Gone! To the printer! Free at last!

I refer to a little book called The Guidebook to Municipal Bonds: The History, The Industry, The Mechanis, which has just gone off to the printer and will be available from this company (at $29.95) as a stocking stuffer in mere weeks.

I wrote it with George J. Marlin of U.S. Trust Co. To our credit, we are both alive after the process.

The book itself is not a guide for retail investors on how to get rich quick by buying municipal bonds. It is not a managed book, meaning a compilation of articles by various authors, of varying degrees of talent, on aspects of the market.

We provide a framework for analyzing municipal credits and walk the reader through official statements for various issues. On the financing side, we provide a map of what municipalities must do before they come to market.

The Guidebook to Municipal Bonds is aimed at the professional, answering what we felt was the need for a brief, readable, clear look at the business.

My only model of what the market -- such as it is -- needed was Girard Miller's An Elected Official's Guide to Government Finance, the 49-page booklet put out by the Government Finance Officer's Association in 1984. That book, which I have often cited in this column, and which has also been translated into Russian, epitomized explicit writing -- and thinking. Any reasonably curious person could understand it without a degree in accounting or a masters in business administration.

The Guidebook goes further, but the point is the same. Here is a book that can be read by those just elected or appointed as municipal finance officials, by trainees on trading desks, by fledgling bankers -- by all those in public finance.

As one state lawmaker recently wrote to a colleague of mine: "In my experience, the majority of legislators know very little about bonding, other than it is done. We need to know much more about it since ... we do deal with bond issues."

In The Guidebook, we take the reader through the history of the market, from the first canal issues in the 1800s through the repudiation of Civil War-era Southern debt, right to the Tax Reform Act of 1986 and the Supreme Court decision in 1987 that stripped the right to tax exemption from municipal bonds.

The cast of characters ranges from Robert Moses, who showed what public authorities could do, to John Mitchell, a member of the Nixon White House and creator of the moral obligation bond for former New York Governor Nelson Rockefeller, to William F.G. Shanks, founder of The Bond Buyer.

We also detail the underwriting of a competitive deal -- thanks to Lou Sprauer at Chemical Bank for help on this one -- and how negotiating a deal works.

The book concludes with a look at the numerous bodies who regulate the market, or otherwise have something to say about its operations, which have at one time or another included everyone from the U.S. Congress to the Treasury Department, the Municipal Securities Rulemaking Board, and the Securities and Exchange Commission.

Two sections of The Guidebook to Municipal Bonds are especially dear to the authors' hearts. There is a chapter on "Financing Techniques," which puts into plain language how such things as variable rate debt, warrants, and crossover refundings -- among other arcana -- work. And there is what we like to think is the largest and most exhaustive glossary of municipal market terms to date.

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