What is the difference between buying municipal securities in the “primary” market versus the “secondary” market? New bond issues are sold in the primary market. In a new issue, all of the terms are set, including the initial price and interest rates, and the bonds are sold to investors, with the issuer receiving the proceeds. Primary market issues are affected through one of two methods:
Competitive sale: A competitive sale of bonds operates like an auction. Broker-dealers acting as underwriters or syndicates of underwriters bid against each other by submitting to the issuer on a given day at a given time a sealed bid to buy the issuer’s bonds and then reoffer them to investors. The underwriter or syndicate of underwriters that submit the lowest interest cost for the bonds are awarded the competitive bid.
Negotiated sale: In a negotiated sale, the terms and price of the bonds are negotiated by the issuer through an agreement with an underwriter or syndicate of underwriters selected in advance of the sale.
A secondary market transaction does not involve the issuer, but is a transaction between two investors – a buyer and a seller. Secondary market transactions involve a brokerage firm which acts either as an intermediary between the buyer and seller, or as a buyer or seller itself. Market conditions, such as prevailing interest rates, supply and demand, and credit quality, among other variables, determine the price, which may differ from the par value or original price on the bond.
Can I buy bonds directly from the State? The State does not sell bonds directly to investors.
What steps do I take to buy bonds or notes in a negotiated primary market sale?
Step 1 – Have or establish a brokerage account
You must have an account with one of the brokerage firms participating in the bond or note sale. Bonds and notes cannot be purchased directly from the State. If you do not have an account at one of the participating firms, you may open one and purchase bonds or notes during the early order period. (If you have a brokerage account, go to Step 2.)
Investors are encouraged to begin the New Account process well in advance of the sale. Depending on the brokerage, internal new account procedures may take some time to process.
Each firm has its own requirements for opening an account. The State does not endorse any particular brokerage firm. Additionally, the State does not guarantee that any one of these firms will open an account for an investor.
Step 2 - Learn about the bonds or notes
Bonds or notes can only be offered through an Official Statement (OS). A Preliminary Official Statement (POS) is the pre-sale offering document for the bonds that is prepared for a particular transaction or bond sale. The POS discloses security features, credit ratings, economic, financial, and legal information as well information on the types of projects being financed and other information you may find important to help you make an informed investment decision. A POS contains relevant information except for the information determined on the pricing date of the bond sale (interest rates, maturity amounts, etc.).
An OS contains pricing data in addition to all of the information contained in the POS. The OS is typically not finalized until after the results of the bond sale or “pricing.” As a result, the OS discloses the results of the bond sale such as interest rates, and maturity structures. Before purchasing the bonds, you should conduct your own due diligence by reading the POS or OS for that bond issue.
Step 3 - Place your order to buy bonds
Contact the broker with whom you have an account, either online or by phone, to get more information about how to buy bonds or notes during the early order period.
What is a Retail Order Period? A retail order period is a special, designated order period in a negotiated sale during which only retail and professional retail investors may place orders for bonds. The retail order period allows retail investors to place orders before institutional investors. Occasionally, both retail and institutional investors place orders at the same time with retail investors receiving priority.
Who can participate in the Retail Order Period? “Retail investors” are typically defined to include individuals as well as bank trust departments, investment advisors and money managers acting on behalf of individuals. Orders from California residents are typically given priority over residents from other states. Individuals may place orders directly with a broker, or they may have a bank trust department, investment advisor, or money manager place the order on their behalf.
What is the Retail Order Period (ROP) Process? The ROP for State bond sales typically occurs during the one or two days before the official bond pricing.
During the ROP, retail investors can submit priority orders through their broker. Bonds and notes cannot be purchased directly from the State.
Brokers submit investors’ orders for bonds in specific amounts and maturity dates based on approximate interest rates.
Once the bond sale is completed, usually the day after the ROP, interest rates are finalized.
Retail investors are notified of the status of their order and the final interest rates and prices for the bonds. (Note: The ability to fill retail orders depends on the amount of bonds available and the amount of orders.)
Investors who submit an order for bonds during the ROP have the right to change, or cancel, their order until the order has been confirmed after final pricing.
Individuals should consult their broker to learn about any particular process the firm may have for participating in ROPs for the State’s bond sales.
Before placing an order, investors are advised to read the entire Preliminary Official Statement for the specific bond sale to obtain information essential to the making of an informed investment decision.
What are the advantages for Retail Investors by placing an order during the Retail Order Period? Purchasing bonds during the ROP provides certain advantages to retail investors such as:
They get priority in placing orders before institutional investors, such as mutual funds or insurance companies.
They earn the same return on their investment as other investors who buy bonds with the same maturity date after the retail order period.
They do not pay the upfront brokerage fee/commission. (Individuals should check with their broker to learn about any other transaction or account maintenance fees the firm may charge.)
Why isn’t the interest rate posted before a bond sale? The final interest rate is not decided until the day of the sale. However, during the early order period for negotiated sales, your broker will be able to provide you with a preliminary interest rate. Final interest rate results will be posted on this site approximately one day after the pricing and may be found on the Bond Offerings page.
What is a refunding bond? A refunding bond is a bond issued to refinance outstanding bonds generally to reduce the issuer’s interest costs. Proceeds of a refunding bond issue are typically deposited into an escrow fund to pay the debt service on the outstanding bond obligations that are refinanced either at their scheduled maturity date or at an earlier redemption date.
What is a notice of defeasance? A notice of defeasance is notification to the bond holder that the lien on the pledged revenues in accordance with the terms of the bond issue has terminated. A notice of defeasance usually occurs after the issuer has provided for the deposit of funds into an escrow fund equal to all future payments owed on the bonds being defeased to the bond holders either to the maturity date or an earlier redemption date. If you would like more information contact the State Treasurer’s Office, Investor Relations line at: 1‑800‑900‑3873.
What are the key features of State municipal securities?
Interest Rate - The State pays interest to investors in exchange for the use of the borrowed money. The interest rate is a percentage of the principal (the amount borrowed), payable for the use of the borrowed money. Interest on bonds with fixed interest rates typically is compounded and paid semiannually. Interest on bonds with variable interest rates is payable at a rate that changes periodically based on specified criteria and is typically paid monthly.
Price - The price is the amount investors are willing to pay based on certain variables, including current market yields, supply and demand, credit quality, maturity, and tax status. Keep in mind that prices and yields move in opposite directions. When market yields increase, the value of a bond decreases, and vice versa.
Yield - The yield generally refers to the return an investor earns on the bond, taking into account the price the investor paid for the bond, which may differ from the face value or par amount of the bond. The yield is calculated in two ways: based on the market price and interest rate; or by taking into account a number of other factors, including maturity date, optional redemption date(s), and the time between interest payments. Investors should consult their brokers or other financial advisors to learn more about yield and the different ways to measure it.
Maturity - Maturity is the date when the principal on the bond is scheduled to be repaid to the investor. The State generally sells bonds that have maturities between 1 and 30 years. In general, the further out the maturity date, the higher the yield on the bond.
Redemption Provisions - Some bonds contain provisions that allow the State to redeem, or “call,” all or a portion of the bonds, at specific prices, prior to their maturity dates. Bonds frequently are called when interest rates are lower than when the State originally sold the bonds. Bonds with certain redemption provisions usually offer investors higher yields to compensate for the risk that the bonds might be called early. When the State calls a bond, it pays the holder the principal amount and any interest earned since the last interest payment. However, the holder does not typically receive the interest that would have been earned if the bond had been allowed to reach its maturity date. Holders of bonds that have been called for redemption are notified of upcoming payment. Investors can find out if their State bond has been called by visiting the State Treasurer’s website or by contacting the Investor Relations Unit at (800) 900-3873. Investors should have their CUSIP (Committee on Uniform Securities Identification Procedures) number – a unique identifying number – available when inquiring.
Creditworthiness - Most municipal bonds are rated by one or more of the three major rating agencies: Fitch Ratings, Moody’s Investors Service, and S & P Global Ratings. A credit rating is an independent assessment of the creditworthiness of the bonds. An explanation of the significance and status of credit ratings may be obtained from the rating agencies furnishing such rating. For more information about credit ratings, the current ratings for the State’s GO bonds and a history of the State’s GO bond ratings, please visit the State Treasurer's website.
What does it mean when a bond or note is tax-exempt? Tax-exempt means that, in the opinion of legal counsel, the interest earned on the bond or note is exempt from federal income taxes; and, typically from California personal income taxes as well. Investors should consult their brokers, financial advisors, or tax advisors to obtain comparisons between tax-exempt California municipal bonds or notes and taxable investment alternatives. Not all State bonds are tax-exempt. For additional information about the tax status of specific bonds, read the “Tax Matters” section of the official statement for that particular offering. Official statements may be obtained by contacting the Investor Relations Unit at (800) 900-3873.
What does it mean when a bond or note is taxable? The interest earned on most GO bonds issued by the State of California is exempt from federal and state income tax, subject to rules relating to tax-exempt bonds contained in federal and state tax law. However, certain bonds do not meet all of the rules for tax exemption. In this situation the State’s bond counsel will not provide its normal opinion that interest on these bonds is exempt from federal income taxation. The interest income on these bonds is still often exempt from State of California personal income tax. Investors should consult their tax advisors for specific guidance in these situations. Read the “Tax Matters” section of the official statement for the bond sale to learn about the bonds’ tax status.
What are some benefits of purchasing municipal securities? Municipal bonds can be an important part of a diversified investment portfolio. Because bonds typically have a predictable stream of payments of principal and interest, many people invest in them to preserve and increase their capital, or to receive dependable interest income. Additionally, the interest earned on municipal securities typically is exempt from federal and state income taxes.
It is important to remember that investment objectives, and the best strategies for achieving those objectives, depend on an individual investor’s particular circumstances. The tax advantage investors reap from tax-exempt securities will vary according to their income level, for more information please contact your tax professional.
What are some risks involved in investing in municipal securities?
Credit Risk - Risk that the issuer is unable to pay scheduled principal and interest on a timely basis. To evaluate the credit quality of an issuer, examine its credit ratings and review the Preliminary Official Statement of the offering, which contains detailed financial information of the issuer.
Interest Rate Risk - When interest rates decrease, bond and note prices increase, and when interest rates increase, bond and note prices decrease. Interest rate risk is the risk that changes in interest rates may reduce (or increase) the market price of a security. For investors who own a bond or note until its maturity, interest rate risk is not a concern.
What if I want to sell my municipal securities prior to maturity? Most municipal securities may be sold prior to maturity with the assistance of a brokerage firm. If an investor sells a municipal security prior to maturity, he or she may receive more or less than the original investment depending on prevailing market interest rates, supply and demand, perceived credit quality of the securities, and the costs incurred in connection with the sale, among other variables. In addition, investors should consult a tax advisor for any tax implications.