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Muni bond data will finally go online

Municipal bond documents and data are finally going online in a central public location at the SEC-MSRB data site, (EMMA for short)

EDGAR, meet EMMA. is the newly improved national database for municipal bond data, and a whole lot more information on tens of thousands of state, county, town, and agency securities will be added next year,  the SEC said in this statement. "Offering documents, real-time trade prices and educational resources are already available on EMMA," writes Joe Morris at the Financial Times' site. "But the service won't be completely up and running until July 1, 2009."

The SEC says it "worked with the Municipal Securities Rulemaking Board (MSRB) to correct a glaring deficiency in the $2.6 trillion municipal market, in which two-thirds of the securities are owned by individual investors. Unlike investors in corporate securities who have direct access to free company information through the SEC's EDGAR system, average investors in municipal securities currently have no free and convenient way to get important information about the municipal bonds in which they invest." Electronic Municipal Markets Access (EMMA) is all about changing that.

Bizarrely, tax-free municipal bonds -- among the most common U.S. securities -- were among the last to be brought online. Traders and market-making firms resisted -- until the current credit crunch made it tough for states like California to sell even highly-rated debt. Now the SEC is doing its bit to help reopen the market.