The $2.6 trillion municipal bond market just got more tranaparant. The SEC, in a significant move, approved the creation of a centralized, and free database available to all investors that provides electronic disclosure of municipal bonds.
The system called EMMA (Electronic Municipal Market Access) provides:
"...is a centralized on-line site to find key information about municipal securities, free of charge. The information on EMMA is presented in a manner specifically tailored for retail, non-professional investors who may not be experts in financial or investing matters. EMMA makes available official statements for most new offerings of municipal bonds, notes, 529 college savings plans and other municipal securities since 1990. EMMA also provides real-time access to prices at which bonds and notes are sold to or bought from customers, as well as prices paid in inter-dealer transactions, for most trades occurring on or after January 31, 2005. In addition, issuers sometimes issue new bonds to establish escrows to pay-off existing bonds (usually to refinance their debt at a lower interest rate), and EMMA provides access to advance refunding documents that set out the details of these escrow arrangements."
I took a look at EMMA and think it will be a great resource for investors who are interested or concerned about the municipal bonds they hold or are thinking of buying. I looked up the town Needham, MA and saw all of the municipal bond offerings they have made in the recent past. The notice of sale provides detailed information on the town and the offering. Analyzing the information is much like going through a company annual report. That is, the information is quite dense and difficult to digest if you don't have some understanding of financial statements and accounting. Still, it's nice that the information is now in one place for investors who are interested in digging deeper into the various municipal bond issuers.