Reading the Tape for Bonds: MSRB and TRACE data

What is it?

Fidelity offers many research options to help you decide what bonds are right for you, including our own Viewpoints and analysis from third party sources. One item not to overlook is the real-time trade reporting data provided by the Municipal Securities Rulemaking Board (MSRB) and Financial Industry Regulatory Authority (FINRA). This data shows historical prices, yield, and quantities of bonds traded on the U.S. markets. The MSRB data covers bonds traded in the municipal bond market, while FINRA's TRACE data covers bonds traded in the corporate and agency bond markets. The data from both sources is displayed in the same way on Fidelity.com.

Where can I find it?

MSRB and TRACE data can be accessed from two places on our site. The first location is on our offering table. On the right side of the table, find the 3rd Party Price/Recent Trades column, then select View. The second location is on the Price & Performance tab of the bond details page for the specific security you are researching. Under Basic Analytics, select View Recent Trades. Both ways will take you to our Recent Trades Table.

How do I use it?

The MSRB and TRACE data gives you all of the recent trades, similar to what you are used to seeing for equity securities. Please note this data includes all concessions and markups. You can compare the current offered price and yield to recent activity, to see how close it is. The bond market is generally not as liquid as the equity market, so the price and yield can move significantly from trade to trade.

Although the data is formatted the same for corporate and municipal bonds, due to market characteristics, you will normally see more data for corporate bonds. Most large corporate bond issues from well-known firms will typically trade dozens of times a day, whereas some municipal bonds issues can go months without a trade.

The recent trade data can help you to get a sense of how liquid a bond is. It can also help to get a sense of the bid/ask spread in the market. Although the data provided by MSRB and TRACE does not disclose who is doing the buying and selling, you can make some inferences by looking at identical quantities traded at or close to the same time. All this data can be used in your assessment of whether you think the current offered price is reasonable and whether to buy the bond at this time.

The trade data can also highlight what a dealer’s concession/markup is. Fidelity will charge a concession of $1 per bond, as shown in the example above1. Other brokers can charge a lot more.

Prices and yields move about from day to day. By using the historical trade data from MSRB and TRACE, investors can better inform themselves of where prices and levels have been trading in the recent past and compare them to the current live offer or bid prices. In addition, by comparing customer prices with dealer-to-dealer prices for trades executed for the same quantities, at the same time, MSRB and TRACE data assists in providing increased transparency into the markups that bond brokers are charging their clients.