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Notice

Self-Regulatory Organizations; Notice of Filing and Immediate Effectiveness of Proposed Rule Change by the National Association of Securities Dealers, Inc. To Disseminate Up to Thirty Additional Corporate Bonds Under the Trade Reporting and Compliance Engine (“TRACE”) Rules

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Start Preamble March 25, 2003.

Pursuant to section 19(b)(1) of the Securities Exchange Act of 1934 (“Act”),[1] and Rule 19b-4 thereunder,[2] notice is hereby given that on March 18, 2003, the National Association of Securities Dealers, Inc. (“NASD”) filed with the Securities and Exchange Commission (“Commission” or “SEC”) the proposed rule change as described in Items I, II, and III below, which Items have been prepared by NASD. NASD has designated the proposed rule change as constituting a “non-controversial” rule change pursuant to section 19(b)(3)(A)(iii) of the Act,[3] and Rule 19b-4(f)(6) thereunder,[4] which renders the proposal effective upon filing with the Commission.[5] The Commission is publishing this notice to solicit comments on the proposed rule change from interested persons.

I. Self-Regulatory Organization's Statement of the Terms of Substance of the Proposed Rule Change

NASD is proposing to amend Rule 6250(a)(4) to increase the number of TRACE-eligible securities to be disseminated under the rule from 90 securities to up to 120 securities. Below is the text of the proposed rule change. Proposed new language is in italics; proposed deletions are in brackets.

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6250. Dissemination of Corporate Bond Trade Information

(a) General Dissemination Standard

Immediately upon receipt of transaction reports received at or after 8:00 a.m. through 6:29:59 p.m. Eastern Time, NASD will disseminate transaction information (except that market aggregate information and last sale information will not be updated after 5:15 p.m. Eastern Time) in the securities described below.

(1) No Change.

(2) No Change.

(3) No Change.

(4) Ninety to 120 TRACE-eligible securities designated by NASD that are rated Baa/BBB at the time of designation, according to the following standards.

(A) Three groups, each composed of up to 50 [30] TRACE-eligible securities (Group 1, Group 2, and Group 3), but collectively not exceeding 120 shall be designated by NASD. At the time of designation, each TRACE-eligible security in Group 1 must be rated “Baa1/BBB+[;]” and each TRACE-eligible security in Group 2 and Group 3 must be rated, respectively, “Baa2/BBB−[,]” and “Baa3/BBB−.[,]” [provided that if] If a TRACE-eligible security is rated one of the “Baa” ratings by Moody's and one of the “BBB” ratings by S&P and the ratings indicate two different levels of credit quality, the lower of the two ratings will be used to determine the group to which a debt Start Printed Page 15491security will be assigned under this paragraph (a)(4).

(B) No Change.

(C) No Change.

(b) through (d) No Change.

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II. Self-Regulatory Organization's Statement of the Purpose of, and Statutory Basis for, the Proposed Rule Change

In its filing with the Commission, NASD included statements concerning the purpose of and basis for the proposed rule change and discussed any comments it received on the proposed rule change. The text of these statements may be examined at the places specified in Item IV below. NASD has prepared summaries, set forth in sections A, B, and C below, of the most significant aspects of such statements.

A. Self-Regulatory Organization's Statement of the Purpose of, and Statutory Basis for, the Proposed Rule Change

1. Purpose

The purpose of the proposed rule change is to amend Rule 6250(a)(4) to increase the number of TRACE-eligible securities rated “Baa/BBB” [6] that will be subject to dissemination from 90 bonds to up to 120 bonds. This minor adjustment in the number of “Baa/BBB”-rated bonds to be disseminated under the Trade Reporting and Compliance Engine (“TRACE”) rules is being proposed so that NASD may continue to increase transparency as appropriate, while being cognizant of the potential adverse effects, if any, that transparency may have on the liquidity of the corporate bond market.

On July 1, 2002, when TRACE began, transaction information was disseminated in two types of corporate bonds: (1) TRACE-eligible securities having an initial issuance size of $1 billion or greater that are Investment Grade at the time of receipt of the transaction report; and (2) 50 actively traded TRACE-eligible securities that are Non-Investment Grade and meet other criteria set forth in Rule 6250(a)(2). Approximately 540 corporate bonds were disseminated under the two categories.

On December 6, 2002, NASD filed SR-NASD-2002-174, a proposal to increase substantially the dissemination of Investment Grade TRACE-eligible securities. NASD proposed, and obtained approval from the SEC, to increase transparency by requiring dissemination of price and other transaction information in two additional categories of corporate bonds. They are: (1) Any TRACE-eligible security that is Investment Grade, is rated by Moody's as “A3” or higher, and by S&P's as “A−” or higher, and has an original issue size of $100 million or greater; and (2) ninety TRACE-eligible securities rated “Baa/BBB” at the time of designation, with the bonds being identified in three subgroups to represent the “Baa/BBB” credit spectrum (i.e., “Baa1/BBB+,” “Baa2/BBB,” and “Baa3/BBB−”).[7]

On March 3, 2003, NASD began disseminating the TRACE-eligible securities rated “A3/A−” or higher and with original issue size of 100 million or greater, which increased the number of bonds subject to dissemination to over 4,000 corporate bonds.[8] However, NASD withheld the dissemination of ninety bonds rated “Baa/BBB” to provide time to assure that the bonds designated for dissemination were appropriately diverse and representative of the “Baa/BBB''-rated group. During the bond identification process, NASD, based on guidance from independent economists, determined that the database of disseminated transaction data on “triple-B-rated bonds” should be increased to include transaction information on up to 120 TRACE-eligible securities to increase transparency in a sufficient number of “Baa/BBB” bonds to improve significantly the quality of the data to be collected. The increased transparency will provide a better foundation for determining the effect, if any, of transparency on liquidity.

2. Statutory Basis

NASD believes that the proposed rule change is consistent with the provisions of section 15A(b)(6) of the Act,[9] which requires, among other things, that NASD's rules must be designed to prevent fraudulent and manipulative acts and practices, to promote just and equitable principles of trade, and, in general, to protect investors and the public interest. NASD believes that the proposed rule change requiring the dissemination of up to 30 additional “Baa/BBB”-rated TRACE-eligible securities will protect investors and the public interest by increasing transparency in the debt securities markets and serving as an appropriately designed database to aid NASD in determining if transparency has an adverse effect on the liquidity of the bond market.

B. Self-Regulatory Organization's Statement on Burden on Competition

NASD does not believe that the proposed rule change will result in any burden on competition that is not necessary or appropriate in furtherance of the purposes of the Act, as amended.

C. Self-Regulatory Organization's Statement on Comments on the Proposed Rule Change Received from Members, Participants or Others

Written comments on this proposed rule change were neither solicited nor received. However, written comments were solicited concerning the dissemination of a representative group of bonds rated “Baa/BBB” with the publication for notice and comment of SR-NASD-2002-174, and two comment letters were received. NASD represents that these two comment letters generally favored the NASD's proposed rule change.[10] After considering the comments, the SEC approved SR-NASD-2002-174 on January 31, 2003.[11] NASD represents that its proposal in this rule filing is a minor, non-controversial proposed change to the provision in Rule 6250(a)(4) providing for the dissemination of TRACE-eligible securities rated “Baa/BBB.”

III. Date of Effectiveness of the Proposed Rule Change and Timing for Commission Action

Because the proposed rule change: (i) Does not significantly affect the protection of investors or the public Start Printed Page 15492interest; (ii) does not impose any significant burden on competition; and (iii) does not become operative for 30 days (or such shorter time as the Commission may designate if consistent with the protection of investors and the public interest) from the date on which it was filed, the proposed rule change has become effective pursuant to section 19(b)(3)(A) of the Act [12] and Rule 19b-4(f)(6) thereunder.[13]

A proposed rule change filed under Rule 19b-4(f)(6) normally does not become operative prior to 30 days after the date of the filing. However, Rule 19b-4(f)(6)(iii) permits the Commission to designate a shorter time if such action is consistent with the protection of investors and the public interest; provided that the self-regulatory organization has given the Commission written notice of its intent to file the proposed rule change, along with a brief description and text of the proposed rule change, at least five business days prior to the date of filing of the proposed rule change, or such shorter time as designated by the Commission. NASD has requested that the Commission waive the 30-day operative delay, as specified in Rule 19b-4(f)(6)(iii),[14] because (1) the public interest is furthered and the protection of investors is enhanced by increasing transparency in the “Baa/BBB”-rated segment of the corporate bond market; (2) NASD briefly deferred the dissemination of “Baa/BBB”-rated TRACE-eligible securities in order to designate a representative group of such securities; and (3) for the convenience of investors, broker-dealers, other market participants, and NASD, NASD will initiate the dissemination of all the “Baa/BBB”-rated corporate bonds approved for dissemination on the same date, which will occur as soon as possible after the filing of this rule filing. The Commission believes that waiving the 30-day operative delay is consistent with the protection of investors and the public interest. Acceleration of the operative date will permit NASD to expand dissemination of “Baa/BBB”-rated corporate bonds immediately. For these reasons, the Commission designates the proposal to be effective and operative upon filing with the Commission.[15]

At any time within 60 days of the filing of the proposed rule change, the Commission may summarily abrogate such rule change if it appears to the Commission that such action is necessary or appropriate in the public interest, for the protection of investors, or otherwise in furtherance of the purposes of the Act.[16]

IV. Solicitation of Comments

Interested persons are invited to submit written data, views, and arguments concerning the foregoing, including whether the proposal is consistent with the Act. Persons making written submissions should file six copies thereof with the Secretary, Securities and Exchange Commission, 450 Fifth Street, NW., Washington, DC 20549-0609. Copies of the submission, all subsequent amendments, all written statements with respect to the proposed rule change that are filed with the Commission, and all written communications relating to the proposed rule change between the Commission and any person, other than those that may be withheld from the public in accordance with the provisions of 5 U.S.C. 552, will be available for inspection and copying in the Commission's Public Reference Room. Copies of such filing will also be available for inspection and copying at the principal office of NASD. All submissions should refer to file number SR-NASD-2003-41 and should be submitted by April 21, 2003.

Start Signature

For the Commission, by the Division of Market Regulation, pursuant to delegated authority.[17]

Jill M. Peterson,

Assistant Secretary.

End Signature End Preamble

Footnotes

5.  NASD asked the Commission to waive the 30-day operative delay. See Rule 19b-4(f)(6)(iii). 17 CFR 240.19b-4(f)(6)(iii).

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6.  Moody's Investors Service, Inc. (“Moody's”) is a nationally recognized statistical rating organization. Moody's is a registered trademark of Moody's Investors Service. Moody's ratings are proprietary to Moody's and are protected by copyright and other intellectual property laws. Moody's licenses ratings to NASD. Ratings may not be copied or otherwise reproduced, repackaged, further transmitted, transferred, disseminated, redistributed or resold, or stored for subsequent use for any purpose, in whole or in part, in any form or manner or by any means whatsoever, by any person without Moody's prior written consent.

Standard & Poor's, a division of the McGraw-Hill Companies, Inc. (“S&P”), is a nationally recognized statistical rating organization. S&P's ratings are proprietary to S&P and are protected by copyright and other intellectual property laws. S&P licenses ratings to NASD. Ratings may not be copied or otherwise reproduced, repackaged, further transmitted, transferred, disseminated, redistributed or resold, or stored for subsequent use for any purpose, in whole or in part, in any form or manner or by any means whatsoever, by any person without S&P's prior written consent.

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7.  Securities Exchange Act Release No. 47302 (January 31, 2003), 68 FR 6233 (February 6, 2003) (order approving SR-NASD-2002-174).

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8.  See NASD Notice to Members 03-12 (February 2003).

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10.  Securities Exchange Act Release No. 47057 (December 19, 2002), 67 FR 79210 (December 27, 2002) (notice of filing of and request for comment on SR-NASD-2002-174).

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11.  See note 7, supra.

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14.  17 CFR 240.19b-4(f)(6)(iii).

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15.  For purposes only of accelerating the operative date of this proposal, the Commission has considered the proposed rule's impact on efficiency, competition, and capital formation. 15 U.S.C. 78c(f).

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16.  See section 19(b)(3)(C) of the Act, 15 U.S.C. 78s(b)(3)(C).

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[FR Doc. 03-7613 Filed 3-28-03; 8:45 am]

BILLING CODE 8010-01-P