A Web site launched in January is a big breakthrough for both investors in and issuers of municipal bonds. The site offers the closest thing yet to a real-time "ticker tape" on bond prices.
By clicking on a series of buttons on www.investinginbonds.com, investors can view five months' worth of prices, coupons and other relevant information for a specific bond. Information on frequently traded bonds will have a time lag of a day; information on other bonds will lag by two weeks.
Issuers can see how fast a recently issued bond is being absorbed by the market or how well bonds issued by other state or local agencies are faring. They can also assess what interest rates they are likely to pay if they are about to come to market--based on what similar bonds are paying.
A joint effort of the Bond Market Association and the Municipal Securities Rulemaking Board, the site is an improvement over a 1998 version that provided price information but only on the most frequently traded bonds and a 1995 version that also provided price data but only on dealer-to-dealer trades. This latest daily muni summary provides prices on all bonds in the marketplace, regardless of frequency of trades. "These changes make our muni trade data readily accessible for people making investment decisions--one of our primary goals in mandating transaction reporting," says Christopher A. Taylor, executive director of the MSRB. "All market participants--investors, issuers and dealers--will have a clearer picture of muni market activity."
They will have an even clearer picture in 2004. That is the date set for rolling out real-time transaction reporting with only a 15-minute delay.