Heightened demand for Assured Guaranty Corp. insurance has led the company to expand its public finance department by six professionals through the first three months of this year, the company said yesterday. Another four or so are expected to be added by the middle of the year.

The new hires will bring to 23 the number of professionals in Assured's U.S. public finance division.

Assured's expansion came in a blockbuster first quarter for the company. The company wrapped $6.1 billion of U.S. municipal bonds in the quarter, outpacing all of last year's production, according to data from Thomson Financial. The company owned 27% of the market in the quarter.

"Our expansion in the U.S. public finance market has accelerated rapidly," Michael Schozer, president of Assured Guaranty, said in a statement. "Our significant expansion of this group is reflective of the great demand we see for our products and our commitment to our public finance clients."

Among the hires, Assured added Mary Francoeur as a managing director for the infrastructure and project finance team, a newly formed entity. Francoeur joins Assured from Financial Guaranty Insurance Co., where she was most recently a managing director on the public-private partnerships team.

Assured also hired Joseph Chu to be a director for the utilities team, where he will be responsible for investor-owned utilities and public power issuers, the company said. Michael Bartsch also joined the monoline insurer as director on the general government team.

In addition to the new hires, Assured formed a new team it is calling the "core products" team, which focuses on general obligation and municipal utility deals for small issuers. During the first quarter, the team closed 118 deals with a transaction size of $50 million or less, for a total par value of $1.7 billion, the company said in its release.

Assured has also expanded its higher education and health care team, which will likely hire two more people in the second half of the year, the company said.

During the quarter, the company maintained a healthy advantage in the health care portion of the deals, insuring $1.5 billion through 20 issues, for 65.3% of the market, according to Thomson Financial. In higher education, Assured was second-busiest, behind Financial Security Assurance Inc., working on $539.3 million through 13 deals.


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