LOS ANGELES - Market participants are welcoming imminent publication of a study commissioned by the California Public Securities Association to examine Mello-Roos bonds, saying the data should aid trading of the debt.
The 294-page report devotes one page to each outstanding Mello-Roos issue, listing information such as assessed value and ownership.
The report "is a major step toward improved secondary market disclosure," said Peter Placey, managing partner of FRA Services Inc., which prepared the study on behalf of the association.
Owen Perron, vice president and manager of municipal trading and underwriting in Los Angeles for Kidder, Peabody & Co., said, "We haven't officially sent it out yet," adding that the report might be ready for the association's members next week.
Mello-Roos bonds, named after sponsors of the 1982 legislation permitting the financings, are secured by special taxes levied in community facilities districts.
Investor concern over Mello-Roos bonds has risen in conjunction with California's softening real estate market. The deals often finance projects in developing areas that can be most susceptible to downturns.
Market participants have complained, however, that it can be difficult to obtain information about existing Mello-Roos issues. This lament, and growing market scrutiny of the financing vehicle, prompted the California association to seek more data on the deals.
"I think it's going to be helpful," said Kenneth Williams, managing partner of Stone & Youngberg, citing the report's "concise format that is pretty easy to understand."
Stone & Youngberg already possesses such information on deals it handled, so Williams said the data will be most useful in trading bonds underwritten by other firms.
Without data about an issue, "we're not going to make a bid just because our customer owns it," Williams said.
William Lippman, managing director of municipal trading in the Los Angeles office of Smith Barney, Harris Upham & Co., added that "it's very difficult" for firms to keep up to date on deals, especially when "you do the research and then three months later someone wants to sell odd lots."
Accordingly, circulating additional information about Mello-Roos deals "should enhance the marketability of the bonds," he said.
The California securities association "is not attaching a value judgment to the information," said Douglas Charchenko, the association's chairman for 1993 and managing director of the San Francisco public finance office for Prudential Securities Inc.
"We wanted people to have facts in front of them - that is purely and simply the goal."
FRA Services initially set out to collect information on all 294 Mello-Roos issues sold in California from 1983 through June 30 of this year. The study examined 282 issues since 12 official statements could not be located as a starting point.
Of the 282 deals, about 65% of the issuers cooperated "in some form or another" in supplying information, Placey said.
"That's pretty impressive," Placey said, though in some instances "it was like pulling teeth without anesthesia" to get cooperation.
He added that the 35% who did not participate were not necessarily trying to conceal problems. Instead, Placey believes some issuers gave the request low priority because they were preoccupied with other pressing matters, such as budget preparation.
FRA Services still hopes to contact some of those issuers to help fill in the gaps.
Official statements provide about 50% of the information for each deal. Issuers provided the balance of data, which is public information.
The reports also attempt to provide updated bond fund details, a process that hinged on data supplied by the issuer or on an issuer's approval to contact the trustee for numbers. FRA Services obtained fund information for approximately 60% of the reports, Placey said.
FRA Services, which administers special financing districts in California, Arizona, and Colorado, spent six months compiling the information. The job cost $100,000.
The report initially will be distributed to California PSA members. It is uncertain if it also will be sold to others or simply made available to any interested parties at no charge. "We'll take that up at our January meeting," said Perron, the association's current chairman.
Perron said the group also will discuss whether the information might be updated in the future, including if the association would have any involvement or simply let a commercial firm compile and market the data.
"Hopefully, it's going to improve the secondary marketplace," Perron said, even though "not a lot of [Mello-Roos bonds] trade around anyway."
Brad Altman is a reporter for California Public Finance, a newsletter published by The Bond Buyer.