Learn the details behind general obligation municipal bonds – what they are, why they are created, and how they work – with this illustrated video by Fidelity.
To learn more about municipal bonds, please visit https://www.fidelity.com/fixedincome-bonds/individual-bonds/municipal-bonds.
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Many people purchase municipal bonds as part of their overall investing strategy, but there’s quite a story behind how they are created, how they work, who’s involved. The municipal bond process can be a complicated one, so we’ll try to simplify it for you.
Our story begins by paying a visit to Anytown, USA. Anytown is a great place to live. There’s a thriving cultural scene, good schools, and a strong business environment. It’s no wonder that many families have moved here. But, with lots of families now living in Anytown, the schools are bursting at the seams. The mayor, town council, and school district leaders all agree that a brand new school is needed, in addition to expansions to some of the existing school buildings. But, at an estimated cost of $30,000,000, how will the town pay for it?
The town leaders come up with a plan to raise these funds by issuing bonds. This means that Anytown will borrow money from investors with the expectation of paying them back, with interest, over time. The people who will actually use the school building in the future will also be the folks paying for it. Anytown will use property tax revenues to repay the investors, backed by the full faith and taxing authority of the town. This is called a “general obligation municipal bond.”
But, things can’t move forward just yet. Voter approval of the proposal is required. So, a bond proposal is developed and put on the ballot, as part of an election. The votes are tallied and the proposal is passed.
At this point in our story, some new characters enter the scene: the underwriter, the bond counsel, and in most cases, the financial advisor. The financial advisor helps Anytown make decisions regarding the bond issue and works with the underwriter to determine pricing and distribution to investors. The underwriter acts as a liaison between the town and potential investors when bringing the bond issue to market.
An underwriter can be chosen in two ways: via competitive sale or negotiated sale. The leaders of Anytown decide to go the competitive route, and put the bond issue out to bid. This is where the bond counsel, Smith & Jones Law Firm, enters the picture. Smith & Jones prepares the bond documents, including the Official Statement, and since Anytown has chosen the competitive route, a Notice of Sale. The Official Statement contains all the information a prospective investor needs in order to invest in Anytown’s bond issue. The underwriter will review the Official Statement and decide whether to bid on the bond. The bond counsel also writes the legal opinion, which provides justification and law for the tax exempt status of the issue and ensures that the bonds are valid and binding obligations for Anytown. The firm does not comment on the investment merit of the bond issue.
Now that the legal opinion is in place, the Notice of Sale can be completed and posted. ABC Investment Bank sees the ad and is interested in underwriting it, with the ultimate goal of buying the muni bond issue from Anytown, and reselling it to investors. Before submitting a bid, however, they would like to invite other investment banks to participate with them, so they decide to form a syndicate and act as the syndicate manager. Forming a syndicate will allow the bank to share the marketing and distribution duties, as well as some of the financial risk of underwriting the bond issue.
Two banks, JKL and XYZ, agree to join ABC Syndicate and they submit a bid.
Back at Anytown town hall, the bid is reviewed, along with several others up for consideration. After much deliberation, the bond issue is awarded to the syndicate formed by ABC Investment Bank because they turned in the lowest borrowing cost. The syndicate goes to work as the underwriter, reaching out to individual and institutional investors to determine their interest in purchasing the bonds [...]
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