Calling it “an historic day in the municipal marketplace,” Municipal Securities Rulemaking Board (MSRB) Chair Frank Chin recently announced unanimous approval by the Securities & Exchange Commission (SEC) to seek public comment on plans to expand EMMA, the Electronic Municipal Market Access system.

EMMA, which aims to provide real-time, centralized public access to primary and secondary market and trade price data for municipal securities, is being introduced in phases.

The first segment, launched in March, provides free online access to official statements for new municipal bond issues, as well as real-time pricing data.

Upon approval, Phase Two, wherein the MSRB would collect and disseminate continuing disclosure documents, would create the first-ever, free, centralized database for the municipal market, according to the MSRB. Continuing disclosure documents encompass annual financial statements and notices of material events, including ratings downgrades, bond calls, defaults and other events that can affect the quality of a municipal security.

The new SEC ruling – an amendment to Rule 15c2-12 – would also designate the MSRB as the single recipient of these documents, replacing the current municipal repositories.

The comment period for both the proposed SEC rule change and plans to expand the EMMA system ends on September 22.

After comments are reviewed, the MSRB will amend its proposals, if necessary, explains Ernie Lanza, Senior Associate General Counsel for the MSRB. “The SEC ultimately needs to make an assessment whether to approve both of our proposals, which would occur with the publication of final rules by the SEC with respect to Rule 15c2-12 and the publication of an approval order with regard to the EMMA system expansion."

If approved, Phase Two would begin on January 1, 2009.

Increased transparency and access to issuer information benefits all market participants, particularly investors. In the words of MSRB Chair Frank Chin, “EMMA will give investors an efficient and easy way to get key data about issuers as soon as it becomes available."

For more information about EMMA, see MuniNet Guide’s "EMMA: One-Stop Portal for Municipal Bond Disclosure."