New MSRB search tool a move in the right direction

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A new search tool helps municipal market participants find information more easily and is a welcome and "needed" change for those looking up information on the Municipal Securities Rulemaking Board’s EMMA system.

In late May, the MSRB improved the search functionality on EMMA by implementing an algorithm that allows for predictive searching.

In the Quick Search box, users can start typing the name of a state or local government, abbreviations or common acronyms and see the predictive results in a drop down menu, similar to the way internet search engines like Google function.

Users can also still search by CUSIP number. CUSIP numbers are six and nine sets of numbers that identify an issuer and each maturity of a municipal issuance.

"It's a welcome change,” said Kenton Tsoodle, Oklahoma City’s finance director. “The predictive search is something that all of us are used to everywhere else, whether it's on your phone or it's on Google or whatever else. It's appreciated that they're making efforts to improve the site that we all use."

Tsoodle said the new function helps to find credits more easily and added that many participants don’t always necessarily have their CUSIP numbers memorized. In the past, issuers had to know exactly how items were named in the system, so the search function helps, Tsoodle said.

“It's nice to have that functionality to be able to find a particular credit that we're looking for whether that's for an investor looking up something or for an issuer pulling it up to check our continuing disclosure filings,” Tsoodle said.

The new search function is especially helpful for more amateur users, said Michael Weinstein, head of surveillance at Build America Mutual.

Heavy users knew how to navigate EMMA's quirks, like labeling, or searched by CUSIP to find information, Weinstein said.

"For the infrequent, a retail investor or just a general user, it probably is a big enhancement because you don’t need to understand the abbreviations that EMMA uses," Weinstein said.

Michael Stanton, head of strategy and communications at BAM, said changes the MSRB is making are focused on improving investor access to smaller and mid-sized issuers.

Stanton said BAM works with smaller issuers and they are actively working to expand their investor base.

“So every effort the market can take to expand visibility and awareness of those issues is a plus to the efficiency of the market,” Stanton said.

In the future, Weinstein said the site needs improvement on tagging documents and said many times documents were not tagged correctly.

“I think it’s gotten better, but there’s still room for improvement," Weinstein said of the site.

The new tool helps with spelling issues and seeing naming conventions, said Lisa Washburn, managing director at Municipal Market Analytics, but underlying data issues like searching by obligor remain challenging.

Lots of debt is issued through conduit issuers, making an issuer-based search cumbersome for users, Washburn told the Bond Buyer in March.

“It was a needed, but incremental adjustment,” Washburn wrote in an email about the new search function.

For those using Quick Search to find information for the issuer of Pennsylvania’s debt, for example, Washburn said it should be relatively easy to get a comprehensive list.

“Typing Pennsylvania into the search box pulls down a number of issuers, the first few being the Pennsylvania ST which is an alternative naming convention and does not include most of the commonwealth’s debt,” Washburn wrote. “You need to scroll quite a bit through the full list to get the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania that includes the most recent issue.”

Washburn added that there were workarounds like using the browse feature and searches within the search results, but its organization is not useful.

“The organization of the data and inputting challenges are likely to constrain its potential usefulness,” Washburn wrote.

The new search function will help provide broader knowledge and awareness to the market, Mike Nicholas, CEO of the Bond Dealers of America, wrote in an email.

“Buyers and sellers will likely see opportunities to make quicker decisions with information presented with each keystroke such as dialing in specific issuers – or common entities - that will provide a larger universe of options,” Nicholas wrote.

The MSRB is hosting a free virtual webinar on June 13 about EMMA’s new search function and will explain details on the new Quick Search as well as explore detailed search filters in advanced search.

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