MuniLand

JPMorgan fails to disclose

Charlie Gasparino of Fox Business News seems to have scooped a muniland story yesterday when he reported that JPMorgan had failed to include material facts in a municipal bond offering on which it was the lead underwriter.

Lead underwriters have a special role in muniland. The Tower Amendment, passed in 1975, prohibited the federal government from requiring issuers of municipal debt to make specific disclosures to investors prior to offering securities for sale. Underwriters, however, do not enjoy the same protection, so the law has evolved to make them liable for the contents of the offering document for municipal debt. This requirement is administrated by the Municipal Rulemaking Board through Rule G-17, or the fair-dealing rule.

MSRB’s Rule G-17 is the Ten Commandments of muniland (emphasis mine):

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.

Gasparino’s reporting, which seems to be based on sources inside JPMorgan, nails the G-17 violation. He cites the omission of risks related to the Massachusetts state pension in a $469 million general obligation bond offering in May 2011. As the lead underwriter on the deal, JPMorgan carried out an internal study on pension risks but did not disclose those risks within the Massachusetts bond offering document:

Yet, J.P. Morgan didn’t include its pension fund analysis in bond deal disclosure materials that are made to investors, known as the deal’s “official statement,” according to current and former executives at the firm. Case in point: a $469 million bond issue by Massachusetts in May of last year, two months after the pension report was published.

Disclosure is the beat

Disclosure is the beat

On Tuesday at the SIFMA Muni Bond Summit in New York, much of the discussion by bond market participants related to transparency and disclosure issues. A lot of this was in response to new requirements in Dodd-Frank, but there was also an acknowledgement that many problems in the crisis of 2007-2009 came from a lack of information and data in many parts of the market. For example small municipal issuers had more trouble accessing the bond market to issue new bonds if their public reporting was deficient or out of date.

The heavy hitter of the bond summit was SEC Commissioner Elise Walter, who appeared by video link and broke news that the SEC would not ask Congress to overturn the Tower Amendment, a 1975 law that bars the SEC from interfering in the fiscal affairs of state and local governments. She discussed current legislation that would skirt the Tower Amendment and give the SEC authority to require municipal issuers to file disclosure, though it would grant no authority to review and approve those filings. From the Bond Buyer:

Walter repeated her call for Congress to increase the SEC’s authority so that it could set “baseline disclosure requirements.”

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