WASHINGTON - The Securities and Exchange Commission voted yesterday to exclude municipal securities from a new rule requiring firms to settle most trades within three days.
But the SEC said it still wants the municipal market to try to achieve the so-called T-plus-3 settlement standard by June 1, 1995, the date set by the SEC yesterday for most corporate stocks and bonds. The agency asked the Municipal Securities Rulemaking Board to take the lead in implementing the standard as close to that time frame as possible.
"The commission thinks that the settlement time frame for municipals, if at all possible, should be the same as the time frame for corporate securities," Jonathan Kallman, SEC associate director of market regulation, said in a telephone interview after yesterday's commission meeting.
"But it will look to the MSRB to establish the timetable to do [what is] necessary to bring that about," he said.
The SEC voted to approve the T-plus-3 time frame for most corporate stocks and bonds as part of a rule it adopted at yesterday's meeting aimed at accelerating clearance and settlement. Currently, many securities are settled within five days.
The SEC opted to exclude municipals for now after municipal industry participants warned that achieving the T-plus-3 standard would require massive changes in the market.
The Public Securities Association warned in a letter July 8 that the standard could have serious disruptive effects. The association said it would not allow adequate time to process retail transactions, which typically involve the mailing of a check from the client to the dealer. Dealers would have to finance positions until funds were received, creating a potential financial burden, especially for smaller firms, the PSA said in its response to the T-plus-3 rule proposed by the SEC Feb. 23.
MSRB chairman Charles W. Fish told the SEC in a comment letter on May 17 that headway is being made on a number of clearance and settlement fronts involving municipals. But "given current uncertainties about how retail issues will be addressed, the board is not able to provide the commission with an overall timetable by which the municipal securities market would be able to move to move to T-plus-3 settlement."
The SEC, which received more than 1,900 comments on its proposed rule, argues that trimming settlement time frames would reduce market risk by cutting down on the number of unsettled trades.
The rule is designed to narrow the time period that investors have to cancel a stock or bond purchase. The standard was first recommended by a White House panel that studied the stock market crash of October 1987.