Morningstar Inc. entered the analyst research sector for public finance Monday as it unveiled its fundamental municipal research offering.
The research will focus on 100 municipal issuers and reports for about one million muni bonds. With the launch, the financial markets research, analysis, data and ratings firm delivers the last piece of its fixed-income coverage. Morningstar is packaging it for registered reps, the advisor to the investor. But the customer list should grow, said Jeff Westergaard, the firm’s head of municipal analytics.
“The intent is to continue to develop products and services targeted toward institutional or more sophisticated market participants over time — to asset managers, mutual fund portfolio managers, insurance company money managers,” he said.
Muni customers can gain access to the research through the Morningstar Analyst Research Center, a research platform for broker-dealers and independent financial advisors. The municipal group plans to make its research available through other Morningstar products and channels over time, Westergaard said. It will develop pricing on a case-by-case basis, customized to the potential customer, he added.
The research breaks down into obligor reports: fundamental, bottom-up analysis of an issuer’s credit quality by the firm’s credit analysts. Customers gain access to various component analyses that go into overall credit opinion, with supporting data and information the analysts use to arrive at their conclusion, Westergaard said.
Morningstar analysts look at four key elements: economic stability, financial condition, debt and long-term liabilities, and management and operating environment. Analysts then assign a score of Good, Fair, or Poor to each element, which contributes to an overall score for each issuer.
The initial coverage list includes large issuers among states, local governments, and such enterprise-related entities as water, sewer, and power authorities, airports, and higher education.
The research product also includes bond detail reports. Each combines descriptive, economic, geographic, and demographic information; proprietary classification elements, and tools related to price discovery.
“We’re trying to help people get a better idea of what the price might be for any individual bond at any one time,” Westergaard said. “We’re trying to cover as much of the universe as we possibly can. Some Cusips are going to have more information than others.”
Analysts update obligor reports according to market, or during the release of annual audited financial statements. Bond reports are updated daily with the latest trade information.