Howard “Howie” Burstein, a 50-year veteran in the muni bond industry who outlasted many of the firms at which he worked, died late last month. He was 71.
A firm believer in the fundamentals in the marketplace, Mr. Burstein impressed upon many a client and colleague in the industry over the years the opportunities munis presented for investors who do their homework and pay attention to the underlying credits.
He worked most recently as a senior vice president at the investment bank and fixed-income financial services brokerage Herbert J. Sims & Co., Inc., which he joined in 2006 with decades of sales and trading experience behind him. He arrived at HJ Sims after a year at JB Hanauer & Co.
Mr. Burstein’s started his career at Salomon Brothers in 1962. Beginning in the late 1970s, he worked at the former Dillon, Read & Co. in New York City for 27 years, gaining institutional sales experience.
He also spent a significant part of his career at former municipal bond firms Lazard Freres & Co., Weeden & Co. and Sterne, Agee & Leach Inc.
Mr. Burstein covered as many as 20 accounts at one time. He built his career managing accounts of insurance companies, bond funds, hedge funds, and arbitrage accounts.
At HJ Sims, he took on individual retail clients, as well. Mr. Burstein would keep them current on municipal news and the direction of trading by sending them as many as three emails a day, said Dick Larkin, senior vice president, director of credit analysis at HJ Sims.
Mr. Burstein specialized in the general market sector, including general obligation bonds and revenue credits from every state and region in the country. “Howie loved his work,” Larkin said. “He was usually the first in the office, arriving at his desk hours before trading opened.”
Larkin worked briefly at JB Hanauer before Mr. Burstein pulled him over to HJ Sims.
“Howie’s the reason why I’m at HJ Sims today,” Larkin said.
William Sims, managing principal at the firm, hired Mr. Burstein in 2002. Sims said Mr. Burstein had an effect on those around him that was extremely rare.
“No matter the subject or the time of day, every time after I spoke to Howie, he made me feel better than I had before we talked; I suspect that phenomenon was true of everyone Howie came in contact with,” Sims said. “Howie’s dedication to his work was legendary. Earlier this year he told me that on his way into work he felt 30 years old, but when he was leaving, he felt 70.”
Mr. Burstein knew his bond history, and brought his broad perspective to bear in sharing his knowledge of the muni market. He was one of the few muni pros around who remembered the New York City financial crisis in 1975, Larkin added. And he outlasted the organization that was formed to save the city: the Municipal Assistance Corporation, or Big Mac, which expired in July 2008. Larkin said he recalls conversations with Mr. Burstein about the crisis, and the then-unheard-of 11% coupons that MAC bonds paid in those days.
Mr. Burstein referred to the market turbulence in 2008, when subprime credit imploded and the bond insurance business collapsed, as “the Twilight Zone.” And while interest rates whipsawed, raising yields in the muni bond market for existing bondholders, they also created new buying opportunities for investors who noticed that tax-free yields had then exceeded the taxable yields on Treasuries.
Burstein is survived by his family: Betty Burstein, his wife of 50 years; his son Steven Burstein and wife Cindy Burstein; his daughter Eileen Burstein Fisher and her husband Larry Fisher; as well as four grandchildren. The family has asked that those who would like to honor and remember Mr. Burstein can make contributions in his name to Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center at 1275 York Avenue, New York, N.Y., 10065. For more information, go to: www.mskcc.org