Looking for a credit report on a new municipal bond issue? How about criteria for how municipal bonds are rated or insights on important trends affecting municipal finance? The rating agencies may have the information you seek on their web sites.

While the bulk of the material published on all three major rating agency web sites – Standard & Poor’s, Moody’s, and Fitch – is available to paid subscribers, each of the agencies provides some content to the general public, and an increased level of access to registered visitors. Registration is free on all sites.

Fitch’s home page features ratings actions and headlines of other reports and company news. The Public Finance tab takes visitors to several menu options, including a complete list of U.S. public finance issuers. By clicking on a link to a specific issuer, visitors can view a list of all rated issues.

Another menu option leads to new issue reports and special reports covering a range of topics, including “California: the Cost of Clean Air” to “Public Power Quarterly” and “Public Finance Implications of the Downturn in the Auto Industry.”

Current news and ratings actions are also highlighted on Moody’s home page. Visitors can search for specific ratings by issuer name, cusip number, or even report author. Depending on the issue, the search will return a ratings summary or full report.

Summary reports relating to ratings actions (including upgrades, downgrades, or new issue) are available free of charge, but special reports are accessible to subscribers only. Moody’s posts its Watch List of credits – issues whose ratings are being closely monitored for possible change. Registered users can also visit Moody’s Economy.com partner web sites, which provide a limited amount of economic data free of charge.

S & P also features research and ratings news on the front page of its web site. In addition, it provides real-time updates (and news relating to) its market indices. Public finance materials are available by selecting the “credit ratings” tab at the top of the home page, then choosing Public Finance option in the left column.

As with the other agencies, information is available free of charge particularly if an item has been recently released. We note that at the time of this writing, Standard & Poor’s was in the process of redesigning its web site? Stay tuned for changes!

Standard & Poor’s, Moody’s, and Fitch each provide a multitude of upgraded (fee-based) services ? A visit to their respective web sites is a great way to get a feel for the companies and their products.