Longtime muni analyst Joseph Rosenblum retires

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Joseph Rosenblum, the director of municipal credit research at AllianceBernstein, retired on Friday after nearly four decades evaluating tax exempt credits.

Rosenblum headed the municipal credit research team of six analysts for nearly 30 years, covering every aspect of the municipal industry for the firm, which currently manages a total of $44 billion in municipal assets, he said. He is also a member of the firm's U.S. Tax- Exempt Fixed-Income Investment Policy Group. 

Susan Hutman, a senior vice president and director of investment-grade corporate credit research at the firm, has been transitioning to assume leadership of the municipal credit team over the last couple of months, Rosenblum said.

Rosenblum said he wore many hats in his role as director of municipal credit research, sometimes acting as financial analyst, political scientist, attorney, or investigator.

“By nature I love to ask questions,” he said, adding that he was often striving for more than just the credit metrics to complete his research work.

He said it was his goal to “delve deeper into the issues” and gain additional information, such as data on financial management and service delivery, beyond what was provided in a press release or official statement.

“There was never a shortage of interesting credits, and interesting people,” he said.

The job entailed unique credit challenges, like the 2004 Orange County, California, Chapter 9 bankruptcy, the 1983 default of $2.25 billion by Washington Public Power Supply System, and more recently, Detroit’s $18 billion default, which led to one of the largest bankruptcies in municipal history in 2013. There were also systemic credit challenges, like unfunded pension obligations.

“The variety of work made it fascinating,” he said.

Among the biggest changes for credit analysis and research work over the last three decades has been the increase of disclosure and financial reporting through the Municipal Securities Rulemaking Board’s website, Electronic Municipal Market Access found at www.emma.msrb.org, and other regulatory compliance and reporting platforms.

Rosenblum graduated from Brooklyn College in 1974 with a bachelor of arts degree in sociology and a minor in urban affairs. He went on to earn a master’s degree in city planning from Harvard University in 1976.

In the late 1970s, he went to work for the U.S. Department of Commerce in Washington, where he helped provide grants and loans to distressed cities and counties for economic development and job creation.

He first entered public finance in 1981 when he became a credit analyst at Moody’s Investors Service. He spent nine and a half years there, most recently as vice president and managing director of customer services. He previously held a position as California analyst and later became director of the Western Region of general units of government.

In 1990, he joined what was then Sanford C. Bernstein as its first municipal credit analyst and director of municipal credit research. A decade later, the firm was purchased by Alliance Capital and became AllianceBernstein, and Rosenblum ultimately retained the title as head of municipal credit research.

Over the years, he has been active in and held positions on professional organizations, such as the Society of Municipal Analysts; the National Federation of Municipal Analysts, for which he previously served on its board of governors; and the Municipal Analysts Group of New York, for which he was a past treasurer and chairman.

Rosenblum said he is proud that he led a team that was instrumental in the growth from less than $500 million in assets under management to the current $44 billion after the acquisition by Alliance Capital.

Guy Davidson, chief investment officer of municipal investments said Rosenblum worked with him to build a successful municipal investment business over the 27 years that the pair worked closely together.

"Over that time, primarily as the director of municipal credit research, Joe led us with curiosity and professionalism," Davidson said on Friday. "Joe enjoyed understanding and discussing municipal credits, and we benefitted from his genuine interest and his professional approach every day."

Davidson said while Rosenblum and his team posed issuers with tough questions, "they were always fair and went directly to the critical concern for us and our clients."

He said he will miss his colleague professionally and personally. "Fortunately, he’s taught us all a lot, and I’m sure we’ll be asking ourselves 'What would Joe ask?' ”

Reflecting on his career, Rosenblum said he will miss the “fascinating” work and collaboration with his AllianceBernstein credit team, as well as the external colleagues, friends, and even competitors.

“As a manager, I loved interacting with the team, and I was a leader, but tried not to micromanage,” he said of working with AB’s traders, portfolio managers, and clients in a role he feels “helps enhance performance” and deliver a solid portfolio to meet clients’ investment objectives and risk tolerance.

Retirement, Rosenblum said, crossed his mind over the last few years, and his interest in achieving personal goals beyond the municipal world grew stronger and stronger.

In his retirement, he said hopes to expand his volunteering efforts, as well as travel extensively with his wife, Roberta, to places like Australia and New Zealand, Vietnam, and South America. He said he would also like to broaden their hobby of being movie buffs, and reading and theater enthusiasts, and be able to spend more time with family.

Other colleagues agreed his leadership was indispensable.

“Joe’s history as a muni credit analyst was a valuable asset to our team,” said John Ceffalio, vice president and municipal credit analyst at Alliance, who has worked with Rosenblum at the firm since 2010.

He called his colleague "a tremendous leader, boss, and mentor.”

“There aren’t many folks left that went through the Orange County and WPPSS bankruptcies and can pass on what they learned to younger analysts,” Ceffalio said. “Joe made each of us better analysts by asking us his notoriously difficult credit questions.”

What he will miss most is working with his team at AB and the relationships with his external colleagues — municipal attorneys, financial advisors, bankers, chief financial officers for cities or states, hospital management, and budget directors.

Rosenblum's advice for the younger analysts is “be skeptical,” while his advice for the more experienced analysts is “do not be afraid to ask the hard questions and if you don’t get the right answer keep asking.

“You need to not be shy about asking your questions and getting the answers until you finally understand it,” Rosenblum said. "And be skeptical."

When asked if he would consider coming back to a municipal research role in the future, Rosenblum said he wants to “decompress for a while.”

“It remains in the back of my mind, and if the opportunity presents itself it’s something I may consider,” he said.

“I will miss this team,” he said on Thursday a day before his official retirement. “It will be hard to say goodbye.”

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Credit quality Risk analysis Asset managers Asset management Bond defaults Investment-grade bonds