LOS ANGELES -- JPMorgan said issuer and investor participation at its annual Transportation and Utility Conference increased substantially from last year.

The conference, closed to media, was held on Tuesday and Wednesday in New York, bringing in around 400 participants from across the country including investors and top issuers in the transportation and utility industries.

“We see our conference as a unique opportunity to connect issuers and investors through a series of educational presentations and one-on-one sessions,” said Paul Palmeri, managing director and head of public finance at JPMorgan. “It’s been very well-received, and every year we see more participation.”

He estimated that this year participation increased by around 35%.

Some of the issuers included the New York Metropolitan Transportation Authority, the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power, the Chicago O’Hare International Airport, the Municipal gas Authority of Georgia, and the Illinois State Toll Highway Authority.

Ryan Yakubik, director of capital development and budget at Los Angeles World Airports, said these one-on-one sessions with individual investors provide some of the most valuable opportunities at the conference.

“We’re not actually providing them with different information than we’re providing in presentations, but we actually get to sit directly with an investor and hear from them what their concerns are, whether it’s capacity or traffic, and whether they’re getting enough information,” he said.

Issuers can also give presentations or credit updates during the conference, which is a good way to keep investors up to date with what they’ve been doing in between transactions, Yakubik added. 

“This is a great opportunity for us to interface directly with them, either in one-on-ones or through direct credit updates, when you don’t have the transaction looming in front of you, and you can keep them familiar with your credit story,” he said.

The one-on-one sessions are scheduled ahead of the conference, Palmeri explained. Over the course of two days during the conference, investors and issuers can have an open dialogue in a smaller setting to discuss issues that are important to them.

“So many times when we sell bonds, we know who purchased our bonds, but we don’t usually get to see the investors face to face,” said Linda Dzierzanowski, senior director of finance at CPS Energy, a municipal natural gas and electric utility in San Antonio, Texas. “So this conference gives us the opportunity to meet face to face with the investors that either purchase our bonds or maybe will have to the opportunity to purchase our bonds in the future.”

Dzierzanowski said that this is the third time she’s been to JPMorgan’s utility conference.

She added that the conference is also beneficial to CPS Energy because it can listen to other utility companies in the industry to learn about the issues they’re facing and their strategies.

Some of the main challenges for the utility sector as a whole include recovering from the economic downturn, and addressing growing environmental regulations, according to Suzanne Ritter, treasurer and vice president of corporate planning at Santee Cooper, South Carolina’s state-owned electric and water utility.

“The conference gives us a good opportunity to, first of all, hear what some of the other folks in public power are doing, and, more importantly, it gives us an opportunity to meet some of our investors or potential investors face to face and have discussions with them so they can get to know Santee Cooper a little bit better,” said Ritter, who has participated in the conference for two years.

The conference also featured panels on utility cooperatives and public private partnerships, as well as updates on the airline industry, energy market, and U.S. economy.

One of the main focuses among issuers in the transportation industry is the decline in traffic, said Stephanie Tomblin, who runs the airport practice in public finance at JPMorgan. Other challenges include a decline in container volume, the effects from the Panama Canal expansion, and the possible effects of an American Airlines and U.S. Airways merger.

Still, fundamentals in the industry are stronger than they have been, with volume starting to pick up as issuers have started to have new money needs again.

“The performance of airlines has improved, so their willingness to support capital projects has improved,” Tomblin said. “So we’re definitely on a more positive trajectory.”

This year JPMorgan’s new mentee also participated in the conference, helping to sponsor a reception and dinner. In September, JPMorgan began mentoring Academy Securities, a broker-dealer firm in the municipal bond market that employs military veterans. The mentorship will last four years and is a part of a program that encourages more established firms to assist small businesses.

JPMorgan has hosted utility sector conferences for about 15 years before combining it with the transportation sector. This was the third year that the conference has included both sectors.

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