Sell Side

Citi Keeps Hold of Top Spot

In a market that has seen nothing but change over the last 12 months, at least one thing is consistent: Citi remained the top underwriter in 2008.

But the turmoil in the credit markets had an impact on just about everything else about the rankings - with more changes on the way this year. Click here to see ranking tables. Even Citi did not escape unscathed. Almost perfectly mirroring the overall downturn in total volume, it worked on 514 issues with a par value of $56.2 billion in 2008, down more than 9% from 2007, according to Thomson Reuters. The gap came solely from a nearly 55% reduction in its competitive underwriting volume, compared to the total 26.9% decrease in competitive new issues for the entire market.

Elsewhere in the rankings, signs of the changes in the municipal market were evident. UBS Securities LLC - less than five years ago the market's top underwriter - shuttered its public finance business earlier this year. It fell to eighth in the rankings, with more notches to drop this year.

Others appeared to benefit from the turmoil, such as Morgan Stanley and Goldman, Sachs & Co., both of which increased their underwriting volume and gained market share in a year when both converted to bank holding companies.

Morgan Stanley ranked fourth as a senior manager, working on 312 deals with a par value of $33.2 billion in 2008 compared to 256 issues with a par value $25.5 billion in 2007. Goldman Sachs ranked fifth, working on 234 issues with a par value of $30.9 billion in 2008 compared to 188 issues with a par value of $28.5 billion in 2007.

In one of the more telling signs of what an odd year it was, Barclays Capital gained volume and market share, working on 219 deals with a par value $25.1 billion. This came even though Barclays Capital acquired the broker-dealer unit from Lehman Brothers Holding Inc., which had declared bankruptcy in the middle of September.

It remains to be seen what impact many other changes in the industry will have on the rankings. Although JPMorgan, for instance, ranked third by underwriting 348 issues with a par value of $37.4 billion, its total volume included work done by Bear, Stearns & Co. before JPMorgan acquired the firm.

After ranking fifth in the third quarter, JPMorgan ranked as the top senior manager in the fourth - edging out Citi by less than $50 million - working on 74 deals with a par value of $8.5 billion, including $1 billion of Massachusetts Health and Educational Facilities Authority revenue bonds issued on behalf of Harvard University.

Elsewhere in the market, mergers have yet to be reflected in the rankings. Bank of America Corp., whose Banc of America Securities LLC ranked seventh, has purchased Merrill Lynch & Co., ranked second, creating a bank the combined underwriting of which would have topped Citi in the rankings. The combined work of Wells Fargo & Co. and Wachovia Corp., which Wells Fargo recently acquired, would have made a top-10 senior manager.

It remains unclear how much business the banks will do combined, with both acquisitions only officially being completed last week. Fitch Ratings last week affirmed the AA issuer default rating of Bank of America, saying the acquisition "enhances [its] global franchise."

The rating agency also affirmed the AA rating of Wells Fargo, saying the merger "transforms WFC from a prominent Western U.S. banking company to a dominant, national banking company."

The consolidation and loss of some of the market's top broker-dealers was one of the problems adding pressure on the municipal market last year, said Jeffery Timlin, vice president of Sage Advisory Services.

"You're seeing less market-makers out there that can facilitate these issues for these municipalities," Timlin said. "Even the market players that are still in existence and still plan on maintaining a presence in the municipal market, you're seeing they don't have as much capital to put forth into those markets to have inventory. They're trying to scale back their risks, one of which is picking up bonds and holding them in your inventory, especially now where you have hedging vehicles [like Treasuries] out of whack."

Merrill Lynch once again led the competitive sales rankings, although, like many other underwriters, it saw its volume dip significantly in a year when the total amount of competitive sales fell 26.9% from the level of a year earlier. Merrill was the senior manager on 67 competitive deals with a par value of $10.1 billion in 2008, compared to 169 deals with a par value of $17.1 billion in 2007.

Robert W. Baird & Co., on the other hand, increased its workload significantly, jumping to number four from number 23. It served as the senior manager on 152 deals with a par value of $3 billion in 2008 compared to 55 deals with a par value of $309.5 million in 2007.

The financial adviser rankings remained consistent at the top, with Public Financial Management Inc. once again leading the way. PFM's numbers held up in a tough market, and it served as the financial adviser on 689 issues with a par value of nearly $43 million in 2008, compared to 626 issues with a par value of $43.4 billion in 2007, despite the 9.1% drop in total issuance in 2008.

"I think it's because our clients have faith that we have their interests at heart," said PFM chief executive officer John White. "We have client-centered business - it's really gratifying to see that they looked to us in a difficult year."

Public Resources Advisory Group jumped into second place despite seeing its volume fall to $20.3 billion from $27.2 billion. It increased the number of deals it completed, however, to 116 from 97.

First Southwest Co. fell to third place with an even bigger downturn in volume, dropping to $19.7 billion from $29.3 billion. PlainsCapital Corp. completed its acquisition of First Southwest Co. parent First Southwest Holdings Inc. last week.

Number-four ranked financial adviser Kaufman Hall & Associates, which specializes in health care issues, was one of the firms that gained significant business this year. The health care sector, in particular, was hit hard by the collapse of the auction-rate securities market and saw its new-issue volume increase more than 22% despite a down year for the market as a whole.

Kaufman Hall worked as the financial adviser on 171 issues with a par value of $16.3 billion in 2008, compared to 75 issues with a par value of $7.99 billion in 2007.

"We just had a situation where in terms of the auction crises, and then the subsequent problems after that, where we just had an awful lot of work trying to help our clients to restructure debt and get to a more stable position," said Kenneth Kaufman, managing partner at Kaufman Hall.

"Our business has been building steadily and our market share has been increasing steadily over the last four or five years, so when this all happened, we were really in a place where we were in a position to help our clients think through these problems and try to solve them," he said.


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