Tuesday, September 29, 2009

How municipal bonds are marketed?

The selling of municipals is usually carried out through a syndicate of banks and securities dealers. These institutions underwrite municipals by purchasing them from the issuing unit of government and reselling the securities in the open market, hopefully at a higher price. Prices paid by the underwriting firms may be determined either by competitive bidding among several syndicates or by negotiation with a single securities dealer or syndicate. Competitive bidding normally is employed in the marketing of general obligation (GO) bonds, while revenue bonds more frequently are placed through negotiation.
In competitive bidding, syndicates interested in a particular bond issue will estimate its potential reoffer price in the open market and their desired underwriting commission. Each syndicate wants to bid a price high enough to win the bid, but low enough so that the securities can later be sold in the open market at a price sufficient to protect the group's commission. That is,
Bid price+ underwriting commission= market reoffer price
The winning bid carries the lowest net interest cost (NIC) to the issuing unit of government. The NIC is simply the sum of all interest payments that will be owed on the new issues of municipal bonds is a treacherous business. Prices, interest rates, and market demand for municipals all change rapidly, often without warning. In fact, the tax-exempt securities market is one of the most volatile of all financial markets. This is due in part to the dominant role of commercial banks, whose demand for municipals fluctuates with their net earnings and loan demand. Legal interest-rate ceilings, which prohibit some local governments from borrowing when market rates climb above those ceilings, also play a significant role in the volatility of municipal trading. These combined factors render the tax-exempt market highly sensitive to the business cycle, monetary policy, inflation, and a host of other economic and financial factors. The spectre of high interest rates often forces the postponement of hundreds of millions of dollars of new issues, while the onset of lower rates may unleash a flood of new security offerings.
There is trend today away from competitive bidding and toward negotiated sales of new state and local bonds, due partly to the treacherous character of the tax-exempt market. For example, during 1978 an estimated 53 percent of bonds issued in the market for long-term municipals were negotiated, compared with only 15 percent a dozen years before. This trend has aroused some concern among financial analysis because competitive bidding should result in the lowest net interest cost, reducing the burden on local taxpayers. A recent study sponsored by the Municipal Finance Officers Association (MFOA) concluded that taxpayers have borne some added interest burden as a result of the recent emphasis upon negotiated, rather than combative, sale.
This problem is especially severe in certain states. For example, the AFOA-sponsored study found that in Pennsylvania, where competitive bidding is not required by law, about 95 percent of all bonds sold by local governments were handled through negotiation with a single underwriter group. It was estimated that Pennsylvania local governments paid approximately $14 million in excess interest costs on bond sales totaling about $360 million. On the other side of the coin, underwriting firms argue that they provide extra services to borrowing governments during the negotiation process-services not generally available through competitive bidding. These include preparing legal offering statements, scheduling the sale of new securities, helping to secure desirable credit ratings, and contacting potential buyers.

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