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Counsel Rankings See Shift

While Orrick, Herrington & Sutcliffe LLP retained the top spot among bond counsel firms, there was considerable shuffling in the ranking for bond, underwriters’ and disclosure counsel firms in the first half of 2012 as new issuance revived.

Nixon Peabody LLP rose to be the fifth-ranked bond counsel firm by par value in the first half of 2012, up from being the 12th ranked bond counsel firm in the first half of 2011. Its market share improved to 3.2% of par value from 2.1%, according to Thomson Reuters data.

Since the second half of 2011 Nixon Peabody has redoubled its efforts to expand its market share, said Michael Vaccari, head of public finance for the firm.

Greenberg Traurig LLP ascended to seventh place in the first half from 10th in the first half of 2011.

The seventh place position was also a great improvement from the 17th place position that Greenberg Traurig had in all of 2011.

Other firms moved up the bond counsel rankings in the first half compared to last year. Peck, Shaffer & Williams LLP rose to 11th from 17th, Stradling Yocca Carlson & Rauth went up to 13th from 24th, and Miller, Canfield, Paddock and Stone PLC climbed to 15th from 32nd.

While Orrick was still number one, Hawkins Delafield & Wood held on to the number two slot and Sidley Austin LLP moved to third from fifth.

“I believe that the improvement is due largely to two factors,” said Stradling director Bob Whalen. “The state of California did more borrowing in the first half of this year than last and there has been a large volume of refundings done this year due to historically low interest rates. The firm has assisted many clients in lowering debt service costs.”

The underwriter’s counsel rankings saw even more shifts — half of the top 10 firms made big jumps from the corresponding period in 2011.

Nixon Peabody rose to the top in the first half of 2012 from seventh last year, while Sidley Austin moved to fifth from 14th place.

Squire Sanders LLP jumped to sixth from 21st place. O’Neill & Borges was seventh based on just five issues counseled in the first half of 2011. It handled no issues in the first half of last year.

The disclosure counsel rankings also saw big changes. Squire Sanders moved up to second from ninth place, Hawkins Delafield  leaped to sixth from 33rd, and Sherman & Howard jumped to ninth from 20th.

Echoing others interviewed for this story, John Merchant, managing partner at the Cincinnati office of Peck Schaffer, said low rates had brought a wave of refundings to the market, benefitting the bond counsel firms.

Orrick Herrington remained at the top for  disclosure counsel.

Thomson Reuters on Friday also released official rankings for bond insurers in the first half. Assured Guaranty and its subsidiary Assured Guaranty Municipal were the only firms that insured issues this past half.

Their penetration of the market slipped to 4.0% in the past half by par value from 5.6% in the first half of 2011.

Some observers have attributed the slippage due to Moody’s Investors Service having put Assured Guaranty on a review for a downgrade in late March. The agency has not yet acted on the review.

Assured Guaranty did increase the par insured by 20.8% between the two periods, as overall issuance increased by an even greater percentage.

The provision of letters of credit continues to slide. The par value of LOCs was $3.7 billion in the first half.

While this was somewhat higher than the $3.2 billion level in the first half of 2011, the 62 bond issues with LOCs in the last half was actually a decline from the 64 issues that had them in the first half of 2011. On an annualized basis, by par value this year’s LOC level is 53% below that of the $15.8 billion of 2002.

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