance - Interpretive Notices
Publication date:

Notice Concerning the Application of Board Rules to Put Option Bonds

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

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

Fair Practice Rules

1. Rule G-17

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

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

2. Rule G-25(b)

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

Confirmation Disclosure Rules

1. Description of Security

Rules G-12(c)(v)(E) and G-15(a)(i)(E)[*] require inter-dealer and customer confirmations to set forth

a description of the securities, including… if the securities are… subject to redemption prior to maturity, an indication to such effect.

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

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

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

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

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

2. Yield Disclosure

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Delivery Requirements

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

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


 

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

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

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

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

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

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

[7] See fn. 5.

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

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

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

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

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

Interpretive Guidance - Interpretive Notices
Publication date:

Syndicate Managers Charging Excessive Fees for Designated Sales

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

G–17 provides that

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

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

Interpretive Guidance - Interpretive Notices
Publication date:

Altering the Settlement Date on Transactions in "When-Issued" Securities

The Board has received inquiries concerning situations in which a municipal securities dealer alters the settlement date on transactions in "when-issued" securities. In particular, the Board has been made aware of a situation in which a dealer sells a "when-issued" security but accepts the customer’s money prior to the new issue settlement date and specifies on the confirmation for the transaction a settlement date that is weeks before the actual settlement date of the issue. The dealer apparently does this in order to put the customer’s money "to work" as soon as possible. The Board is of the view that this situation is one in which a customer deposits a free credit balance with the dealer and then, using this balance, purchases securities on the actual settlement date. The dealer pays interest on the free credit balance at the same rate as the securities later purchased by the customer.

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.

The Board believes that this practice would violate rule G-17 if the customer is not advised that the interest received on the free credit balance would probably be taxable. In addition, the Board notes that a dealer that specifies a fictitious settlement date on a confirmation would violate rule G-15(a) which requires that the settlement date be included on customer confirmations.

Interpretive Guidance - Interpretive Notices
Publication date:

Syndicate Manager Selling Short for Own Account to Detriment of Syndicate Account

The Board has received an inquiry concerning a situation in which a municipal securities dealer that is acting as a syndicate manager sells bonds "short" for its own account to the detriment of the syndicate account. In particular, the Board has been made aware of allegations that certain syndicate managers, with knowledge that the syndicate account on a particular new issue of securities is not successful, have sold securities of the new issue "short" for their own accounts and then required syndicate members to take their allotments of unsold bonds. The syndicate managers allegedly have subsequently covered their short positions when the syndicate members attempt to sell their allotments at the lower market price.

Rule G-17, the Board’s fair dealing rule, 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.

Syndicate managers act in a fiduciary capacity in relation to syndicate accounts. Therefore they may not use proprietary information about the account obtained solely as a result of acting as manager to their personal advantage over the syndicate’s best interests. The Board is of the view that a syndicate manager that uses information on the status of the syndicate account which is not available to syndicate members to its own benefit and to the detriment of the syndicate account (e.g., by effecting "short sale" transactions for its own account against the interests of other syndicate members) appears to be acting in violation of the fair dealing provisions of rule G-17.

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 Notices
Publication date:

Notice Concerning Application of Rule G-17 to Use of Lotteries to Allocate Partial Calls to Securities Held in Safekeeping

The Board has received inquiries concerning the duty of municipal securities brokers and dealers to allocate partial calls fairly among customer securities held in safekeeping. In particular, it has come to the Board’s attention that certain municipal securities dealers use lottery systems that include only customer positions and exclude the dealer’s proprietary accounts when the call is exercised at a price below the current market value.

The Board recognizes that lottery systems are a proper method of allocating the results of a partial call. Principles of fair dealing require that all such lotteries treat dealer and customer account alike. The Board is of the view that a municipal securities dealer which uses a lottery that excludes the dealer’s proprietary accounts when the call is exercised at a price below the current market value is acting in violation of rule G-17, the Board’s fair dealing rule.[1]


 

[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.

Interpretive Guidance - Interpretive Notices
Publication date:

Notice of Interpretation of Rule G-17 Concerning Prompt Delivery of Securities

From time to time the Board has received inquiries from purchasers of municipal securities concerning the duty of municipal securities brokers and dealers to deliver securities to customers under the Board’s rules. In particular, customers have asked what, if any, remedies are available when long delays occur between the purchase, payment and delivery of municipal securities. The Board has advised such individuals that under rule G-17, the Board’s fair dealing rule, a municipal securities broker or dealer has a duty to deliver securities sold to customers in a prompt fashion.

The Board is mindful that a dealer’s failure to deliver municipal securities often is caused by its failure to receive delivery of the securities from another dealer or by other circumstances beyond its control. It nevertheless believes that a dealer’s duty to deliver securities promptly to customers is inherent in rule G-17.[1] A violation of that duty could occur, for example, if a dealer sells securities to a customer when it knows that it cannot effect delivery by the specified settlement date or within a reasonable length of time thereafter and does not disclose that fact to its customer.

The Board notes that customers who fail to receive securities are not entitled to take advantage of the Board’s procedures to close out a failed transaction which are available only for inter-dealer transactions under rule G-12. However, if a customer sustains a loss or otherwise is damaged by his dealer’s failure to deliver securities, he may seek recovery through the Board’s arbitration program or through litigation. These remedies may accrue to the customer whether or not a dealer’s failure to deliver violates rule G-17.


 

[1] The duty of a securities professional to complete promptly transactions with customers also has been found to flow from the federal securities laws by the SEC and the courts.

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.

Interpretive Guidance - Interpretive Letters
Publication date:

"Wooden Tickets"

“Wooden tickets.”  This is in response to your letter of February 4, 1981 asking whether the practice of a broker-dealer using “wooden tickets” is prohibited by Board rule G-17. According to your letter, this practice refers to the mailing of confirmations of sales to customers who, in fact, have not placed orders to purchase securities. Thereafter, if any customer objects, stating that it never authorized the transaction, the sale is canceled. You state that, in some cases, customers accept the transaction and make payment.

The Board has determined that the practice by a municipal securities dealer of knowingly issuing confirmations of sales to customers who have not placed orders to purchase the bonds is a deceptive, dishonest, and unfair practice under rule G-17. MSRB interpretation of March 3, 1981.